Navigating Dietary Restrictions

Like many others, over the last few years I learned I have gluten and dairy dietary restrictions. As someone who made it to her twenties with no dietary restrictions this has greatly changed the way I approach parties, work functions, and going out for meals. In an effort to not draw attention to the changes or make others unsure of how to accommodate my dietary needs, I have found the best way to navigate the situation is to plan ahead!

Here are my tips for navigating social interactions around food as someone with dietary restrictions, as well as, my tips for hosts who may encounter a guest with a dietary restriction:

  1. Research the menu/restaurant before you go!
    • With almost all restaurants having their menus online and so many restaurants aware of the common dietary restrictions, it is easy to take a look and find out what your options are before you arrive for the meal. Personally, this helps me to not feel like I am being put on the spot for taking too long to decide my order while also allowing me to know ahead of time the exact accommodations I need for my order rather thank asking a lot of questions.
    • If you have trouble finding something on the menu before you arrive, call the restaurant and let them know you have dietary restrictions. Giving the host notice allows them to let the chef know and often they will do what they can to assist with your dietary needs.
  2. Alert the host of your dietary restrictions well before the gathering. Letting your host know far in advance, allows him/her to implement your dietary needs into the menu.
    • Some individuals are unaware of how to cook for your dietary needs and as the person who knows your restrictions best, it may be better to keep the cooking in your own hands. When this is the best option, offer to bring your own dish! You may even be able to cook it along with the main meal and often times, other guests will not even realize your plate is something different.
    • When sending in an R.s.v.p. which requires a meal selection, choose the menu item that best fits your dietary needs then add a note of any accommodations needed so the chef is aware. (i.e. check “Salmon with vegetables” then add to the side “Dietary Restriction: No gluten, no dairy”)
      • When not prompted to select a meal, ensure you include your dietary restriction in the registration information for work events/conferences, travel bookings, and on all R.s.v.p. cards.
  3. Have a snack before you go!
    • I have learned it is best to be on the safe side when going to a cocktail party, sporting event, concert, or similar large scale, non-seated dining event. Try as I might to scout out the menu beforehand, sometimes I simply do not know what options will be available to me. When this happens, I find it is best to have a snack before I go. That way, if I show up and I am unable to eat any of the dishes being served, I will not be left starving; however, if there is something I can have, I am not so full that I cannot enjoy it.
    • This is also important when traveling especially to other countries. If you are traveling and experience a language barrier, you may not know how to communicate your dietary restrictions. In these cases, it is always best to have a handy dandy snack bag in your suitcase in case you get in a pinch!
  4. As the Host
    • Consider your menu and research the ways to make it fit your guest’s dietary restrictions. If you have no experience cooking in the way your guest needs, look into local restaurants, specialty stores, and bakeries who offer that type of food and special order something.
    • Offer your guest the opportunity to bring a dish, but ensure he/she knows it is not necessary. Some guests appreciate the opportunity to bring their own food and welcome sharing their cooking with others.
    • If you are having a larger party where the food is served buffet style, include a display next to the dish with the name of the dish and a note underneath as to if it fits in a certain dietary category (i.e. gluten free, nut free, vegan, etc.)
  5. Food for Thought: As someone with dietary restrictions, it is often awkward to answer the question, “Why do you have dietary restrictions?” Whether an individual is not eating something due to an allergy, medical condition, or food intolerance, he/she may be uncomfortable going into the explanation. Maybe the person learned he/she is not allergic to a particular food, but get sick every time eating it. This person does not want to have to explain his/her bodily functions to you or worse, a whole group of people.

Although having dietary restrictions can be challenging at times, I try to think of it in a positive way: Now that my foods have to be different, I have been learning to cook/bake with a lot of alternatives and trying out new dishes! I hope these tips help everyone navigate personally having dietary restrictions or hosting someone who does!

Cheers y’all!

AB

American versus Continental Dining Style

In conjunction with my post from last week, I am expanding on the topic of “Dining American or European/Continental Style?” As I pointed out previously, there are some basic differences between the two styles. Today, I am expanding on these differences and breaking down the key components to each style!

  1. Holding Your Silverware
    • American Style: You switch your fork and knife between hands so the utensil being used is in the dominant hand. For example, if you are right handed, you switch the fork to your left hand so you can cut with your right hand. Once you cut a piece of food, you switch the fork back to your right hand and take the food to your mouth with the fork in your right hand.
    • European/Continental Style: You keep the fork in your left hand with the tines facing down and your index finger on the back of the fork. Your knife is held in your right hand with the blade facing down and your index finger extended along the back of it. Once you cut a piece of food, you keep the fork face down and your wrist flat as you bring the food to your mouth.
  2. Hand Placement
    • American Style: Your wrists/hands do not touch the table.
    • European/Continental Style: Wrists always remain on the edge of and above the table, both when you are eating and when you are resting.
  3. Silverware Placement
    • American Style: The resting position is the fork, tines facing up, in the 4 o’clock position and the knife resting along the top corner of your plate. Once finished, place your knife, with the blade facing towards you, next to your fork, tines facing up, both in the 4 o’clock position on the plate. This signals to the server you are finished.
    • European/Continental Style: The resting position is in the middle of the plate as if you simply placed the silverware down exactly as you were holding them. The knife blade faces towards you in the 4 o’clock position and the fork tines face down over top of the knife in the 8 o’clock position. Once finished, place your knife, with the blade facing towards you, and fork, with the tines facing down, in the 4 o’clock position on the plate. This signals to the server you are finished.
  4. Eating Dessert (my favorite!)
    • American Style: Typically dessert is served with either a fork or a spoon. If you are given both, you may choose which utensil you prefer.
    • European/Continental Style: A fork and spoon (rarely a knife) are used. Hold the fork in your left hand and the spoon in your right hand and proceed to eat in the same manner as your main course (detailed above).
  5. Commonalities
    • In both styles, you cut one bite of food at a time. Put that piece in your mouth then cut the next.
    • The side of your fork should not be used to cut something.
    • Always use your knife (not your fingers!) to get a piece of food onto your fork.
    • Do not place your elbows or forearms on the table.
    • Same rules for your napkin! Place your napkin neatly on your chair if you will be returning to the table. Place the napkin neatly on the table if you are finished and exiting the table.

To help explain these details further and give you a visual, here is an informative video by Kimberly Law.

Now you know the basics to be successful in both an American and a European/Continental dining style! If you have any questions about what I discuss here or on another topic, please comment here or contact me!

Happy Dining!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips

This week, I am covering dining etiquette! This is a vast topic and can be broken into many posts so today, I am highlighting what I think are the foundational pieces of dining etiquette. Even though “dining etiquette” may feel like a formal topic, a lot of these tips can be used in everyday circumstances such as client luncheons or dinners, going out for a date, dinner with a significant other’s family, and many other settings! Here are my 8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips:

  1. Arriving at the Table and Being Seated
    • Stand to the right of your seat and enter from that side.
    • When everyone arrives at your table, the Host/Hostess invites the table to sit. Allow the Guest of Honor (to the Host/Hostess’ right) to begin sitting first, then the rest of table follows.
    • If everyone has not arrived at your table, but it is time to sit down, allow the evening to proceed as it should.
      • If additional guests join your table, stand to introduce yourself.
    • Anytime a lady excuses herself from the table, the gentlemen should stand as well. The same applies for when she returns.
    • If you have a purse with you, place it under your seat or in your lap if it is small. A purse should not be placed on the table.
  2. Napkin Duty
    • Once seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, but do not unfold it.
    • With the napkin on your lap, unfold it so the main fold is towards you. This prevents crumbs from falling out onto you when you pick-up your napkin.
  3. B – M – W
    • Your Bread is to the left of your plate.
    • Your Meal is directly in front of you.
    • Your Water/Wine is to the right of your plate.
  4. Which piece of silverware do I use?!
    • Work your way from the outside, in.
    • The silverware at the top of your plate is for dessert; do not touch it during the earlier courses. The wait staff should adjust your place setting prior to dessert. If they do not, the fork goes to your left and the knife or spoon goes to your right.
  5. Ah, there are so many glasses!
    • 3 or 4 Course Meal: Work from the bottom, up. The glass(es) closest to you will be for wine during your meal, the next and largest glass is for water, and the small, skinny flute is typically for champagne for toasts and/or dessert drinks.
    • 6 Course Meal: Work diagonally (from right to left), up.
    • If you do not want to be served wine or you do not care for coffee with dessert, simply say “No, thank you.” and place your hand gently over the glass to signal to the waiter not to pour. Turning your glass/cup upside down is not appropriate.
  6. Dining American or European/Continental Style?
    This is actually an entire post of its own (look for another one coming soon!), but a few major points are:

    • American Style: You switch your fork and knife between hands to cut then take the food to your mouth with your fork in the dominant hand. Continental Style: You keep the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right, both facing down, with your wrists against the table.
    • American Style: hands do not touch the table. Continental Style: Wrists always remain on the edge of the table both when you are eating and when you are resting.
    • Both styles: Once finished, place your knife with the blade facing you and fork facing up (American)/down (Continental) in the 4 o’clock position on the plate. This signals to the server you are finished.
    • Both styles: Cut one bite of meat or food at a time. Put that piece in your mouth then cut the next.
  7. Need to leave the table?
    • Simply say, “Please excuse me for a moment.” No one needs to know you are going to use the restroom!
    • Place your napkin neatly on your seat.
    • Exit your chair on the right side and when you return to the table, enter your chair from the right.
  8. At the completion of the meal
    • Place your napkin neatly on the table to signal you are not returning.
    • Exit your seat on the right side.

I hope this breaks down dining etiquette into digestible bits and provides you with the foundational pieces! If you have questions about any of these tips or about another topic, please comment here or contact me. I love hearing from my readers and answering your questions.

Happy Dining!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra