Don’t be That Guy: Party Etiquette for Those With Special Dietary Needs

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: October 13th, 2020 | Read time: 3 minutes

There seems like there’s always one per dinner party—a person whose dietary demands threaten to put a damper on the holiday festivities. Just because you know all about the dangers of wheat belly or don’t eat animals out of moral principles doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be a diet diva. The best way to approach the holiday festivities? Grace and generosity, no matter what’s on the menu. Here’s how.

Unhappy Man Not Following Party Etiquette Rules at Holiday Family Gathering |

Communicate in advance

As a guest, it’s your responsibility to be polite and helpful. Let the host know your restrictions well in advance of the party. Don’t expect the host to provide vegan-friendly food, but if she asks, suggesting an easy to make, affordable vegan recipe is appropriate. Sometimes people with allergies allow food restrictions to morph into preferences—be sure you don’t confuse the two. And if you are on a cleanse, or a special eating program, expecting your hosts to make adjustments borders on narcissism. Either suck it up and go rogue—or decline.

Compromise within reason

Thanksgiving, contrary to reputation, is not all about the food. Keep the focus on the experience of coming together, and try to be as inclusive as possible with foods that please various family and friends. If you are not in control of the meal planning, have reasonable expectations. Your host may not whip up a gourmet vegan meal, but there will be at least something for you to nibble on. You can always slip out later for a veggie burger, perhaps, or make some popcorn.

BYOF: Bring your own food

If you are in doubt, or if your meal suggestions seemed to overwhelm your host, offer to bring a dish that you love. Say something like this: “I want to come but I have an allergy to ____. Would it be okay if I brought a dish to share?” Being willing to bring a dish that your host is unfamiliar with, such as tempeh or quinoa, gets everyone’s needs met. You are sure not to starve, others get to try a new food and your host isn’t put out.

No claiming the moral high ground

Do not use the gathering to call attention to your dietary preferences or the moral or health reasons behind them. Keep in mind that everyone has the right to eat/cook/host the way they feel inclined. Trying to convert guests to your diet of choice is poor manners and bad form.

Eat ahead of time

If all else fails, and it’s not a sit-down meal, you can simply eat ahead of time. That way you are not starving and can fend off any residual hunger pains at the party with nuts, or crudités, or dried fruit.

In the end, it’s important to remember what matters most about holiday parties—spending time with people you love. Word to the wise: Prepare as much as possible in advance, be flexible, squirrel away a few protein snacks, and enjoy what is given. Feeling entitled to special accommodations is a pain in every host’s backside.  A humble, helpful attitude will work in your favor. You may even surprise yourself and the other guests with your collaborative spirit.