Eating Out while Navigating Dietary Restrictions

Recently, I learned I have gluten and dairy dietary restrictions. As someone who has made it to her twenties with no dietary restrictions this has really changed the way I approach dinner parties 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. 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.
    • 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 a heads up 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 can cook it along with the main meal and often times, other guests will not even realize your plate is something different.
    • When sending in 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 off Salmon with vegetables then add to the side “Dietary Restriction: No gluten, no dairy”)
  3. Have a snack before you go!
    • I have learned it is always best to be on the safe side when going out for a cocktail party, sporting event/concert, or similar large scale, non-seated dining events. 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 protein filled 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.

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!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

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Dining Etiquette: Splitting the Bill

Photo Credit: The Economic Times

Photo Credit: The Economic Times

After a wonderful meal with great company, there is no worse way to finish the dining out experience than having confusion over the bill. No matter the circumstance, a business meal, a group of friends, or a celebration in honor of someone, this type of confusion can always make attendees feel uncomfortable (click to watch). In order to avoid any awkward moments, here are my tips for splitting the bill:

  1. Splitting the Bill Can be a Touchy Subject – The following are important to keep in mind as you plan group meals.
    • People do not want to “get stuck” paying for the expensive meals, additional appetizers, or alcoholic beverages of others when they do not consume the same. Not everyone can afford the same thing.
      • Food for Thought: When the bill is split evenly between people who did not actually order things costing the same amount, those who are charged more often deduct from the tip. This is not fair to the servers.
    • If going out as couples, it is often easiest to split the total as an even amount per couple; however, keep the first bullet point in mind!
    • Bringing cash (and a variety of bill amounts) when you know you will be splitting the bill is a good idea. You do not want to owe anyone money after the fact or be responsible for holding up paying.
    • For those who are comfortable with digital payment methods, consider using the apps like Venmo and PayPal.
  2. If You Plan to Split the Bill – Always make the plan known ahead of time!
    • If you are the organizer for a group get together, but you are not the host, you should let attendees know ahead of time the bill will be split. After receiving the R.s.v.p. list, send a confirmation note to all attendees including “reminders” and stating the plan for the bill.
      • For example: “A request to split the total for brunch as individual bills has been made of the restaurant. Brunch will be divided by what you order, not split evenly among everyone, in order to be fair to all. Thank you for understanding!”
    • If you make a reservation for a larger number of people, call the restaurant and ask if separate checks for a large group is possible. Also, ask if gratuity is added for a group of your size. Some establishments are unable to do separate checks; therefore, it is important to let your attendees know in advance if paying in cash will be necessary.
      • For example: “Please bring cash for dinner. We have been told splitting the check between so many credit cards is not possible; therefore, having cash will make it much easier for us to divide the cost ourselves.”
    • Always tell your server you wish to split the bill when he/she first greets you. This way, when you order, your server can enter your drinks and meals as separate checks.
      • It is very frustrating for servers to receive a joint bill back that says, “Put $25.51 on the red card, $34.22 on the blue card, etc..”
  3. Ultimately, Who is Responsible for the Bill?
    • Typically, if your boss/manager is present and extended the invite then it is his/her responsibility to cover the bill.
    • Similarly, with client lunches/dinners or interviews that take place over a meal, the hosting business is responsible for the bill.
    • If you are hosting a meal out for friends, family, etc., the cost of the meal and gratuity is your responsibility. Think of it as hosting at your home – You do not ask guests to pay for their meal in your home when you host; therefore, you should not expect them to pay when you extend the invitation to join you out for a meal.
    • If you are out to celebrate a special occasion for someone (birthday, promotion, etc.), it is customary that his/her bill is covered by the other people at the table. As a guest, be prepared to split the honoree’s tab – bringing cash helps!
    • If you are asked to evenly split a bill for a group whose meals are clearly not equal in cost, speak up in a polite manner. Simply saying, “Excuse me, everyone did not order equal amounts and I think it would be unfair to expect each other to make up for our portions. May we split the bill based on our meals?”

No matter your age or the setting, splitting the bill can always be a difficult situation to navigate. I hope these tips help you find a solution easily and relieve you of some dining out anxiety in the future!

Happy dining!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra