How Not to Go Mad as a Host or Guest

Photo by Michael Yarish

I have been consumed by Mad Men madness. I think what’s so compelling about the show is witnessing a way of life that is so foreign from our lives today. A way of life that included a three martini lunch followed by a scotch on the rocks afternoon meeting; cigarettes being smoked everywhere including the doctor’s exam room, by the doctor, nevertheless; and a diet of meat, potatoes and canned vegetables.

Today, a one martini lunch is extremely rare, smoking anywhere inside is pretty much verboten and more and more people are watching their diets. In fact, many have food restrictions. In the 50s and 60s you didn’t have to worry as a host about food restrictions or people not drinking. This made me think about today’s host and the challenges we face meeting the diverse dietary needs of our guests. With Labor Day weekend coming up, there will be a lot of parties. So, let’s talk about what a host should and shouldn’t accommodate and if the guest should expect to be accommodated.

Even in today’s enlightened, politically correct time, the host does not need to go out of his or her way to accommodate a guest. However, it is polite to ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions when they reply to your invitation. If the restriction is not too difficult to accommodate then it would be nice to do so.

I always ask my guests if they have any food restrictions well before the party so I have time to plan. My husband and I eat meat, but we have many vegetarian friends. So, when we are hosting even just one vegetarian guest we will make a vegetarian meal. No big deal.

Now, what if you are the guest with the special diet? Do you say something or just hope there’s something you can eat? You would only say something if you are asked. If you can usually find something to eat at a dinner party, then eat what you can and don’t say anything about the restriction. If your restriction means you probably won’t be able to find something to eat then either bring your own food or decline the invitation if you’re not asked about a restriction. It is not fair to expect a host to go out of his or her way to accommodate an unusual dietary restriction. But again, a polite host will ask his or her guests if there are any dietary restrictions.

What about alcohol? Unlike in Mad Men, many people don’t drink alcoholic beverages, so be sure to have non-alcoholic drinks on hand. It’s surprising to me how many people don’t do this. My husband and I often bring seltzer to a party so we have something to drink.

The bottom line? As a host, don’t go mad trying to accommodate everyone, but do make an effort to ask about and accommodate easy requests. Guests should not expect special treatment. If you are asked, great, if not either bring your own food or beverage or stay home.

Happy partying.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Carole on September 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I’m really glad to find out that guest should only say something if asked! What I did like about party etiquette a couple decades ago was that you ate what you were served, and gladly, and with thanks. Period. These days, guests talk loudly throughout the party about their restrictions or diets or choices and will even reprimand you for your choices. For example, vegetarians will shame you for eating meat (“Don’t you feel guilty?”). We recently accommodated a request for 4 vegetarians, however when the time came no one fessed up to needing the vegetarian option and the 4th person said, “okay, I’ll eat meat, then”. i.e. some people seem to make special requests only when it’s politically correct to do so! I guess the bottom line is, good manners have never gone out of style. Good to know!

  2. Arden Clise on September 2, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for your comment Carole. Yes, manners still hold true today that you eat what you can and you don’t complain or make a fuss or judge, criticize or condem or ask for something different. It takes a lot of time and energy to host a party so guests should be as gracious, complimentary and helpful as possible. But, as I said, it is polite as a host to ask his or her guests if they have any dietary restrictions and then to try to accommodate them.

  3. Aaron on October 27, 2012 at 10:59 am

    @Carole hi- while I definitely see your point and partially agree about good manners and entitled people nowadays, you gotta remember that thanks to the wonders of modern science people can now see what foods are actually bad for them and cause great discomfort to ingest. Also, we have to respect people’s desire to act locally through their food choices on larger planetary issues or, downright taste buds. Trick is to realize that it’s really no big deal in today’s society and to make no apologies whether you’re guest or host. We do what we can while not taking it personal and without (hopefully) making a side-show out of it all. I googled this page cause I have restrictions and actually don’t like talking about them. Puts me in a tough situation and I’m looking for ways to get around it. Just not eating isn’t always easy either cause when invited to a home, it is an honor for a host to share their table with you and their generosity. What kinds of things would you say?

  4. ArdenClise on October 28, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    aaron thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you found my blog. If your food restrictions aren’t difficult to accommodate I would say something to the host when you’re invited to dinner. If your restrictions would prove difficult for the host, you might say you have some food restrictions and that you’d like to bring one of your favorite dishes if the host is OK with that.
    But, if you’re wanting to make sure the food is local and free-range, etc., etc., that would be asking too much. While I do eat mostly locally grown food and try to eat grass-fed and/or free range meat, I would never require a host to accommodate those choices.
    I hope that helps.

  5. Karen on November 5, 2015 at 4:54 am

    I run a small wedding venue and have watched too many brides in tears over food “restrictions”, because guests are leveraging good hosts manners into an opportunity to dictate ingredients. In one wedding for 65, requests included : no garlic, no onions, no lemon, no olive oil, no salt, no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no root vegetables and two others my brain imploded over. And, two non alcoholic beers. I hosted a dinner party for 12 new friends, and had the same thing happen. I have sympathy for people with deadly food allergies, but in that case, no food outside your own home is safe due to cross contamination. Although the proliferation of restriction may be new, what is old is diabetes, heart issues, and a host of other necessary diet restrictions. People with restrictions need to remember that they are one of many and that the combination of several can make it either impossible to serve a simple meal, or require a host to work very, very hard. Further, and this falls into the category of being very impolite indeed, a host is made to feel like their party is a free meal, NOT what it is intended to be, a social occasion. I do not feel one should stay home because of their restrictions, but I do think the alternative of eating before and picking while pleasantly socializing is a responsible position to take . One should be able to handle finding a way to obtain sustenance without making their issue everyone else’s. Unless, of course, they are trying to convert others. And for the record, before this incurs wrath, I had a temporary but life threatening food restriction while glomg through chemo, burdened with a very bad prognosis. I went out, I had people over, I never discussed my restrictions, and I envied to the bottom of my heart the Epi pen the lady next to me had, whilst she spent 45 minutes lamenting her difficult life!

  6. Arden Clise on November 5, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Hi Karen,

    You bring up so many important points. There is a big difference between a food allergy and a food preference. If someone doesn’t eat olive oil or root vegetables or what have you because it’s a food preference and eating it does not cause a health crisis then it should not be mentioned to the host, especially a wedding host. As you mention, if everyone expects the host to accommodate a food preference it can be very difficult to find something that all attending can eat. People need to be reasonable about what they ask a host to accommodate.

    If the restriction is an allergy that will cause a serious health issue then it’s okay to mention it. However, for a wedding one should not expect the host to change the menu due to the allergy unless it’s a life threatening allergy. Ask what is going to be served and then plan accordingly. Eat beforehand or just eat what you can.

    As far as people lamenting their horrible food limitations it’s simply not polite. People don’t want to hear someone complain about their health issues. It’s boring and selfish. And, one never knows what health challenges other people are facing, just as you shared. I’m sorry you had to endure that. If one has a food restriction, keep it to yourself while dining.

    Lastly, asking a host to serve non-alcoholic beer is also rude. That would be similar to saying, “I only drink Syrah wine from Italy. Can you please provide that?” It is very unmannerly to request a special food or beverage.

    If this seems to be an ongoing trend, I would suggest the wedding hosts email their demanding guests with a simple message, “Due to the number of food preferences we’ve received we can only accommodate serious food allergies. We just wouldn’t feel right serving only water and a piece of lettuce. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to seeing you at our wedding.”

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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