The most important rules to planning a safe menu for allergies and food intolerances. Follow safe menu etiquette to prepare a meal that your guests will enjoy. Avoid risks and be an ideal host.
What safe menu etiquette is
Safe menu etiquette is the set of rules to plan a menu that is appropriate for guests with a food allergy or intolerance. Such rules include:
- The allowed foods and ingredients.
- How to ask about dietary restrictions.
- How to deal with your guests’ food allergies or intolerances.
If you are hosting, respect safe menu etiquette to properly plan a menu that your guests will enjoy and avoid any risks.
If you are a guest, follow safe menu etiquette to politely deal with your hosts and the other guests.
Safe menu etiquette rules for allergies and intolerances
1) Know what food allergies and intolerances are
What food allergies are
Allergies make our body’s immune system react when we ingest a specific food. They can lead to serious harm and even to death.
Symptoms can occur immediately after eating the food.
- An itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat, or ears.
- An itchy red skin rash.
- Swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or roof of the mouth.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Difficulty breathing.
What food intolerances are
Food intolerances make our digestive system unable to properly process some foods. They can lead to significant physical distress and discomfort.
Symptoms usually occur a few hours after eating the food.
- Wind and diarrhea.
- Stomach cramps.
- Skin rashes.
The 8 most common food allergies
Any food can cause an allergic reaction. However, 8 foods account for 90% of allergic reactions.
- Milk and dairy products.
- Tree nuts. Such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans.
- White meat fish. Such as bass, branzino, flounder, and cod.
- Shellfish. Such as crab, lobster, and shrimp.
Some fruit and vegetables can trigger an allergic reaction too. Red meat and poultry meat rarely do.
The 8 most common food intolerances
A wide variety of food intolerances exists. They can be triggered by a food or an ingredient. These are the most common ones.
- Lactose. Found in milk, yogurt, and soft cheese.
- Gluten. Found in bread, grains, pasta, and beer.
- Histamine. Found in mushrooms, pickled and cured foods, and alcoholic drinks.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Artificial sweeteners.
- Artificial food colors, preservatives, or flavor enhancers.
2) Respect allergy and intolerance dietary restrictions in your menu
How to plan a menu for food allergies and intolerances
Just a small amount of food can trigger an allergic reaction. Sometimes, even a trace of food is enough.
Intolerance symptoms usually happen after ingesting a large amount of that food. However, people tend to avoid foods they are intolerant to. By doing so, their body grows less accustomed to that food. This increases sensitivity. Then, just a small quantity of the food can trigger symptoms.
If a guest has a food allergy or intolerance, you should completely remove that food from the menu. Just a trace is enough to trigger a reaction. Thus, make sure to use only kitchenware and tableware that was not in contact with the food.
3) Etiquette for asking guests about their food allergies or intolerances
It is perfect etiquette to ask your guests about their dietary restrictions. Even more with food allergies and intolerances, which may pose a serious health threat to a sensitive guest.
In written formal invitations, it is sufficient to ask guests to please inform the hosts about any dietary requirements.
In informal invitations, a simple “do you follow any diet or have any dietary restriction?” works. Another option is to ask if guests avoid any food.
It is against safe menu etiquette to ask further questions. Such as why someone has a dietary restriction. Or why someone excludes or includes a certain food. Some guests may be uncomfortable talking about their food allergies or intolerances.
If you have a genuine curiosity, you may ask such questions. However, it is polite to justify your curiosity. In other words, state why you are curious about it. Be apologetic. Never judge or question the answers you get.
4) Food allergies and intolerances menu planning etiquette
Follow these key principles to deal with guests’ dietary restrictions due to food allergies or intolerances.
Serve each food on its dedicated plate
Follow cooking etiquette to cook food safely.
Do not serve multiple foods on the same plate. Instead, try to separate them. Assign a plate to each food or ingredient. Serve condiments and sauces separated from food. Present each food with its serving utensils.
This way you allow guests with food allergies or intolerances to pick the foods they can eat. Or to avoid the ones they cannot eat.
Include safe options
Many foods are allowed in almost every diet. Such as vegetables and fruit. Similarly, some foods present a lower risk of triggering an allergic reaction or food intolerance. Plan some safe dishes that almost any guest will be able to eat. As an example, only a few people say no to baked potatoes or salad.
Avoid risky foods
Many foods are not allowed in many diets. Pork meat. Alcohol. Beef. Crustaceans. Similarly, a few foods are responsible for most food allergies or intolerances.
If you are unsure about your guests’ diet, play safe. Avoid cooking these foods altogether. Or, at least, plan one or two dishes without them.
5) Food allergies and intolerances etiquette for guests
Guests must follow safe menu etiquette too. Otherwise, they risk disrespecting or annoying their host and the other guests.
Do not expect the host to guess your diet
If you do not eat some foods, clearly state it with your host.
It is bad etiquette to expect a change in the menu based on your needs. Instead, you may ask if there may be some safe menu options for you. Clearly state if you have any food allergies or intolerances. Be apologetic in your requests. It is rude to do otherwise. As a guest, you do not want to sound entitled.
Be accommodating. Do not expect the host to accommodate your requests. However, any considerate host will feel compelled to adjust the menu to your needs.
Politely refuse food that you do not eat
If the host serves food that you do not eat, simply avoid it. If the host or another guest explicitly offers such food to you, politely refuse it. It is enough to say “no, thank you”.
Provide additional detail only if someone asks you. It is good etiquette to be brief. Otherwise, do not annoy others with your dietary restrictions.
Do not impose your diet on the other guests
Never expect others to adjust to your diet. Do not expect your hosts to change their menu to accommodate your needs. Similarly, at a restaurant, do not expect the other guests to change their food order.
Safe menu etiquette: the worst mistakes with food allergies and intolerances
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst safe menu etiquette mistakes.
- 10/10. Not accommodating dietary restrictions due to allergies and intolerances.
- 10/10. Using the same kitchenware with different foods.
- 6/10. Asking personal dietary questions.
- 4/10. Imposing your diet on others.
- 4/10. Sharing unsolicited details about your diet.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: usda.gov.
- U.S. National Food Safety Database: foodsafety.gov.