A few days ago when reading my Facebook timeline, I noticed an event planner friend posted the following about an upcoming wedding he is attending:

THOSE WERE THE DAYS! Remember the days when you would get a Wedding RSVP that ask if you need the Vegetarian Option for Dinner…I saw one yesterday and I am not exaggerating that said- See Reverse Side for Meal Options…It said Check the Following: __Beef free, __Chicken-free, ___Fish-free, ____Vegetarian, ___Gluten-free, ___Egg-free, ____Mango-free, ____Cantaloupe-free, ___Nut-free! I had to flip it back over to make sure it was a wedding invitation and not me checking into a hospital! OH MY!!!!!”

Managing the food allergies of event guests can be frustrating.
Managing the dietary needs of many convention guests can be frustrating.

Following the post was a long comment thread that trended toward outrage and resentment for the myriad special dietary needs that appear in modern life. There is even a school of thought that claims food allergies are psychosomatic – a phenomenon of mass hysteria and simple bad manners.

As an event planner I understand where my friend is coming from. It’s a frustrating issue to deal with. It can be overwhelming trying to cater for even one person with multiple needs, let alone a variety of different dietary needs at an event for 10, 20, 100, 300, 1,000 people. That creates a whole lot of custom orders the event planner has to worry about, the chef has to prepare and the banquet staff have to painstakingly deliver to the right guests in a crowded room. Planning many different plates is challenging, frustrating and probably not cost effective.

As a food-allergic person, however, the comments on his post frustrate me to no end. Why is it such a burden to these people? Is it really so audacious for a guest to ask for something we can eat? Don’t they understand that if the guest eats those foods they could get seriously sick or possibly die? Can they imagine trying to eat like that every day? Walk a mile in our shoes and see how it feels to not be served a meal, go home hungry, sneak in our own food or avoid the event all together because the planner or hotel said sorry, they won’t feed us!

My perspective as a member of both sides of this argument gives me a special awareness of just how complex the issue is. Unless you have a food allergy or other dietary need, people tend to look at the request for exceptional treatment and see it as an egregious breach of etiquette. But the food-allergic guests just want to be able to attend the event and get something to eat that won’t make us sick or kill us. We have that right.

The reality is that food allergies are legitimate needs that must be accommodated, not trendy whims of a spoiled population. Sure, special food requests may sometimes reflect preferences and intolerances rather than true, life-threatening allergies. But most of us who eat like this do so for health reasons; we do not choose to do so. We did not go to Wal-Mart and pick up this problem in aisle 12 and we can’t return it. We have to adjust so we aren’t sick and don’t have constant headaches, sit on the toilet the rest of the day, get hives all over our body or actually die.

Menu items that meet multiple food restrictions can add new revenue opportunities.
Meals that meet multiple food restrictions can add new revenue opportunities.

Unfortunately the needs are only getting more common. This means extra work and possible expense for hosts and event planners, as well as a new layer of complexity. Luckily, if you understand the various needs, learn how similar some are to others and know how to to safely prepare meals, you can probably combine some needs to create fewer custom meals, save money, create new revenue opportunities and have happier guests.

It’s time to accept special dietary concerns as the prevalent reality they are and begin to find creative and delicious solutions to accommodate these needs. In the process, we will help food-allergic guests feel welcome in our homes, our events and our lives.


  • Gratefulfoodie
    Posted August 7, 2013 10:08 am 0Likes

    Amen! I couldn’t agree more, food allergies, Celiac, diabetes and other dietary needs based on health issues are here to stay.

    I wish that I could say that my children are avoiding that food since it is not good for them, but that would be a lie. It could kill them. Let’s just step up to reality and embrace dietary related diseases and enjoy weddings and life right?

  • Christina Mueller
    Posted August 9, 2013 4:46 pm 0Likes


    it is a food sensitive world out there, a new world for many chefs and an ever-evolving one. I am one of those people with food sensitivities who suffers ugly consequences from eating foods my body cannot properly process.
    But I suffered at my own wedding from a caterer who heard all of my needs and promised to meet them but would it be ok if the food for the rest of the guests was prepared with foods I was allergic too?Well guess what? I was unable to eat the food at my wedding as the caterer sent an assistant but did not also send the directive to cook my food separately. Horrible to not be able to eat at your own wedding.
    As a bride, I did not insist that my guests eat with my limitations. But perhaps I should have.
    Thanks for listening!

  • Patti Shock
    Posted August 10, 2013 10:11 am 0Likes

    As someone that traveled for years trying to stay on a diet, I know how hard it is to get special meals. You feel like a second class citizen. You are usually served late, when everyone else is finishing or starting dessert. You have to tell the table to go ahead and eat while you sit in silence waiting for your stark, tasteless meal. I believe that many of today’s food allergies are the result of GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms. Much of the food available today is so adulterated that it can’t even be digested. They call it Frankenfood, for good reason.

  • Carey
    Posted August 11, 2013 2:24 am 0Likes

    I too have experienced receiving the meal after everyone is finished. Supposedly, someone else took my meal. People who do have food allergies have to inform the event! (Like I did.) At the buffet meal there was nothing at all that I could eat. This was an industry event.

    My sister-in-law had 4 cakes at her reception. 3 of them were gluten free. They tasted great! And you can make a decent meal without gluten, with meat and vegetables. I don’t think there was gluten in the main course, and it wasn’t missed.

    Chefs just have to get creative. When I did finally get that meal at the industry event, it was excellent!


    (Anne) Carey, CMP
    Meeting & Event Professional

  • Carolyn Browning
    Posted August 12, 2013 12:28 pm 0Likes

    I’m sure the RSVP card looked a bit excessive to the uninformed attendee, but kudos to the bride (or groom!) for realizing that there are real needs out there that need to be addressed. It would seem that they (B/G) have a variety of allergies in their family, thus the fairly thorough list to choose from (much more specific than “let us know if you have any special dietary requirements”). To Patti’s comment – it does seem that food allergies (and other allergies/ailments) are becoming more prevalent these days and something must be triggering it – whether the environment or how we grow our food.

    We must become more aware of/sensitive to these issues and make appropriate accommodations. Allergies/sensitivities are not ‘whims’ or preferences, they are real issues that cause (at the least) uncomfortable reactions and (at worst) possible hospitalization or death. In addition to educating chefs/planners on how to modify & adapt recipes/menus, further discussions need to be had as to why this is happening and what can be done to stem the tide.


  • Tracy Stuckrath
    Posted August 12, 2013 9:35 pm 0Likes


    Thanks for chiming in. Definite kudos to the couple for addressing the needs upfront. The one planner who thought doing this is actually inconsiderate, blew me away. It is just the opposite.


  • Tracy Stuckrath
    Posted August 12, 2013 9:38 pm 0Likes


    Gluten- and allergen-free CAN taste good. It takes creativity, experimenting and testing. Not all gluten and allergen-filled food tastes good either. Its just teaching people to try new things and to realizing what it actually means. And, it is awesome when you get a fabulous tasting meal that looks good too!


  • Tracy Stuckrath
    Posted August 12, 2013 9:41 pm 0Likes


    When my niece was nine I asked her how she would feel if she got her meal well before mine. Her response, “guilty.” She didn’t think it was fare that I was not eating. When kids recognize it, why can’t adults. And, yes, if we all started eating less processed foods and more real foods (not GMOs), we would be a lot healthier and happier people with no digestive issues.

    Congrats on the new gig!


  • Tracy Stuckrath
    Posted August 12, 2013 9:48 pm 0Likes


    So sorry about your wedding dinner. The caterer apparently doesn’t care about the health, safety or satisfaction of their clients. Were you able to get a refund of your money?

    It is imperative chefs include and planners insist the special meals be on every BEO for the exact reason the assistant didn’t know about you. The first event I planned after finding out about my allergy 10 years ago, the catering manager at Disney added it to all 90-pages of my BEO. I was so embarrassed. But, the chef explained it was important for everyone on her team to know in case she was not there when the meals were made. Made me feel more comfortable and respected.


  • Tracy Stuckrath
    Posted August 12, 2013 9:50 pm 0Likes

    Caroline, Amen is right! We need to embrace the challenge and welcome the chance to be creative with new foods and options.

    Continue to be grateful!

  • Carey
    Posted August 13, 2013 8:38 am 0Likes


    How excellent that it was your chef that educated you!


  • Shannon
    Posted March 24, 2016 1:36 pm 0Likes

    I would like to respectfully respond to this article. I run a wedding venue, so I see what brides go through dealing to accommodate myriad food issues. I also have friends and family with food issues. I am sympathetic to the sufferer, but think there is a respectful and mannerly perimeter that both host and guest should abide by..

    Follow me, please, point by point. No RSVP asks if one has cardiac problems, or is diabetic, or is undergoing chemotherapy, all severe problems for the sufferer which require all kinds of food adjustments.

    Brides, even those with their own food issues, have broken down in tears a few weeks before the wedding because they, despite the fact that the caterer will bear the burden of the food prep, have become the administrator of their guest’s personal issues, at the very time when they need to pay the most attention to planning their wedding.

    It is wonderful for a host to try to bone up on and provide for all the many food and health issues of his or her guests. But guests must realize what the primary purpose of the event is. Is it to conduct business? Is it to network? Is it to gather amongst old friends and make new ones in a situation graciously offered and provided by a host? Is it to celebrate an occasion?

    Food and drink are there to make an occasion more pleasant. Events typically last about 4 hours. A guest can choose to make the event about their meal, for whatever valid reason, but they, collectively, begin to look as if their primary purpose as a guest is to cadge a free meal. Which is not the intent, of course.

    The author asks why is it so hard for a host to educate themselves about food allergies and options. I return to my comment about diabetes, heart issues and chemotherapy, and the primary purpose of an event.

    Many of my upset brides with food issues acknowledged that they now see what it is they ask of a host when they make their meal of paramount importance in attending an event. In the past, they thought of it as one simple accommodation. As the host, they now see that it can become a minefield to negotiate.

    I have been in the situation where food is a big problem, and I have many friends who also have problems. We simply chose to put our role as a good guest above our specific food requirements. We eat before we go, we push our food around, and put our energy into being an entertaining addition to the party, so that we will continue to be invited to the events and homes of our very generous and hospitable hosts.

    I hope I do not sound harsh. Everyone who suffers from whatever malady that makes socialization hard for them has my sympathy, but food is much easier to work around than much more serious issues. Thank you for reading my post.

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