Ultimately, a good dinner party is about sharing good food and good conversation together.
There were the days when dinner invites were individually handwritten in pen, sent by post, and you were required to RSVP. There was probably a Miss or Mr. attached to your name. But that was long ago. Nowadays we send out a group email—text if we’re feeling lazy—and if everyone that was invited shows up, we consider it a success. Although we’re a little more laissez-faire about how we invite people, we’re certainly not so about what we’re serving. Dinner invites these days includes a date, a time, and a final line of “does anyone have any food allergies?”
Vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, lactose intolerant, low carb, off nightshades, no peanuts; we live in a world of food allergies and restrictions, and facing these restrictions can cause a bit of angst for the host or hostess. What will I serve? Will it be enough? Am I accidentally going to forget that an ingredient isn’t gluten free? Planning a dinner party is no simple task.
How do we then navigate the complicated waters of hosting a delicious, yet welcoming, dinner for all?
Know Who You're Inviting
A gracious host or hostess knows their guests, and that means being aware of what they eat and don’t eat. This doesn’t necessarily mean completely revamping your menu. You can still make your piece de resistance even if it includes meat and you have a few vegans at the table, but be sure to have a variety of options on hand, and more than just rice cakes for your gluten free friends and kale chips for the vegetarians.
Some things are simply best made with their original ingredients, and aren’t even worth the attempt at finding replacements. Serve a dinner of fresh pasta and the brown rice version for your gluten free friend just won’t be the same. Which means that you have to go above and beyond the “remove and replace” policy; that gets very boring very quickly. Instead of substituting ingredients in an old standard, find a new recipe to blow your dinner guests away.
Ask for Help
The best way to learn how to give your guests something that will work for them is to ask for their advice. Your vegan friends are probably much more well versed on the best vegan appetizers out there. Ask for recommendations and keep track of all your new-found recipes.
Be a Sensitive Guest
Remember that navigating the waters of dinner party etiquette is just as much the responsibility of the guest as a host. Bring a dish along as an offering and be the kind of person who people want to invite back.
Be Open and Respectful
Food is a social lubricant; it brings people together and facilitates conversation. But food is also very personal, which can often cause friction between people who eat differently. Respect each other and your eating decisions. Have intelligent conversations about what you’re eating and where it comes from, but avoid getting on a soapbox that will turn people away. Ultimately, a good dinner party is about sharing good food and good conversation together: if we can’t talk about food, how do we expect to change the system?
This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.