Reader Mailbag is a semi-monthly feature where i highlight your entertaining problems and questions. Got one? Email me and I'll get to work on it!
I usually end up serving some kind of food that someone's allergic to, or just plain hates. Advice?
Oh, I doubt things are as bad as all that! Still, if someone is coming over for the first time, inquire about any dietary restrictions. A gracious guest will not impose this on you (unless it's life-threatening), but a gracious hostess will ask. If they do have a restriction, make a note of it on their record in your Outlook or address book, so you won't have to ask again in the future.
Mild food allergies
If someone is lactose intollerant or gluten-free, that doesn't mean the entire meal has to cater to their needs, but do keep them in mind. Mr Lactose Intollerant might skip the cheese appetizers but can still nibble on the accompanying fruit. Miss Gluten Free will no doubt wrap her burger in a big piece of lettuce. Neither will need a 911 call if their forbidden foods are on the table - just make sure you give them options.
Severe food allergies and religious restrictions
If, on the other hand, one of your guests is deathly allergic to shellfish, it's best to avoid it altogether. Same thing for those who avoid certain foods due to religious reasons. It's not nice to tempt your Conservative Jewish friend with a dreamy pork tenderloin roast. Just leave it off the menu and make something else.
Head this situation off at the pass. Give them a clue about the menu in your invitation ("We're having an Indian feast followed by a Bollywood movie!" or "We're digging into Rob's catch from his last fishing trip!") This way, they can politely decline. If your menu doesn't have an overriding theme, don't use your dinner party as an excuse to "educate" them about foods they've been missing - that's rude. If you wish to serve something exotic, make it a side dish or sauce that can be easily avoided.