The following words do reflect the opinions of the author and are meant to be taken as genuine help and guidance, and a loving sarcastic wake up call for your benefit and others amusement..
*MY APOLOGIES FOR THE NOVEL*
There’s a stereotype in the restaurant business: ‘Oh you’re gluten free? Yeah right. You’re still gonna cheat and get croutons on your salad, or that chocolate cake that you’re just gonna ‘pay for later.’ ‘
Or every waiters favorite scenario, when they bring you out your hamburger and fries just for you to declare, ‘Oh… actually I’m gluten free. I can’t eat that. What’s in the hamburger? And I don’t eat potatoes.’
And then there’s the awkward conversations that ensue when your house guest declares at the dinner table that they can’t, in fact, eat anything you’ve put before them.
Maybe you’re navigating your new diet and lifestyle, and you don’t quite know how to explain things to the waiter, to your friends, and you need some direction.
Or maybe you’re the person who needs the reminder that having a special diet does not in fact make you special, and that waitstaff and friends deserve grace and respect too (you have to love your neighbor as yourself even when they put cheese on your dairy free pizza).
So here is a guide to diet etiquette to help you navigate the real world of living with a special diet that will actually make life a lot easier (and keep your friends around! Don’t take on the stereotype of a crossfitter or a vegan! No hate 😉 ) !
First: know the difference between your dietary requirements and your dietary preferences. You may prefer to not eat foods cooked in canola oil, but you won’t suffer too much for it, however if you need to be dairy free because it will make you sick, this is a requirement.
-What is your attitude? This is very important. Do not announce to your friends in a proud fashion that you have reached enlightenment- I mean, have started a new diet. Let them into the vulnerable side of what you are going through, don’t let pride get in the way. You can say things like, ‘I’ve been experiencing these symptoms, and I am trying this new diet that I’ve read about/studied/was recommended/heard worked for so-and-so. It’s a little scary/nerve wracking/confusing/frustrating, but I am trying my best.’ You can ask your friends things such as, ‘This is going to be hard, and I know it may seem weird, but I would be really grateful if you could encourage me in this. Please be gracious and patient with me.’ I find that most friends want to help and be encouraging in their friends new endeavors, however there can be hostility and frustration when it is not handled in love and gentleness. You can ask them to help support you by finding new restaurants together where you can find something you can all eat, or to check in regularly with you to see how you’re doing. Having your friends walk with you is huge!
-Do not have a demanding attitude that forces your friends to do what you want, but ask for compromise and help. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends, ‘I know this may be hard because I don’t think I can eat at the places we usually go to anymore. But I would love to still spend time with you where we can all enjoy food together.’ You can even ask to plan meals together as potlucks, or choose to cook together. Not only can you then make food you can eat, but this fosters a new sort of community, and allows for friendships to grow and for skills to be learned together.
-If you are going to a friends house or visiting family for a meal, ALWAYS be proactive and upfront as soon as you can be about your diet. There is nothing worse and more stressful for a host than to find out last minute that your guest cannot eat what they are serving. Remember, the host is being gracious and providing you a meal, and it is NOT rude to let them know ahead of time what you can and cannot eat. The host wants you to enjoy yourself, and ignoring the issue and trying to hide will make them feel terrible once they find out. Once there is an invitation and you are unsure of what they will serve, you can send them a message or call them and tell them something like, ‘I am so excited to spend time with you, and at the risk of being awkward and blunt, I do want to let you know that I have some special dietary needs-‘ First, I like to acknowledge the elephant in the room that this can be awkward and feel strange to ask and discuss. It helps to make the conversation go smoothly, break the ice, and always lowers any potential guards the host may ha e up and feel if they are confronted with an expectant and unkind attitude. After this, I always present two options to the host: 1) I’m happy to bring my own food, and 2) I’m happy to help cook and bring ingredients to contribute*. What this does is it relieves the host of any expectations that they may not be prepared for, but it also shows a gentleness and humility which almost always leaves the host feeling respected and cared for. More likely than not, your host wants to make you feel loved and welcomed, and will present a third option: They will ask for what you can and cannot eat, and say they are happy to provide something that suits your needs. People generally want to help and be kind in this area, but not when it is presumed upon them and expected, demanded, with an attitude of arrogance. Beware that these do not creep into how you handle your dietary needs. And you may be offended at my suggesting that they could, but please take this from someone who didn’t think they could, and then experienced that yes, actually they can, and it can be subtle, but people can sense subtle so please be genuine.
*Hosts may offer for you to contribute to a meal, and this may often happen! That’s ok! Honestly, sometimes you really OUGHT to contribute or just suck it up and eat something you would rather not for the sake of community and unity. So you’re gluten free because you’re celiac? THIS IS IMPORTANT. Make sure your friends know! But are you ONLY eating grass fed pastured meat/eggs/butter, etc? That is great, but you don’t want to be a nazi about it with your guests. Do not demand they feed you grass fed beef. Come on, be gentle. For the sake of community sometimes you lower your standards if you must. Is this really a hill to die on? Don’t be a drama queen/king. But you can gently tell them, ‘Yeah I’m trying to eat clean, organic, and pastured and such as well. But I do need to try to be totally gluten free and dairy free, so I’m happy to give suggestions and ideas of what to eat, and bring stuff. Just let me know!’ That is how you win friends and influence people.
-One more thing that you can do that can make all your dreams come true and truly be the easiest option: Cook for people! If you serve up a delicious something and your guests are happy and well fed (and so are you), they don’t need to know that everything was free of dairy, gluten, shellfish, nuts, nightshades, etc.! If you make the menu, dictate what people bring, etc, then you get to be in control of what is and isn’t in your meal. Especially for people who love to have community in their homes, this is truly the best option.
-Always have a humble heart in all your interactions. Remember, you are choosing to go out to eat, it is not your right to be treated like royalty on a throne. Be gentle to those who serve you in restaurants, they’re just trying to make an honest living. Don’t make their lives a nightmare. Do you want to be spoken to like that?
-Check the menu before you go. I always make sure that the places I go to eat have things I can have. If it doesn’t, I gently ask if we can go somewhere else (and I recommend it! If I have the need, it’s my responsibility to find the place where I can eat. Do not expect others to do this for you).
-Always make your need known to the wait staff as soon as possible. Again, be gentle and discrete about this. Do not declare loudly for everyone to hear, but use kind, humble words, such as, ‘excuse me! I’m sorry, I really don’t want to be difficult, but Do you happen to know if this substitute can be made? Is there any possible way I could substitute this? I have an allergy to ______, and I understand if it’s too much work, that’s fine! I’m just curious? Or if that would be too much, can you suggest anything I could do? I’m sorry to be difficult!’ I have found that the gentler and more apologetic I am (without being a suck up, mind you. Be genuine) the more willing the wait staff is to accommodate you.
-When in doubt, ask! Never be afraid to simply ask the wait staff what they recommend. Most of the time they will be willing to give you their options and make the process easier and less awkward for everyone. Also remember that if you make a scene, your friends are not going to want to eat out with you again, you are making this less enjoyable for them as well as for yourself. Basic principle is to treat others in love and kindness.
-If your friends want to go somewhere you cannot eat and are determined to go to this place (perhaps someone requested it for a birthday party), do not be a drama queen/king about it, but bring your own food, or eat before you go. Take the L, be a kinder, more loving friend, and sacrifice for their enjoyment. It’s their birthday, after all!
-Be prepared to pay for food that you order incorrectly. Now if they make your food wrong when you asked kindly for something, then kindly let them know and be humble in how you treat the wait staff. Honestly, they are used to being treated like dirt, especially by people who have special diets so PLEASE do not be another statistic! Don’t be another customer they will go home and cry about because of how you treated them. Do you want to be spoken that way when you’ve made a mistake? Of course not. But if it was your mistake, PAY FOR THE FOOD. You can even gift it back to the kitchen, or take it to go and give it to a friend, but be responsible for your own mistakes.
-Make sure you tip well if your wait staff has been especially helpful during your meal! This encourages them to in the future be more willing and helpful for those who struggle with their diets. Pay it forward! Even compliment them, letting them know that you realize catering to food allergies is difficult, and that you appreciate them.
-Don’t be ridiculous in your expectations. Depending on your needs, you may need to forego eating out for a season. This may be hard, but think if it as an investment into your health and future as you learn what your body needs. When I first changed my diet I went full into AIP, and that’s not something you can ask your wait staff to accommodate to! So, I didn’t eat out for several months and then I eventually learned I can get away with just asking if things are gluten free and dairy free, and I make exceptions on quality and oil, added sugar and soy if I have to for the sake of loving others and eating out with them. Community is sometimes more important than always following your dietary needs. And remember to keep in mind your dietary requirements as opposed to your dietary preferences. Canola oil is not good for you, but it would not kill you like something that would send you into anaphylactic shock would. So know the difference for your needs vs. your wants, and use wisdom in choosing what to eat.
So I hope this was helpful in learning how to love others and navigate your way through difference scenarios with your new diet. In the long run, these skills will become second nature, but know that they will be awkward at first and may be hard to get used to. Trust me that things will get better over time!
With love and sarcasm to the Glory of God,