Dining and Dietary Restrictions

Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free – the list of food restrictions seems to get longer by the year. But holidays, gatherings, and events aren’t only challenging to navigate for those who choose to stray from certain foods: An estimated 26 million Americans have a food allergy that requires them to stay far away from foods like shellfish, milk, nuts, eggs, and wheat. Regardless of the reason behind each restriction, events surrounding food often leave people with no choice but to sit and watch others freely enjoying their meals.

Navigating dietary restrictions can be challenging for those on both sides, though. Is it the host’s responsibility to cater to the needs of the restricted, or are guests expected to come prepared? We surveyed over 1,000 people who attended an event where meals were served by a host in the past year about the rules of restrictions. Accommodating needs doesn’t have to be complicated; keep reading to learn more.

To Accommodate or Not to Accommodate?

How Guests and Hosts Feel About Accommodating Diets

Between 2017 and 2018, sales of plant-based food alternatives grew by 17%. While this may not seem like much, overall U.S. food sales rose 2% in the same period. Considering these alternatives include replacing meat, cheese, milk, or eggs, this not only benefits those identifying as vegan or vegetarian, but it also increases the options for those with allergy-related restrictions. While less than one-third of respondents had a dietary restriction, 20% of people had limitations due to severe allergies or conditions.

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The reason behind the restriction doesn’t seem to matter, though: 62.3% of all respondents said hosts should accommodate their guests’ dietary needs in some cases, while 32.3% said they should in all cases. Even among respondents who were not affected by their host’s options, 93.8% said it was the host’s responsibility to accommodate restrictions in some or all cases, with those with their own dietary restrictions more likely to agree.

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Expected or not, some restrictions are more challenging to accommodate. Nearly 65% of hosts said people with celiac disease were the hardest dinner guests to serve, while 56.6% said those with wheat or gluten allergies were the most challenging.

But across restrictions, guests were more likely to have their needs met when the event was hosted by a millennial. Compared to just 23% of Gen Xers and 30% of baby boomers, 34% of millennials said they would accommodate a guest in all cases. However, this doesn’t mean that older generations are less tolerant; instead, millennials might be accommodating because they tend to have more food restrictions than other generations.

Revealing Restrictions

Being Upfront About Your Dietary Needs

Whether it’s a new diet or the start of a vegan journey, there’s a running joke that you won’t have to ask someone about it – they’ll just tell you. However, people aren’t always open about their food restrictions, even when the restrictions are medically required. Shockingly, nearly 1 in 3 people with severe allergies or food-restricting conditions felt uncomfortable telling their hosts about their dietary restrictions.

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On a more personal note, the two most common restrictions involved no meat and health or fitness goals, with 24.1% and 28.4% of people choosing not to tell the host, respectively. Those with a fish or shellfish allergy or restriction were also among the most uncomfortable telling the host, but guests with celiac disease were the most surprising: While only 12.9% of respondents had the disease, nearly 26% were uncomfortable sharing their restrictions. However, their lack of comfort likely stems from how rare the disease is – affecting only 1.4% of the world’s population – and, therefore, how little people may know about it.

But without revealing restrictions, hosts can’t accommodate guests. Less than a quarter of respondents said hosts asked guests about dietary limits most or some of the time, while 22.3% and 11.4% said hosts rarely or never asked, respectively. Some hosts didn’t want to be bothered by voluntary restrictions, though. Forty-two percent of hosts said they’d only want to be notified if it was a medical or religious restriction. Either way, informing a host directly seems to be the best bet – 86% of hosts preferred guests to speak with them directly, while 45% preferred the information to be included in an RSVP.

Come Prepared

Exploring the Dining Experiences of those with Dietary Restrictions

Typically, parties and holidays come with fair warning to show up with an empty stomach. But add food restrictions to the mix, and showing up with an empty stomach can turn into a long, hungry night. While respondents said Thanksgiving and Christmas were the most difficult holidays to navigate with dietary restrictions, nearly 70% of restricted respondents said they eat before any event involving food. At least 40% of people said they either bring their own food to dining events, ask the host about food options when they arrive, or ask the host in advance to accommodate their dietary needs.

Asking about food upon arrival or asking for accommodations in advance doesn’t always mean options will be available. Over a quarter of people said they dreaded work events that included dinner, while 24.8% and 24.1% said the same of dinner at a friend’s or family member’s house, respectively. On the other hand, wedding dinners, other events with dinner served by a host, and dinner hosted by someone at a restaurant were significantly more friendly to those with dietary restrictions.

But not having anything to eat may be preferred if the choice is between nothing or nondiet-friendly food. While hosts may have good intentions, mistakes happen, and food that was supposed to accommodate restrictions may not actually be.

According to respondents, 57.6% had been served food that didn’t meet their needs, despite the host trying. Luckily, unless the mistake is a mean-spirited prank, some guests are forgiving. Interestingly, those with serious food allergies were more forgiving of their hosts than those with other restrictions – nearly 20% of those without severe allergies said not having their diet accommodated negatively impacted their relationship with the host, while only 12% of those with serious allergies said the same.

The Other Side of the Table

Host Insecurities

Food restrictions can have serious social and emotional impacts, especially when people don’t have any say in the matter. Whether it’s dealing with allergies or voluntary restrictions, 9% of hosts admitted to not inviting certain guests to a dining event because of their dietary restrictions. The most common reasons hosts gave for leaving people out was that they feared making a mistake in a dish and wouldn’t know how to prepare dishes that accommodate dietary needs.

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Still, 24.5% of hosts said it was too time-consuming to prepare accommodating meals. However, attending a party hosted by someone with their own restrictions may increase the chances that they’ll be accommodating – while 32.1% of hosts without dietary restrictions said they would always accommodate their guests’ needs, 48% of hosts with their own limits said the same.

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Stay True to Your Needs

Holidays, work events, or celebratory occasions can be hectic for both hosts and guests. With nearly every type of event revolving around food, dietary restrictions can take the stress of these occasions to another level. In most cases, communication is key. While hosts should ask their guests for any necessary accommodations, guests should also speak up and discuss solutions with the host directly. And if push comes to shove, eating beforehand or bringing your own food can prevent a night of hunger, mixed-up recipes, and hurt feelings.

While allergies and related conditions have more severe consequences, it’s crucial for hosts and guests to respect dietary restrictions, regardless of the reason behind them. At the end of the day, everyone has different preferences, and lack of accommodation, or no invite at all, runs the risk of hurting the relationship.

If your restrictions are strictly fitness-related, though, it can be tempting to bend the rules and indulge on behalf of the host – especially during the holidays. Don’t feel guilty for staying true to yourself, but also don’t forget it’s not all about food. Staying active and using the proper equipment can make or break your fitness goals, and FitRated is here to help. From ellipticals and treadmills to exercise bikes and home gyms, we’ve spent countless hours researching products and computing ratings so that you can find the best equipment within your budget. To learn more, visit us online today.

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,012 people who attended a dinner event, meal, or more formal dining event in the past year. Of those respondents, 83% hosted a dinner event, meal, or more formal dining event in the past year. Around 32% of our respondents reported having dietary restrictions, and of those people, around 20% had restrictions based on serious conditions and allergies, such as celiac disease and diabetes. Around 56% of respondents were female, 43% were male, and less than 1% were nonbinary. The ages of respondents ranged from 20 to 81 with an average age of 39 and a standard deviation of 12 years.

To determine which dietary restrictions were the most challenging, we presented the hosts with each dietary restriction on a matrix scale, from “very easy to accommodate” to “very challenging to accommodate,” with a “not applicable” option for those who never had to accommodate a specific dietary restriction. To determine which dietary restrictions people were least likely to talk about, we asked respondents whether they told their host about their restrictions at their most recent event. Sample sizes for certain restrictions presented were as low as 36 and as high as 118 respondents.

Data were not weighted, and hypotheses were not tested. Limitations such as telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory apply to survey data.

Fair Use Statement

Do you have a friend or family member with a dietary restriction or a popular host in your social circle? The graphics and content found here are available for noncommercial reuse, so feel free to share our findings with friends, family, or followers. All we ask is that you include a link back to this page so that readers get all the information and contributors receive proper credit.