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Reader Mailbag: Dinner Party Menus

Reader Mailbag is a semi-monthly feature where i highlight your entertaining problems and questions.  Got one?  Email me and I'll get to work on it!

Kiira asks:
I usually end up serving some kind of food that someone's allergic to, or just plain hates. Advice?

Oh, I doubt things are as bad as all that!  Still, if someone is coming over for the first time, inquire about any dietary restrictions.  A gracious guest will not impose this on you (unless it's life-threatening), but a gracious hostess will ask.  If they do have a restriction, make a note of it on their record in your Outlook or address book, so you won't have to ask again in the future.

Mild food allergies
If someone is lactose intollerant or gluten-free, that doesn't mean the entire meal has to cater to their needs, but do keep them in mind.  Mr Lactose Intollerant might skip the cheese appetizers but can still nibble on the accompanying fruit.  Miss Gluten Free will no doubt wrap her burger in a big piece of lettuce.  Neither will need a 911 call if their forbidden foods are on the table - just make sure you give them options.

Severe food allergies and religious restrictions
If, on the other hand, one of your guests is deathly allergic to shellfish, it's best to avoid it altogether.  Same thing for those who avoid certain foods due to religious reasons.  It's not nice to tempt your Conservative Jewish friend with a dreamy pork tenderloin roast.  Just leave it off the menu and make something else.

Picky eaters
Head this situation off at the pass.  Give them a clue about the menu in your invitation ("We're having an Indian feast followed by a Bollywood movie!" or "We're digging into Rob's catch from his last fishing trip!") This way, they can politely decline.  If your menu doesn't have an overriding theme, don't use your dinner party as an excuse to "educate" them about foods they've been missing - that's rude.  If you wish to serve something exotic, make it a side dish or sauce that can be easily avoided.

Got an entertaining or party-planning question? Let's hear it! You can leave it in the comments below or email me.

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Reader Comments (2)

Great points! I recently cohosted a dinner where one guest (visiting from out of town) does not eat green vegetables. I was in charge of making, among other things, a salad and soup, and so I made a potato leek soup as well as a green salad with strawberries, tomatos, and other non-green things on top He and the other guests all really loved the soup, and he also was able to pick individual items out of the salad that he liked. It was a good compromise - I was happy to be able to be accomodating yet still be able to serve a soup and salad of which I could be proud.

June 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Wow, that does sound like a challenge, but you managed with aplomb! Love potato leek soup...good idea!

June 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterJen @ SecondCitySoiree

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