How Can I Politely Express My Dietary Needs?

Try these tips for dealing with tricky food restrictions.

dinner-party-2
Photo by David Meredith

Q. My supervisor and his wife have invited me and several of my colleagues over for dinner. I am lactose-intolerant, but I do not want them to plan the dinner around my dietary limitations. I feel that this would be a burden on them, and I don’t want to draw attention to myself unnecessarily. That being said, I also don’t want to upset my hostess by not eating the entire meal. How should I handle this? 

K.L.

A. Being a dinner guest is challenging for anyone with special dietary needs, whether due to a physical condition (like gluten sensitivity, a nut allergy, or lactose intolerance) or a lifestyle choice (such as being a vegetarian). You’re right to seek some happy gastronomic ground between demanding a special meal in advance and divulging your restrictions only after you’ve declined what they’re serving.

I would suggest that you simply be honest. Either call or e-mail your hostess with a version of what you’ve said above: “I wanted you to know that I can’t eat dairy—but please don’t design the meal around me. I’m just looking forward to being in your company, and I don’t want you to be offended if I can’t eat everything.” Chances are good that they’ll decide to accommodate you. And if they’re gracious about it, as they should be? You won’t even feel as if they’ve gone to any special trouble.

Catherine Newman

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