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Etiquette advice: Offer options for reception guests with food restrictions

Friday, August 22, 2014 - 12:57 pm

Q: Karen, we are planning our daughter’s wedding and are wondering what to do for the guests who have food allergies or dietary restrictions. Some of our daughter’s friends have serious allergies to certain foods, and we want to make sure that we offer something for them to eat. What is the best way to deal with this issue?

A: Food allergies and restrictions are becoming more and more common these days and can make for some real challenges when planning any special event involving food. However, with some planning and working with the people who will be providing the food, you can manage the issue pretty easily.

If you are hosting a wedding and including a response card for guests to mail back, this is a good place to add a line regarding food “restrictions.” Keep in mind that food “restrictions” is different than food “preferences.” Adding “*Please indicate any food restrictions” in a little smaller font than the rest of the printing on the response card will make it look unobtrusive and shouldn’t take away from the looks of the card. Your guests can then indicate on the card their particular issues.

When the responses come in and if people mention food restrictions, work with your food providers to have a few other choices for those guests to eat. On the day of the event, identify those guests with some small card or other code that can be easily seen by servers but not too prominent as to make the guest feel uncomfortable.

Food restrictions would be, for instance, food allergies, and vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free foods.

Food preferences would be wanting to eat only organic food or some other food that is not a risk to health or against philosophical or religious views. Those preferences should be put on hold so the host doesn’t have to go to great lengths to please every whim of every guest. In those cases, if it is that important to you as the guest, you may want to eat before you attend the event.

Some other ways to ensure that your guests won’t get into any trouble eating is to offer dishes that are easily recognizable to everyone. This wouldn’t be the time to offer all exotic dishes that many people might be hesitant to eat. You don’t want your guests to go home hungry. Also, providing menus on each table can be a good way to let people know what is being served.

Karen Hickman is a local certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy. To submit questions, email