how much should we accommodate employees’ dietary restrictions at work events?

A reader writes:

I plan a LOT of events for my company both during business hours and social outings. Recently I have run into a bit of trouble with some dietary restrictions for some of my coworkers. When planning food for events, I always make sure that there are substantial vegetarian items available because being a vegetarian is fairly common, and all of these foods are generally on the regular menu and able to be consumed by anyone whether they are vegetarian or not.

The wild card is that I now have someone who keeps kosher and someone who is gluten-free. Am I obligated to provide special meals for these people? If the meeting was mandatory and the food provided was the only way that they were going to be able to eat lunch that day, I’d get it…but that is generally not the case. There was a very awkward moment a month or so ago when the gluten-free person came up to me during lunch (which was a buffet before a presentation) and asked me if there was a gluten-free entree that she could eat (the lunch was sandwiches, salad, chips, etc.). I also once special ordered an expensive kosher meal to be delivered for a lunch meeting and the guy didn’t even show up to the meeting! Frustrations abound.

I am struggling because if food is provided people will come expecting to be fed…but can I really expected to remember and accommodate the dietary needs of everyone in this organization of 200+ people? I want to make everyone happy but where do I draw the line? Please tell me if I am being a grinch.

It’s not that you’re being a grinch, but I think you’re losing sight of the point of this responsibility. The point isn’t to just cross this item off your list in the way that’s easiest and fastest for you; it’s to provide food for a group of people with diverse dietary needs. And it’s also probably to use food to make people feel generally taken care of and appreciated. That means that, yes, it might end up being more complicated than just placing one straight lunch order; you might need to make special arrangements for people with different needs — but you should see that as part of the job, not an annoying distraction from the job.

Deciding not to bother to provide food that some employees can eat is a really good way to make those people feel left out or like the company doesn’t think their needs matter. But on the flip side of things, making a point of ensuring that those people have food they can eat is a pretty good way of making them feel valued and supported.

And you definitely don’t want to exclude people because of their religious needs (your kosher employee or anyone in the future who needs halal food) or health needs (the gluten-free person or any future people with allergies or other health-related food restrictions). Part of having a diverse workforce is that you’re going to have people with diverse dietary needs too, and you don’t want to signal that only the dominant culture’s eating habits are accommodated there.

So yes, if you’re charged with handling food for events, make sure you’re getting food for everyone who will be there.

{ 825 comments… read them below }

  1. Some2*

    As a strict vegetarian, I cannot tell you how often I am left out of work food events because no one prepares, purchases, or accommodates vegetarian food. You’d be surprised how many people add bacon or chicken stock to their dishes :-(

    1. LawBee*

      My vegan coworker has it tough. Our managing partner consistently books mandatory dinners at steakhouses with minimal-to-no vegan-friendly options. She has had many a dry lettuce salad. :/

      1. really*

        I would like to know how you would avoid mustard. My daughter is allergic and every dressing and mayonnaise has it as an ingredient.

        1. Elle*

          Possibly check out Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar. I didn’t see mustard listed on the ingredients, but it does say “spices,” so it would probably be worth an e-mail to the company to check. They are the only dressing I’ve been able to find that has no added sugar in the ingredients, that’s why it’s on my radar. It’s pretty delicious too, I might add.

          1. SophieChotek*

            I agree. (That was my though too.)

            Actually I love making my own dressing with just olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, granulated garlic, and rosemary/thyme/oregano/basil.

        2. blackcat*

          I have a relatively mild mustard allergy and it is the worst. It is hidden EVERYWHERE.

          In my experience, vegan food is less likely to have it hidden. I don’t use store bought dressing and I avoid mayo all together.

          But I’m lucky in that all I get is an itchy mouth from the stuff. Life would be way worse if I couldn’t pop a benadryl and be fine (I do have epi-pens for other allergies, though those–berries–are easy to avoid). If my allergy was worse, I would just never eat sandwiches/salads provided anywhere. I do tend to ask about fish dishes with sauces, because it’s common there, too.

          You have my sympathies.

            1. CMart*

              There are several of us!

              Mine always confuses my poor friends and family, since I’m okay with strawberries (they’re not berries, genetically?) and actually like them a lot, but everyone is always protecting me from them.

              1. Alix*

                Nope – strawberries and, iirc, mulberries aren’t true berries – they develop from a different structure than a true berry does.

                1. Chocolate Coffeepot*

                  Interesting, did not know that! I’m actually allergic to *all* fruit, but strawberries & blueberries are the worst.

          1. Lily Evans*

            I have a similar reaction to carrots, and those are also hidden in so many things! I wish I had a dollar for every time a restaurant (or the dining hall at college) just put carrots in something without listing it on the menu! And half the time I don’t think to ask the server first, because it’s not life threatening or anything. I’ve gotten really good at dissecting my food to remove tiny carrot pieces.

        3. SusanIvanova*

          Mustard is a stabilizing agent for oil and vinegar dressings – it keeps it from separating. But if you don’t mind having to re-stir it right before you use it, you can skip it.

        4. Freelance Vandal*

          Another one to check is the Just Italian dressing from Hampton Creek. Unfortunately their Just Mayo product lists mustard as an ingredient.


        5. Sarah G.*

          I am not allergic to mustard, but have a crazy strong aversion to it (I can taste it when there’s even a little in something), and yes salad dressings are difficult! I am constantly asking at restaurants whether dressings, sauces, etc. have mustard in them, and often ask for just oil and vinegar or lemon. And I generally don’t eat pre-dressed salads or pre-made sandwiches.

          1. JessaB*

            Honey mustard is a no go for vegans. Some others may have stabilising agents made of non vegan friendly stuff.

        6. JessaB*

          Ah a fellow mustard allergy sufferer. We are rare but not unknown.

          Not every dressing and mayo. Helmann’s/Best Foods is safe for mayo (Kraft however is iffy their Light no no no, you’ll need to have the server label-check.)

          Light stuff is BAD BAD BAD because when they drop fat, they add mustard or mustard flour. Ken’s dressings are well labelled as to which do and don’t have mustard. If you’re in a restaurant watch the thousand island and the french for mustard flour, but ranch and any Italian not labelled vinaigrette should be okay. When in doubt I hate to say it but ketchup is your friend when dining out.

          If you’re out at seafood, ASK if they use Old Bay because McCormick took the mustard off the label but did NOT take the mustard out of the spice mix.

          If you like baked beans go to the foreign food aisle (Heinz in Tomato Sauce in the British foods section, has no mustard AND best ever, Europe has mustard on their required list of allergens because French people and dijon and German people and mustard in EVERYTHING.) Bush’s on the other hand is a nope for most of their stuff, however they DO label. So if it’s not on there you should be safe.

          Barbecue sauce and rub is difficult. I’d find a brand without it on the label and call and make sure and then stick with them. But absent proof I’d presume mustard for those.

          Pepperoni is bad in the states (mustard flour at least at Pizza Hut.) If you don’t know who made the sausage check the ingredients if it’s German especially.

          The number one thing to do however in company sponsored events is to make them put the condiments SEPARATELY. This should actually be a no brainer for people who are bringing in food. Whether it’s people hate mayo (or Miracle Whip which is a mustard flour issue,) or just don’t want fatty dressings, sandwiches and stuff should be served without and let people add things to it.

          And yet for years in two separate jobs, at potlatches, despite being promised at one, that they’d do some mustardless devilled eggs and another they’d leave the mustard out of the quiche, they always forgot. So even if they’ve promised, double check on them.

          Waves at fellow sufferer. At least if your daughter is at school or uni, you can get ingredient lists. You may have to fight for them but you can. Also it shouldn’t happen but when I’m at hospital and they give you boxed food because you’ve been there forever, they seem to always use Kraft mayo which is a no. I don’t trust the dietitians to make sure so I ask on everything.

          1. AnitraF*

            Duke’s Mayo is also both Sugar-free and Mustard -free – and does not contain artificial sweeteners either. And regarding hospitals – I was once given both iced tea and Orange juice – despite being allergic to both!!! (I told the dietician that the next thing she gave me that I was allergic to, she would end up wearing!!)

            1. JessaB*

              Yeh. I don’t even bother anymore. If I’m admitted the first thing I do is have them send up the dietitian because I’m tired of it, and I also have hemiplegic migraines (which functionally act like small strokes,) so it’s highly possible that some day I may not REMEMBER what I’m allergic to or that I have to ask. So I stop taking chances like that. If I can’t, I have my “go to memory person” make sure they make a big large deal about it.

    2. neverjaunty*

      My favorite is when the vegetarian dish is so good that everybody eats it, leaving nothing for the actual vegetarians.

      1. PaperbackFighter*

        My company is wonderful in that when we have a catered meal in the office (like the Christmas party), they always give the vegetarian/vegan/allergen/gluten-free people first crack at the buffet (with a guided tour of what’s safe for who), which not only ensures they get enough to eat but allows them to do it without worrying about cross contamination.

        1. Q*

          This. I have one employee who is gluten free, not as a lifestyle choice but because she will get very sick from eating it. I always make sure she gets first crack at the buffet table before others come along and cross contaminate.

          1. straws*

            You guys are saints! I once attended an event where they actually made sure to have a cake without dairy for me. They then proceeded to use the same knife to cut it as they did the cake with dairy. I didn’t find out until halfway through eating and ended up sick the rest of the night. Cross contamination is often overlooked even by those going above and beyond.

            1. the gold digger*

              We worked really hard to plan a menu everyone could eat for our wedding dinner. My brother has hemachromatosis, so there had to be a non-red-meat protein option. Stepdaughters are on and off again vegetarians. My mom and sister are lactose intolerant. And we had to make sure Primo’s mom and dad didn’t drink us into bankruptcy.

              The chef came up with a fabulous menu but forgot to mention that he was putting little slivers of Parmesan into the salad. My poor mom and sister didn’t notice – it wasn’t listed on the little menu card at each plate – and they were sick all night. :(

              1. KG*

                I hate to be that person, but it likely wasn’t the Parmesan. Hard cheeses contain only trace levels of lactose and are fine for the vast majority of people with lactose intolerance. Although it’s possible your mom and sister are hyper sensitive, in which case, disregard this. :) It’s a common misconception, and a few lactose intolerant friends have been very excited to learn that they can eat aged cheddar again!

                1. kit*

                  I have a friend who reacted even to hard cheese and it turned out she has a casein allergy. Most hard cheese has so little lactose it can be labelled lactose free, so the casein allergy made a lot more sense.

                2. the gold digger*

                  That’s possible, KG. I do know that my mom and my sister are both truly lactose intolerant, with my mom always bringing soy milk when she visits and my sister doing nothing but looking longingly at the gelato when we were in Italy, but it could have been something else that gave them upset stomachs.

                  My husband’s parents, on the other hand, claimed to be lactose intolerant – I bought Lactaid for them when they stayed with us – but then they filled up every afternoon – after not eating lunch – on our Good Cheese (and bourbon) and then had no appetite for supper. What kind of lactose intolerant is it when you can eat cheese and ice cream? They were fine with the salad.

                3. Evan Þ*

                  Gold Digger, I hate to defend your in-laws, but my dad’s lactose-intolerant, and he can eat unprocessed cheeses and most ice creams perfectly fine. The lactose is worked out of the milk during fermentation.

                4. Ellie H.*

                  Yeah, a lot of people with lactose intolerance do ok or a lot better not just with the cheese that’s really low lactose (I don’t bother to take Lactaid when I eat Parmesan, just soft cheese like mozzarella) but also with anything higher fat like ice cream (although I definitely need to take lactaid for that). Lactose is a sugar and the more fat the less sugar.

                  I can’t drink milk at all though without getting sick even with Lactaid. I tried to have a mocha a couple weeks ago (I always drink coffee black but I had had so little sleep I just couldn’t take it, and I hate Starbucks’s soy milk) with TWO Lactaid and it was still really unpleasant.

                5. Dealtwiththis*

                  Starbucks’ coconut milk has been my saving grace! I agree that their soy milk is terrible for some reason.

              2. Foxtrot*

                In response to KG, I had issues with milk only as a teenager. I think it was a hormonal puberty thing, because I grew out of it. Milk would run right through me but I was fine with other dairy products. I’m not sure if it was lactose intolerance or what, but the doctor did say that milk has a different kind of lactose or something from other dairy products. I’m just happy I can drink it again!

              3. JessaB*

                OH hell no. I’d be flipping out. You do not add things to a menu for any event without talking to the person coordinating. This is a dangerous habit, I really hope someone told off the caterers big time.

              4. automotive engineer*

                I thought for years that I was lactose intolerant but it turns out I have a whey allergy. I have major issues with cheese and cross contamination. At my sorority formal one year the chicken was soaked in buttermilk before being cooked but they didn’t tell me and I got horrifically ill and spent the whole night puking my guts out. Of course since I was underage at the time our chapter adviser assumed I’d been drinking and it led to a really unpleasant night all around.

          2. Natalie*

            Yeah, we kept the vegetarian meals and the cider (gluten free) off the buffet line at our wedding for exactly that reason. My friend with celiac learned the hard way at her own reception that people will drink all your gluten free beer without even thinking about it.

      2. Oryx*

        My old job would order 1 veggie pizza and then a bunch of pizza and sausage (no plain cheese). The veggie pizza would be gone right away, leaving me….. nothing.

        1. Crazy Dog Lady*

          My company does this with gluten free pizza. I’m not gluten free, so I don’t eat it, but plenty of people grab a slice just to try it, leaving nothing for the GF people.

          1. Laura*

            As someone who is gluten-free… that’s terrible. Especially because gluten-free pizza is rarely as good as the real thing.

            1. TL -*

              Oh, yeah. Don’t try the GF pizza. The real stuff is better. (Also, please don’t eat the special diet food if it’s limited. If you really want it, get it for seconds if everyone else is clearly fed.)

            2. CMF*

              Yeah, I’ve had gf pizza that is fine, but if I was able to have regular pizza, there is no way in hell I would opt for gluten-free.

          2. PaperbackFighter*

            The restaurant our company gets our pizza lunches from only does gluten free in personal pan pizza size, so the GF people have to ask for them in advance and they get set aside. Once, I ended up saving my pizza for dinner, and when I got it out of the office fridge to take home I discovered that someone took pieces out of it. WTF. It was an intact pizza, it’s not like I wasn’t going to notice!

            1. SusanIvanova*

              We do surprise birthday cakes, but the surprise was on my co-workers – I’d taken the day off. So the next morning they check the cake – boxed, uncut, and with “Happy Birthday Susan” on it – and find someone has stolen one of the strawberries off it along with a swath of icing.

          3. Christopher Tracy*

            I have celiac and that would piss me off if I worked at your company. Your colleagues are jerks.

          4. Daisy Steiner*

            This is why I usually say ‘I’m vegetarian’ in catering situations, even though strictly I’m not (I prefer to eat vegetarian, but will have meat once a month or so as a treat or if I really feel the need). I’d hate to be taking away the only food that vegetarians can eat so I want to be factored into the numbers. And yet I still feel a little bit guilty, like I’m misleading people because I’m not a true vegetarian.

            1. Sarah*

              As a vegetarian I really love when meat-eaters express interest in & desire for vegetarian foods in such a way that it results in more vegetarian foods being made in the first place. More people wanting it = more people asking for it = more restaurants offering it as a matter of course, or offering it in interesting and delicious ways.

              Anything that helps drag us collectively out of the dark ages of restaurants that offer nothing but house salads and veggie burgers that had to be chipped out of a block of ice in the back of the freezer.

              The only exception would be in cases where there’s truly a limited supply, but other than cruise ships or meals that have already been ordered & delivered with a specific number of vegetarians in mind, that generally isn’t a problem. So I think your method of asking beforehand is great!

        2. super anon*

          I hate events where the meal is pizza. I’m severely lactose intolerant and I haven’t eaten any dairy in 10 years. Pizza is the worst optin for me because while I can pull off the cheese and toppings, I’m left just eating saucey bread. It’s even worse because often at pizza lunches the side is a pre-mixes caesar salad, which means I can’t pick out the cheese either. I’m fine with eating a cheese-less pizza, but it’s rare that someone will order that for me because no one else will eat it. I’ve even had someone tell me it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else if I were to get a special pizza for myself, so I ended up eating nothing as it wasn’t an easily de-cheesed pizza.

          I prefer sandwiches because at least can pull the cheese out (unless it’s a heated sandwich), but I also don’t like wraps, because they always are filled with shredded cheese that I can’t easily remove. I’m not a very picky eater and I don’t have it anywhere near as bad as people who Celiac or Vegan, but it still stings a bit to not be included in communal meals, etc. It really does make a difference when meal planners try to accomodate my dietary restrictions.

          1. Hallway Feline*


            It always happens at work events here. They say they’re feeding us, and never include dairy-free options! I have asked, and they just tell me to pick it off. Explain, please, how one picks off cheese from Alfredo pasta? >.> They won’t even order the salads with cheese on the side. That’s the only concession I ask of them, and they said that’s unreasonable? Even though the last thing that goes atop a salad when ordering from catering is the cheese?

          2. INFJ*

            Yup. I’ve also been told it wasn’t fair if I got something different. I had an experience in which my boss was planning a pizza party and asked what I would eat from a pizza place as an alternative.
            (I’m vegan.) I told him a veggie sub, and he said that that wasn’t doable because others would see it as “special treatment.” Um… thanks, I would rather not be asked and just bring my lunch that day…

            1. MT*

              It’s “not fair” that one person gets a different meal, but totally fair that one person has to skip a meal?

              The logical process there is mystifying.

          3. Matt*

            Oh yes, the cheese … I don’t have any lactose problems as far as I know, but I have just a big aversion against cheese (and yoghurt, and any dairy products that have a distinct smell and taste … I just like chocolate milk :-) I can’t stand it, and I could only swallow it when someone would point a loaded gun at my head and order me to eat it … I love pizza without cheese, but try to place your special order when someone does a mass pizza order at work, and you’ll be the one who always needs special treatment forever …
            I can remember a day at a school field trip when there was pizza for lunch, I declined the pizza, there was one alternate dish for the non-pizza eaters and guess what … it was ham & cheese toast. I ended up eating just salad that day.

            1. Sarah*

              …whose idea was it to create an ‘alternate’ meal with all the exact same ingredients as the original meal? Ham and cheese toast, jeez…

          4. Linguist Curmudgeon*

            Lots of pizza places will hold the cheese if you ask – I have a mild casein allergy and have no problems with pizza.

        3. Marisol*

          See now, if the person ordering the food would have just observed the high demand for the veggie pizza, they could have added more of them to the order and maybe ordered less of the other kind, and everyone would have been happy. So simple. But for some reason unknown to me, in practice a change like this is difficult.

          1. Telly*

            Yes, this drives me crazy. The orderers assume that no one likes the “healthy” options and only order the minimum. I think that they completely underestimate people’s palates and desire for variety.

            1. Sarah*

              That was what it was like the first time my office ordered pizza – one veggie, several pepperoni and/or sausage and one everything. The veggie pizza and the everything pizza were gone within minutes and there was still almost an entire pepperoni pizza congealing in the fridge two days later.

              Luckily, the lunch orderer was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm for vegetables (rather than mystified and incredulous) and now we get the reverse ratio, so everyone’s happy.

      3. Temperance*

        I’m guilty of this. I try to limit how much meat I eat (and I also don’t like meat), but I’m not an actual vegetarian. I’ll try to be more mindful going forward.

        1. Em Too*

          Oh yes! That dilemma – is there plenty of veggie stuff (coz, y’know, omnivores eat veg too) or only enough for the actual vegetarians? I’ve now taken to claiming vegetarianism for the purposes of work food… and my remaining dilemma is whether it’s OK to eat a little of the meat when I’ve claimed veggie…

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I always over order the vegetarian option or dishes because people always want it!

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I’ve had to start ordering more of the vegetarian stuff, too. The vegetarian pizza is just so good that everyone wants it. And the vegetarian pasta dishes, too. I think they look better, too, because they’re more colorful with all the veggies in there, so people gravitate to it because of that.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            I’d continue to request the veggie option so your wish for veggie is taken into account when ordering, and then eat a little of the meat if there’s obviously enough to go around. And if you find yourself in a setting where there are more omnivores than vegetarians, do the opposite. :-)

          3. Daisy Steiner*

            Oh whoops, I just made a similar comment above before getting to this! Sorry guys.

        2. Debbie Downer*

          What we have happen at the professional development conferences I attend is that they order way too many vegetarian options. People don’t take them, I assume because they want to leave them for the vegetarians, then there is nothing left but vegetarian options and a ton of people who refuse to eat vegetarian on principle (I’m in a conservative industry). I’ve had many a vegie sandwich at these things because I don’t mind and I want to leave regular options for the people who want them. Why they don’t just ask at registration is beyond me.

          1. INTP*

            The anti-vegetarian-on-principle people are so weird to me. It’s almost like they’re allergic to the word, or something. Usually these people would happily eat a gooey mac and cheese or cheese lasagna or something, but if you present it as a “vegetarian pasta option” they’re suddenly grossed out.

            The worst offender I know won’t even go to most of the restaurants where I can eat something because he thinks the gluten free options are going to taint ALL of the food with healthiness. He won’t even eat cupcakes from the one place I can eat cupcakes because apparently the tiny row of gluten free ones makes all of the cupcakes gross.

            1. Debbie Downer*

              I’ve not seen anyone that bad, thankfully. After all, a vegan cupcake is a cupcake. I think for these meat eaters it’s more just being really disappointed when presented with a vegetarian lunch. I think they feel like the vegetarian and gluten free people on this thread do when they are presented with nothing but a side salad (meat eaters are just more willing to be visibly sullen about it).

            2. INFJ*

              Ugh. This drives me nuts. Whenever I brought food to potlucks, the host always felt the need to point out that my food was VEGAN, not because anyone else was vegan and needed to know their opinions, but because the omnivores needed to know that my food was “different,” and to steer clear from it. I mean, come on, omnivores eat vegetables and pasta and beans and rice all the time, right? Why is my food tainted because it doesn’t have meat, dairy, or eggs in it?

              1. NutellaNutterson*

                I do appreciate a heads-up on food that looks exactly like mainstream food, but is vegan, because the chances are higher for it containing significant amounts of soy. I’d rather not waste your hard work if I won’t be eating it!

              2. JHS*

                In my case, as vegan food often contains mushrooms and other fungi, I’d need to know to eat it safely (I have an extraordinary and annoyingly long list of intolerances…)

                1. Sarah*

                  I have a friend who can’t eat fungi and *is* vegan, and she tells me this is the bane of her existence at potlucks, even when there are plenty of vegan options.

              3. ithinkyouhavemystapler*

                At work potlucks, people whisper “It’s vegetarian” the way people whisper “So and so has cancer.” Like it’s a horrible disease. I’m not vegetarian, but I make tasty vegetarian food, label it with common allergens (we have a nut allergy in the office), and let the one vegetarian and one vegan know that they can eat what I have brought. I alternate between being annoyed and laughing at them. And when I bring my kale salad, even those people eat it and request it!

                1. EKE*

                  I feel like the rule should be that if you make fun of it, you don’t get to eat any after realizing how awesome it is.

            3. TL -*

              You should tell him gluten free isn’t objectively healthy. In fact, unless you have Celiac’s, it’s often a fattier, saltier, more sugary product that’s not as tasty and (assuming an average American diet) a much more unhealthy choice.

            4. Senator Meathooks*

              Most vegetarian options that I’ve come across in a work function are too carby for my condition so I actively avoid those unless it’s not that carby.

        3. Anon for this*

          Yeah, me too. I’ll eat anything. I somehow hadn’t thought about this leaving less food for vegetarians.

        4. blackcat*

          I will eat fish/chicken, but I *always* tell people I’m vegetarian because I don’t eat mammals. I’m happy to eat the veggie option, and I want to make sure that enough of it is ordered.

          1. Aud*

            So you categorize fish and chicken as vegetables somehow? What do you think the “vege” part of vegetarian means?

      4. Newsie*

        That is so true. The thing that’s good at my job now, though, is that I have such lovely co-workers that if I come in late on days with provided food, I will find a covered plate with vegetarian options to prevent just such an occurrence. It makes me feel cared for and appreciated. A lesson in life!

        1. Michelenyc*

          My co-workers are great too! For my birthday they got me treats that were raw, vegan, and GF. They know I am for the most part vegan/GF. They were so yummy!

      5. Jaydee*

        I usually check off vegetarian for office food things when it’s asked just for this reason. Usually they are of the buffet sort, so it gives me a choice. And if I end up eating the meat option, there is more for the actual vegetarians. We have never run out of meat food but have definitely run out of vegetarian food before.

      6. Artemesia*

        We finally figured out to order twice as many cheese pizzas after all the people who wanted meat said ‘oh that looks good, I’ll just try a piece’ leaving people who needed it without. It happened a bit less with the vegetable pizzas. But yeah — if you order specialized meals they have to be segregated unless there is a lot provided or else someone else will snap up all the special orders just to ‘give them a try.’

        At my own dinner parties with people I didn’t know well e.g. people assisting at a conference or something, I got in the habit of providing a couple of hearty vegetarian dishes that could serve as sides for the meat as well as mains for the vegetarians and had lots of it. Add a couple of salads and appropriate desserts and everyone got fed amply although some people also had meat. Vegans were harder and I always made sure if there was only one or two that the specialized foods went to them directly although I tried to order things that were similar to the other dishes.

      7. Cecily*

        My boss (at a chain fast food place) will sometimes order pizza for us after a rough lunch rush, and both me and one of my coworkers can only have cheese pizza for various reasons. GOOD LORD the people who go for the cheese even though they’d be happy eating any of the ones with toppings and leave none for us.

        1. Temperance*

          That stinks! I don’t eat pork products or cured meats, so I can only have plain cheese or mushroom pizza. I don’t know why people are so hell-bent on ordering pepperoni when EVERYONE likes cheese pizza. (I can’t eat a veggie pizza because I’m allergic to certain kinds of peppers.)

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          But after this happens a couple of times, shouldn’t it be obvious that a lot of people like cheese pizza and your boss should order more of that?

        3. Lea*

          We have always had meat and veggie or cheese pizzas in my family because we like them. I don’t think it would occur to me that pizza ordered and set out for everyone wasn’t really for everyone. It’s not meant to be rude if you get cheese instead of pepperoni! So maybe the vegetarian only types need to speak up that they can’t eat meat and need the other option first.

          1. Alix*

            This. You can’t really blame people for seeing food offered and assuming it’s for everyone. It’d be one thing if there was a big honking “For Vegetarians” (or whatnot) sign on it, but in absence of that sort of thing don’t blame the other people. Blame the person doing the ordering, for not ordering enough, or blame the organizer for not making sure stuff was set aside.

      8. TrainerGirl*

        I went to a retreat about 5 years ago, and the meat dishes were so awful that the vegetarian food was eaten by everyone. When we went back the following year, the meat was much improved. Thankfully there weren’t many people there that week, so there was plenty for everyone.

      9. Dynamic Beige*

        Yeah. After making fun of you for not eating meat. “Why do you want a veggie pizza? I want one with All The Meats!” quickly turns into “Ooh, that looks good!” Gee, thanks.

      10. A Cita*

        I’ve worked to reform the person who orders our food. First it was, hey, you’ve got a super awesome hot lunch non-vegetarian buffet and me a simple side salad. That’s not ok. (And usually the salads were of the iceberg lettuce, mealy tomato, shredded carrot variety.)

        Once she got ordering actual vegetarian options down, she then had to learn to order *more* of the vegetarian options because in general, meat eaters will still go for the vegetarian options, often leaving nothing or very little for the actual vegetarians. It took time, but we got it down.

      11. EKE*

        That happened to me in college marching band. There were only a handful of us who were vegetarians, and by the time I got to the food area they’d given all the meals away because meat eaters thought they looked better. I’m a pretty hangry person, so this did not go over well. My friends were nice enough to help me out, at least, so I ate like 4 bags of chips for lunch.

    3. Kiki*

      At a club event, I’d just finished discussing why I was only having salad out of all the food there. Everything was meat. That’s when the older lady I was discussing eating vegan with insisted on topping off my spinach salad with her special bacon grease dressing. What are you gonna do, I had to laugh.

      1. Jenna*

        Argh! That’s horrible!

        At least you knew?
        I bet some people in this thread are familiar with this little dialog:
        “Try this!”
        “What’s in it?”
        “Just try it!”
        “Tell me what’s in it, please.”
        “Why do you have to be difficult! Just try it! It’s my secret recipe!”

        Or the “friend” who spikes things you can eat with the thing you can’t and does not tell you on purpose. Grrrrr!

        1. DairyAllergy*

          that is the WORST. my coworker is creating a new menu for our cafe and she is constantly trying to get me to try new baked goods (which I don’t normally eat anyway). I’m severely allergic to dairy and have had so many bad experiences I’m really reluctant to try food if I don’t know exactly what is in it. She’s always pressuring me to try new food and gets annoyed when I refuse. I don’t want to be difficult- I also don’t want to die!!

          1. JessaB*

            I usually make a big deal of that and grab my purse (even if I have to get it out of a work locker,) and hand them my epi-pens with an explanation of “this is what you do if this thing has this stuff in it and you didn’t tell me because it can kill me. You pull off this tab and you stick me right here. Do you still want me to try this?” I just get fed up with people who will NOT tell me what’s in food that could kill me. I don’t care if it’s your ten times great gran’s recipe for miracle cure for cancer. If you’re not willing to tell me if it’s got things in it. I am not going to eat it.

        2. Temperance*

          I have a “friend” like that – he’s convinced that I’m just “picky”, so he keeps trying to spike my food with peppers and sriracha. I am allergic to several different kinds of peppers, so I avoid them all, because I can’t trust people not to trick me or not know what they’re feeding me.

          I like trying different foods, so long as they are safe for me. Oh well, karma bit him on the ass … his girlfriend is an actual picky person, who thinks that black pepper is too spicy.

          1. Janice in Accounting*

            You should not only avoid all peppers, you should avoid this “friend.”

          2. MT*

            “Picky” is a non-starter anyway.

            So his girlfriend isn’t allergic? “I don’t like pepper” is a 10000% legitimate reason to NOT SPIKE SOMEBODY’S FOOD WITH PEPPER.

          3. msnovtue*

            Eh, don’t be quite so hard on the girlfriend…. Apparently many people who are very sensitive to spicy/peppery foods end up being allergic to them, which was what happened to me. I found out the hard way when a co-worker decided she needed to make hot pepper microwave popcorn in our cubicle-farm office and less than 5 minutes later, I started having trouble breathing. Thankfully, I’ve always kept Benadryl on hand just in case.

            The kicker? Even after going to the doctor the next day and coming home with 2 new meds, an epi-pen, and $125 less in my bank account, the manager told me they couldn’t tell her not to make it and handed me a bunch of paperwork that would take at *least* 2 weeks to get completed. Only *after* that would they try to make an accommodation for me (which was moving me to the opposite side of the same open office.) Nor would they allow me to explain things to my co-workers or teach someone else to use the epi-pen. Basically, I was supposed to sit there working every night waiting to see if I had to go to the ER or not. I quit on the spot.

        3. CMart*

          I have that issue with lotions/perfumes all the time! It’s especially rough because a lot of my food allergies cross over into “things someone might put in an ‘all natural’ balm” (ginger, a lot of fruits).

          “Try this!”
          “No thank you, I have a lot of allergies.”
          “It’s all natural! No chemicals!”
          “Yeah, like I said, I have a lot of allergies.”
          “No, you can’t be allergic to this! It’s all natural!”

          1. Anon367*

            Or the people who think that just because some people are allergic to a certain ingredient means everyone should avoid it. No. That is not the way it works. I can’t deal with dairy, but other people have genetics that allow them to have dairy just fine.

            I’ve also met people who think I’m gluten free because I can’t have dairy. Some bread has whey or casein, so I can’t have that, but most bread is literally flour water yeast salt.

          2. Batman's a Scientist*

            “No, you can’t be allergic to this! It’s all natural!”

            Ugh. I hate the idea that all natural things are always perfectly safe and healthy and wonderful.

          3. Aurion*

            I would just start rattling off natural things that are harmful. “Botulism! Poison ivy! Pufferfish poison!” But this is one of my pet peeves, so I’m an ass about it.

            Natural does not preclude sensitivity and allergies…

      2. Lore*

        A friend who used to work a lot of touring events tells an absolutely classic story of being at a roadside diner in the South, confirming that a particular salad was vegan, and having it arrive covered in crumbled bacon. She called the waitress over, politely reminded her that she’d expected the salad to be vegan but it was topped with meat. The waitress looked at her blankly, then said, “That’s not meat. It’s bacon!”

        1. Artemesia*

          I have an onion sensitivity; just this weekend after confirming that a particular side didn’t have onions, I looked down to see it arrive covered in chopped chives — actually chopped green onions. It was fine before they added that.

        2. Is It Performance Art*

          One of my coworkers handed me some food and insisted I try it. She insisted it was vegetarian. When I asked her if she was sure she told me “it’s vegetatrian, I just put a little bacon in it, but I consider it vegetatrian.”

            1. Secretary*

              That’s like saying, “Here’s some bacon, it’s actually faken bacon but I consider it meat.”

        3. ZuKeeper*

          There’s a pretty well known Canadian lady who writes books about her adventures in knitting, who also happens to be a vegetarian. She recently came to my area, so I went to listen to her talk. She’s quite amusing. But she was on tour in the South, and she went over pretty much the entire menu before figuring out she could eat biscuits and grits. She loved the biscuits, and raved about them and asked how they got them so light and fluffy. She was told that the secret was in the baking powder. But with a Southern accent, it sounded like “bacon powder.” She was stunned, until someone translated for her.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I hope the secret wasn’t actually lard because that is the secret to my biscuits.

          2. Miss Betty*

            I immediately wondered where I could get bacon powder and started thinking of ways I could use it.

        4. Kay J*

          Ha! I had a vegan friend visiting me in Japan. Xie was eating vegatarian because it is SO HARD to be vegan here (fish stock, dashi flakes, eggs… it’s in everything) but that still wasn’t lenient enough. Xie asked at a cafe if a pasta dish was vegetarian. The waitress said yes. Now, my friend had been to Japan before, so xie asked for all the ingredients. Shrimp was one of them.

          Shrimp isn’t meat! It’s fish! Which is a vegetable, I guess.

          1. Susan C*

            The fact that so many pescetarians “identify” as vegetarian doesn’t really help with that kind of misconceptions, which is why it always makes me unreasonably cranky witnessing it, despite being well aware that it’s none of my business.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              The fact that so many pescetarians “identify” as vegetarian doesn’t really help with that kind of misconceptions

              Ugh. I always want to ask those people “so fish is a vegetable?”

              1. MT*

                To be fair, I feel really uncomfortable and obnoxious saying “pescetarian.” I already don’t care to be interrogated about my dietary habits, but something that communicates “like vegetarian but not” opens the Pandora’s box of “none of your business” questions.

                I don’t tell people I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t blame those who find it easier to do so. Most people just want to eat their lunch in peace and don’t care to think about “Am I representing The Cause?” with every conversation.

                (For others who may find themselves in the same boat, I find it easiest to just say “Oh, I eat seafood!” and quickly change the subject.)

                1. Sarah*

                  When I was pescetarian (briefly, for about 6 months) I called it “vegetarian but with fish.” Like someone would ask and I’d say “I’m a vegetarian-but-with-fish” like it was one word. Only had one person come back with, “So, pescetarian?” and it was my cousin. But I had several people say, “Well, most vegetarians eat fish, don’t they?” and just… *sigh*.

            2. Secretary*

              This is a huge pet peeve of mine!! It’s not that big a deal to just call yourself a pescetarian, because if you eat fish you’re NOT a vegetarian.

              I will say I’m vegetarian when I’m actually vegan, but vegan is a subset of vegetarian while pescetarian is not. A vegetarian can eat a vegan diet and still be vegetarian, but they cannot eat a pescetarian diet and still be vegetarian.

              1. Gail*

                I’m not quite understanding the argumentation here. A pescetarian can eat a vegetarian diet and still be pescetarian (because there is nothing in a vegetarian diet a pescetarian can’t eat). But a vegan cannot eat a vegetarian diet and still be vegan. A vegetarian diet might include eggs, milk and cheese – all things one cannot eat and be vegan. I have a friend who is a very strict vegan and would absolutely be horrified to have been fed animal products because someone argued that vegan is considered a subset of vegetarianism. Perhaps you’d be willing to eat a vegetarian diet as a vegan, but most vegans I know would not and the argument of subset would not work for them, so as vegans they could not say they were vegetarian without risking being fed the incorrect food for their diet (a vegetarian could say they were vegan, but not the other way unless they weren’t actually a strict vegan).

                On why a pescetarian would use the term vegetarian, it’s easier for my pescetarian partner to just say he’s vegetarian when we are out somewhere new as not all fish dishes are actually pescetarian (e.g. they’ll include chicken, pork, meat stocks, etc). Menus tend to label dishes as vegetarian/vegan, but they aren’t clear about whether fish dishes are safely pescetarian or include things a pescetarian wouldn’t eat. Pescetarian is not a term enough places are familiar with yet so it’s hard to get an answer the question without having to tear up an ingredients list (sometimes it’s not worth the hassle). It’s just safer for him to say he’s vegetarian then risk being fed meats he doesn’t eat (he was raised pescetarian so it’s quite likely trying to eat meat at this point could make him ill). It’s not about tricking people into thinking he’s a vegetarian when really he’s a pescetarian, but just ensuring he’s actually getting food he can eat which is what is important. And so many people have never even heard the term pescetarian so usually it’s just easier. He’s perfectly fine with a vegetarian diet, he’s gone months to a year at times where he actually is eating a vegetarian diet (e.g. no seafood). I could see being annoyed if someone said they were vegetarian and they complained that they weren’t given any fish (causing confusion between the two diets), but I see no problem with a pescetarian saying they are vegetarian because they feel safer eating vegetarian food in unknown contexts.

        5. EKE*

          One of my band trips in college always included a show in rural nowhere, Georgia, with lunch after. My “vegetarian” meal included chicken dumpling soup.

    4. INTP*

      Fun story: My old office had a taco potluck. The boss organized it and provided ONLY meat options. (This was California, so that alone was weird.) I prepared a lentil taco filling since that was the only way I was going to eat tacos. Every unmarried male in the office brought some kind of dollar store cookie that they didn’t even open – it was just their token admission to the potluck, they knew no one wanted to eat those things including themselves but weren’t willing to spend any amount of time or more than $1.

      One of said men snarked on my lentil taco filling for being “weird.” I almost raged. Like seriously, you bring absolutely nothing to this potluck, and now you’re getting snarky with me because you think I should have cooked something you wanted to eat instead of something I wanted to eat? Aaaggghhhhhh.

      1. Ife*

        This is the whole point of potlucks in my mind… you are guaranteeing that there’s at least one item available that you want to eat!

      2. DoDah*

        At my old office–the two dollar store cookie potluck offenders were married women with kids.

        ****waves from opposite world***** :)

      3. Old Cynic*

        I worked in an office where the potluck organizer assigned dishes for people to bring. She always assigned elaborate, expensive dishes for people to create. Her contribution to the potlucks? A can of green beans.

    5. Ahad ha'amoratsim*

      Ditto as one who keeps kosher.
      On the other hand, it’s very easy to take food that is kosher and unintentionally render it non-kosher, such as by unsealing it, or putting it on non-kosher plates. When this happens, it tends to make everyone feel awkward, the employee still goes hungry, and the person who went out of her way to make special arrangements feels put out.

      My current employer has me make my own arrangements for kosher food at company events, but at the company’s cost. This seems to work pretty well, and the inconvenience of making my own arrangements is far less than the inconvenience of being unable to eat.

      1. xyz*

        I think this is actually a pretty good compromise, even if it is a little bit of a hassle, it ensures that the eater with restrictions gets what they want and the company remains sensitive to the necessary restrictions.

    6. Vicki*

      My work group went to a buffet-style Korean restaurant for lunch. My veg. co-worker assumed she would not be eating the barbecue-at-the-table, but figured, Korean restaurant. Tofu. Veggies. Rice.

      Everything had bits of meat in it except the salad, which was iceberg lettuce and some sort of dressing. We asked “could they make her some veggie thing without meat”. They said “No.”

      We did not go back.

    7. PJ*

      Being a vegetarian/vegan is a CHOICE-it is not a medical need (i.e.: celiac)! Why should restaurants/people bend over backwards to accommodate your dietary WISH and refuse to even acknowledge a true allergy?

  2. Marigold*

    How far do you have to go? Do you need to take into account any picky eaters in the crowd? I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t like eggplant or mushrooms, and that’s often what comes in as a substitute for meat.

    1. Sadsack*

      This is an interesting question. I think I’d try to make note about such preferences if there are only one or two. But if a place has only one veg option and it’s eggplant parmesan, you’re kind of out of luck, unless there’s a salad option. I’m curious what others will say.

      1. M*

        I am maybe the only vegetarian on the planet who doesn’t like salads! Not a fan of raw veggies in general. :(

        1. themmases*

          You definitely aren’t! I’ve come back around to them now but after several years of being a vegetarian, I was just sick of being served them everywhere. It was at least 5 years before I started ordering them regularly again. (And even then I only gave them another chance because I was on a diet.)

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I love a lot of raw veggies but I hate salads because I find having a mouthful of mostly leaves totally revolting. It’s a texture thing for me. I made a “salad” with cucumber and tomatoes and no lettuce that I quite liked!

      2. Sadsack*

        Furthermore, if you are ordering for a large group, I think it will be a bit if a burden to meet all their preferences in addition to actual restrictions.

        1. Jodi*

          Good distinction. There’s a difference between actual “will make me sick restrictions” and “I kind of don’t like red onions” preferences.

      3. NewCommenterfromDaBronx*

        Eggplant parm will not work for vegans anyway, so not the best choice.

        1. JessaB*

          Unless you use vegan substitute “cheese” you’re right on that. But it would probably work for vegetarians.

    2. Not Karen*

      Exactly. Or what about lesser-known dietary restrictions, like low FODMAP (almost everything contains garlic and/or onion)? Or people like me who avoid artificial ingredients?

      1. Leatherwings*

        I think that these need to be accommodated as well.
        Picky eaters should be accommodated to the extent that it’s reasonable (there might not be a clear brightline there, but it’s not that hard to figure out) but any allergies or dietary restrictions like this should be considered. Your employer should ask you for suggestions if they’re stumped!

        1. the_scientist*

          I don’t know…..what do picky eaters do when invited to someone’s house for dinner? I’m not entirely unsympathetic; I have issues with certain food textures and there are things that are on my “not ever” list, but if I’m a guest in someone’s house I’ll eat what I can and not make a scene. In a group of probably larger than 10, it would be extremely difficult to accommodate all dietary restrictions plus every single person’s preferences, especially for what sounds like an optional meeting that people may not even show up for.

          1. Marigold*

            Typically the host will ask what I want to eat. My circle of friends all know I’m the picky one, so they’ll do little things for me, like leave dressings off salads or if they’re making something spicy, they’ll portion some out for me before they add the spicy stuff.
            I have been to plenty of events where there’s been nothing for me to eat, but these are typically big gatherings and I expect it. But if it’s just a dinner party of 4? I always ask people what they want to eat and if there’s anything I should avoid making.

            1. OhNo*

              Same. When I eat with my friends, who all know how picky I can be, they’ll usually just ask if there’s something specific. Or, if they want to make a particular dish, they’ll list out the ingredients for me so I can ask for substitutions or just decide if I’m going to eat around something.

              Same when I’m sharing food with them at a restaurant. Then the first question is usually, “Is there anything you absolutely don’t want?”

            2. the gold digger*

              I dated a guy who had been vegetarian his whole life but who never wanted me to say anything if we went to someone’s house for dinner – he said he would eat what he could.

              A friend invited us for Thanksgiving. I had mentioned in passing to my friend that he was a vegetarian – she made an entire veggie lasagna for him just so he would be sure to have an entree. It is one of the most gracious things I have ever seen.

            3. JessaB*

              This and also my friends know my mushroom thing is a mouthfeel issue and nobody gets freaked if I just shove them to the side (anything above minced is like ewwww.) It’s rude to bug someone if they push something over. So if it’s just an I don’t like that I don’t bother them. I just quietly eat around it as much as I can.

              1. Eloise*

                Yes to this! If people would just LET you unobtrusively avoid eating something, that would be great! But the ones who feel the need to interrogate you — didn’t you like that? what’s wrong with it? don’t you eat those? — arrgh.

                1. JessaB*

                  This. Gods could they please stop with the food interrogations. We’re trying to be A:polite and B: unobtrusive and not insulting to the place we’re eating at. Stop bugging us about what we eat/don’t eat, drink/don’t drink.

          2. picky*

            I cried once when at a Christmas dinner. I had advised the host that I have a selective eating disorder (most people just consider me a picky eater) and asked for there to be a simple salad or potato side that I could eat. When I arrived everything was extravagant with at least 6+ ingredients. I tried picking out all the mix-ins of a baked potato but couldn’t eat much. The ‘turkey’ was spicy turkey kabobs that I couldn’t eat.

            All I could eat was the 1 bun allocated to my plate with some water.

            I really started tearing up at the end because I was SO hungry that I felt like I’d pass out and the rest of our family became appalled when they discovered that I had advised the host prior to the day that I needed a simple/plain option.

            1. SlickWilly*

              You might need to really spell this one out for your host. If you told me “simple side” then a baked potato “with extras” would still strike me as simple. But you mean *really simple* so I can see why it didn’t work out. Sorry you had nothing to eat but a bun! It must have felt like prison food!

            2. KTM*

              I’m sorry that happened to you. As someone who often cooks and hosts events, to me even 6-10 ingredients could still easily be a simple dish. I wonder how much you really spelled this out for the host? I have a friend with significant food allergies that I’ve accommodated before but we sat down with pen and paper and documented everything so I could reference it since it was very critical for her.

            3. Ralph S. Mouse*

              This happened to me once at Christmas. I could eat a couple of the side dishes, but the main dish and everything else was either meat or had bacon bits or butter. I didn’t expect a whole revamp of the meal, but I had offered to bring the host a veggie burger and she said no, it’s okay. (This was not a mistake–she really didn’t like me and was always trying to “set me straight” on the vegan thing). So when she said “No, it’s okay,” we had different ideas of what “okay” meant.

              I’ve spent every holiday since with non-family and for some odd reason have never had to get by on only two side dishes since.

            4. Mononymous*

              Something similar happened to me the Christmas after I discovered it was gluten that had been causing me to be so ill. I attended a family party at my aunt’s house, and she assured me there would be plenty to eat. Only I arrived to find deli meats already on the rolls, crackers mixed in with the cheese slices, veggies that all the kids had been handling along with crackers plus some dip they’d been sticking the crackers into, and a lot of casseroles with noodles or condensed soup in them. Oh, and chili, but it was also unsafe because she didn’t bother reading ingredients on spice mixes before dumping them in. Not a single thing was set aside for me, nothing prepared with an eye on the ingredients, and all I had brought with me was a soda because I was told they would take care of me. And because it was Christmas, I couldn’t even go out and buy food for myself. I cried in the bathroom and then left early.

              Oh, and this same aunt is an RN who has been involved with my healthcare since I first got sick as a small child, so her lack of care that day felt extra awesome.

                1. Mononymous*

                  Thanks :) It was many years ago, and I’m much better at advocating for myself now, but I still don’t plan to eat anything at that aunt’s house during parties. Having no expectations means I can’t be disappointed!

              1. JessaB*

                FYI re Christmas if you’re in the USA at least – Walgreens 24 hour Pharmacies are open on Christmas and do have some food options in their refrigerator section. Also if necessary in almost every venue there’s the traditional this is where all the local Jews eat on Christmas Chinese food joint open. Where I am we also have a diner that’s run by Muslim Turks that’s open.

                But yeh a Nurse who has cared for you? That’s just low.

                1. Mononymous*

                  Unfortunately this was in rural Iowa, so there were no options like those at the time within an hour’s drive or more–it was easier to just go home. Thanks though :)

                  I don’t think it was intentional… I think she was just careless, or maybe clueless. No one else in the family has any known food allergies or intolerances, so it probably didn’t even occur to her how serious it was for me.

            5. Mel*

              I’ve never heard of selective eating disorder. hows it different from being a picky eater. do you not eat bacon cheese chives sour cream at all or just when they’re mixed together?

              1. Katiebear*

                Wikipedia redirects “picky eater” to the Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder page, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, volume 5, for what it’s worth.

                There’s a lot of anxiety involved, and I can completely understand being upset. I don’t know if it’s the right solution, but Dr Google recommends cognitive behavioral therapy, and if it were me I’d feel much less anxious if I brought my own food, until a host showed they understood my preferences.

                And I chose the word preferences deliberately. I don’t mean to call it anything other than that, same way I prefer raw spinach and won’t eat it cooked, or I have a friend who refuses all forms of seafood. I don’t get it, but we all are allowed preferences

          3. JHS*

            I once managed to accommodate meat eaters, vegetarian coeliacs, and a vegan in one house party, so it is possible, but it does require planning and forewarning (the first time I had a vegan come, they didn’t tell me beforehand so I couldn’t accommodate them). The handy thing about making things for vegetarian coeliacs and vegans is that, in general, the meat eaters can share, so making a good amount of stuff for them meant there was extra food for meat eaters when the vegetarians and vegans had taken their share (and I make sure they get first crack at their stuff). My proudest moment was when I discovered another of my guests (last minute) was vegetarian coeliac, who told me “You won’t be able to feed me, but that’s okay” and I got to say “Actually, that table over there is all stuff you can eat”. I’ll never forget how happy she looked. That reaction alone was worth all the extra work…

            1. JHS*

              I meant to add, this is not necessarily about picky eaters, but, like intolerances/allergies/vegetarianism/veganism, I think the best thing is always to ask the host first…

        2. Clewgarnet*

          I’m a picky eater, and I don’t expect that to be accommodated.

          I’m allergic to mushrooms, and I would really, really like that to be accommodated, but it usually isn’t.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Low FODMAP is a *pain* to accommodate off the menu, but it is fairly trivial to accommodate if your supplier will work with you.

        I arrive to work lunches to find a boxed lunch waiting for me (as I need a low FODMAP option). In it will be some quinoa or rice, a chicken breast or other meat grilled with only salt and pepper, etc.

        Most places that make their own food (vs heating pre-prepared items) can adapt and accommodate here.

        Probably _not_ easy to accommodate at a buffet directly, but by having a meal specifically for that person, yes. (And if a buffet item or common item is a chicken breast grilled with various sauces, all they have to do is grill the low FODMAP one and set it aside, then continue with the rest of them – it’s just using fewer ingredients on that one.)

      3. PlainJane*

        I think of this as universal design applied to food. Those of us in the technology/usability world learn that universal design not only makes your website/software/whatever accessible to people with disabilities, but it also usually makes the tool easier to use for everyone. Applying that principle to food, I try to order/make food buffet-style, with simple ingredients that people can select from or combine as they wish. So, for sandwiches I go for the sandwich buffet – plate of bread, plate of various meats, various veggies, spreads, etc. That helps accommodate people with food restrictions and often makes the food better for everyone, because people can avoid ingredients they don’t like. There are exceptions, of course–gluten-free dressing, protein that vegans can eat, etc., that may have to be provided specially–but the simple act of offering food as various components rather than completely put together helps a lot of people with food restrictions as well as picky eaters–without calling attention to them.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes. There’s no reason that you can’t offer platters that have components. Makes a lot of sense and considering that people are more aware of allergies, etc. You’d think catering companies would be more amenable to this. They can raise their prices AND be known at “OMG that great accommodating caterer” in all their reviews.

    3. TychaBrahe*

      Vegetarians are coming, so order pizza with lots of veggies on it.

      I’m not a vegetarian, but I hate meat on pizza. (My go-tos are either garlic, which is inappropriate in an office, or tomato-onion-bell pepper.) The problem is I don’t like mushrooms at all, and they are synonymous with veggie pizza. How about plain cheese?

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Which is awesome right up until the vegetarian also has Crohn’s disease, or just prefers to eat gluten-free, or low-carb.

        1. Anna*

          My bestie was vegetarian for 10 years before she developed Celiac. She had to start eating pork and chicken again because she was having such a hard time finding food that was both vegetarian and gluten free.

      2. DeskBird*

        I hate it when people ordering pizza for large groups get creative. Most people will go for cheese and pepperoni – go for that! They always order a ton of pineapple/mushroom/olive or other combinations of random toppings at my work, and guess what the cheese and pepperoni are out within a minute and there is a ton of mushroom olive pizza that sits around for the rest of the day.

        1. Q*

          We had a guy that was in charge of ordering and he would always get weird toppings that not most people like. Turns out he did it on purpose so he could have all the leftovers. He’s no longer in charge of ordering.

          1. Cafe au Lait*

            Ha! My soon-to-be Sister in Law did this at her job. She decided to treat her staff to lunch. She ordered two pizzas for ten people. One pizza was onion & green pepper (her favorite). The other was ham & pineapple.

            The second pizza was gone in seconds, while the first one was practically untouched. She felt she had the right since she “…paid for it out my own pocket.”

            One of the many reasons I am not looking forward to her joining the family this fall.

            1. FinFin*

              Onion and green pepper is like the one pizza we always order at events because almost everyone likes both of those things. It’s always the first gone other than pepperoni.

              Tangentially, I worked at a pizza place for years and green pepper and onion was easily in the top three ordered topping duos.

              I don’t think it was nefarious.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                When I worked in a pizza place, no one ordered that combo (which I think sounds awful, and you can have all of it), but we did have frequent requests for “supreme with no pork products.” I told them they wanted a veggie with beef, and should order it that way in the future, because it was cheaper.

              2. Cafe au Lait*

                It was nefarious. She’s a rather unpleasant person in general, and doesn’t take others feelings into consideration. (Quote: “I wanted leftovers, so I ordered the one I *liked* because no one else likes it”).

                She was *treating* her staff to lunch. 10 adults to two large pizzas. Nothing else, just the pies.

        2. LCL*

          All your pineapple/mushroom-olive pizza belong to me…
          I hate that the usual pizza selections for a group are plain cheese and pepperoni. I like creativity for large groups.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            But the more creative you get, the more likely you are to include an ingredient that someone can’t or doesn’t want to eat. Simple is safer. Be creative when you’re buying your own meal. :-)

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              All of this. When I could eat regular pizza, I always passed if the toppings got too creative – meat and cheese was as far as I went and still go (I just need to take a lactose pill before consuming the cheese). I hate onions, I hate peppers, mushrooms look like tiny penises to me and creep me out, and fruit should never touch cheese and tomato sauce IMO.

        3. Chris*

          So much this. Never, ever order a “veggie pizza” unless you know for a fact that many people like them. Get a freaking cheese pizza, and then people can eat that. Because they always pile veggie pizzas with stuff that isn’t universal (peppers, olives, mushrooms, etc) and they inevitably sit there until eaten or taken home by the one person who likes the particular combination

          1. Alienor*

            Yeah, I’m a vegetarian and I would rather have cheese pizza than one of the “veggie lovers” varieties. They always have onions, which I end up picking off, and also tend to be soggy, I think because of all the liquid that gets released from the myriad toppings as they cook.

          1. Cactus*

            Same here. Sausage is great, ham is great, but I can’t stand that the default “meat pizza” is pepperoni.

      3. Tuscan Sky*

        I am vegan and have found that pizzas and a few salads do best for my small and diverse office. I always ask for suggestions or any dietary “preferences” and order a good mix of meat, veggie, a plain cheese and a gluten-free. I list the ingredients for easy choosing and zero judging. There are never any complaints and people appreciate the effort to make sure we get it right. With my home-made dressing, I can enjoy the lunch too.

      4. Faith*

        At one of my old jobs we regularly had to pull quite a few all-nighters (frequently while traveling out of town). So, one of the employees was tasked with ordering pizza for the team. Our group contained quite a few people from India, who were all vegetarian, and one guy who was allergic to pork. You would have thought that a reasonable option would have been to order a few cheese pizzas, a few veggie pizzas, and a couple of meat ones. Instead, the guy would always order a bunch of pizzas that contained the most awful combinations of toppings (think pineapple, black olives, mushrooms, and anchovies on a single pie), a few meet lovers pizza with lots of bacon and sausage, and a SINGLE cheese pizza. That one cheese pizza would be gone in seconds, and everyone else had to pick the offending ingredients off their slices.

        1. Tuscan Sky*

          I’ve learned to order the extra-extra large size for all so there is plenty. I do try and let the “special” people be at the front of the line and make sure that the utensils aren’t moved from meat to cheese.

        2. Jennifer*

          Who the heck puts anchovies on pizzas any more? I’ve never seen them as an option to order on pizza except the one time I was on a cruise ship.

          1. the gold digger*

            I love anchovies. I will eat anything but tripe, which is why I take myself out of any ordering consideration – let those with more restrictive requirements choose – I will be happy with anything. (Except tripe.)(Or tendon.)(Or tongue.)(OK, I will eat anything but organ meats and other body parts that are not common if you didn’t grow up poor on a farm. I’m looking at you, Mom, whom I love dearly but what were you thinking trying to feed us pigs’ knuckles?)

          2. JessaB*

            Me, me, me but not in an office. There are so few places that still have them though.

          3. White Mage*

            Me! I was so bummed when the other person who liked anchovy pizza left my office, because we used to be able to get a small one for us. Now it’s just me :(

          4. Alix*

            Anchovies and black olives are my comfort-food toppings. Bonus points: no one else I know will touch it, since the only other person I know who likes anchovies hates olives.

            Obviously, I don’t order this at work.

          5. Anon4Dis*

            If you happen to be in Seattle and like anchovies, let me share with you that the Rocket pizza from Pagliacci’s is really great with anchovies!

      5. Jessie*

        When ordering pizza for a large group I always recommend ordering tons of cheese pizzas even if nobody requests it. There’s this phenomenon when ordering pizza for a group that everyone asks for complicated ones like Hawaiian and Meat lovers but then everyone also ends up eating the plain cheese or pepperoni as well.

        1. Mike C.*

          Ham and pineapple is considered complicated?

          I don’t see what the “phenomenon” is. If someone likes Ham, pineapple and cheese on their pizza then they’ll certainly settle for a pizza with just cheese on it if nothing else is offered, the latter is a subset of the former.

          1. Jessie*

            Mike, the reason I say it’s a phenomenon is this: Joe likes lots of different kinds of pizza. He requests Hawaiian but he also likes pepperoni. He eats one slice of Hawaiian and two pepperoni. Jim likes meat lovers so he requests that but he’s also a fan of plain pepperoni. He eats one slice of meat lovers and then switches to pepperoni. John likes pepperoni. He orders that, but everyone else is eating the pepperoni too. He eats a slice of pepperoni and then all that’s left is Hawaiian and meat lovers, neither of which he likes.

            Basically, people always request the more complicated pizzas they like, even though they’re not sticking to just that kind of pizza, because they all assume there will be plenty of cheese and pepperoni. Except there’s not, because everyone else also ordered a pizza that nobody else likes.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Interestingly, I’ve seen the opposite effect more often. Pepperoni gets put on the list because “everyone likes pepperoni.” Then “everyone” sees the Hawaiian pizza and says ooh, that looks yummy, and the pepperoni (which no one specifically requested) remains untouched.

              1. Debbie Downer*

                I am loving this discussion thread from a game theory/thought experiment perspective. Who knew deciding food options could get so complicated?

              2. Overeducated*

                Yes! Whenever I am in a small to mrdium group ordering pizza and someone says “at least one cheese to be safe,” I ask whether anyone in the group actually prefers cheese, and most of the time no one does. I have been in quite a few groups where all the pizzas get eaten except the cheese.

              3. Mike C.*

                This is exactly what I see. In my experience, “everyone likes pepperoni” is done for children’s birthday parties.

    4. Megs*

      I think it depends on the size of your group. For smaller to medium size groups, I love when we get a menu sent around from somewhere with a generous range of options. For larger groups, however, I honestly think that people who just don’t like lots of foods should be used to taking care of themselves.

      And noting because this came up in an open thread recently, “picky eater” doesn’t include eating disorders.

      1. Hotstreak*

        ” For larger groups, however, I honestly think that people who just don’t like lots of foods should be used to taking care of themselves. ”

        Yes, we are absolutely used to taking care of ourselves! I just wish my event organizers would get better at distributing the menu ahead of time so I can plan and bring my own lunch. It’s so frustrating to not be able to get an accurate detailed menu, and many catering companies haven’t responded to my direct request for an ingredients list either.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Same here, and then I either bring my own food or go out to eat after the meeting or whatever.

      2. Jennifer*

        Unfortunately, on a practical level, if your food needs are complicated/life-threatening if gotten wrong…can you really trust other people (who probably haven’t dealt with your food issue) to save your life and get it correct?

        1. TL -*

          Depends entirely on the allergy.
          Most places are really good about peanuts (they’re not sneaky outside of some Asian cuisines and easy to avoid or identify). If they’re trained for cross-contamination or if they don’t use peanuts – which is really common – you’re good.
          Places that are good about gluten free generally tend to be really good about gluten free and are knowledgeable when you talk to them. (My favorite breakfast place cooks my meal separate whenever my easily recognizable order comes in. It’s not advertised as gluten free but the chef knows what he’s doing.)
          You’ve got a tomato allergy? It’s not common but it’s not a sneaky ingredient. Probably pretty easy to determine from the menu or calling.
          You’re allergic to basil or corn or something that is often used in small amounts but not easily recognizable/known as an ingredient? That’s when things get dicey.

          1. the gold digger*

            My dad’s cousin and his wife own a bakery. If someone comes in asking for a gluten-free item, Dolly will not sell them anything. Even if she has gluten-free items, the kitchens are not set up to ensure contamination-free food. She does not want to risk it.

            1. TL -*

              Oh I won’t eat anything from a bakery. Or a pizza place that makes their crust in house, to be honest. Too risky – but it’s the risk is obvious.

            2. Fact & Fiction*

              Uhhhh…that would personally annoy the heck out of me. Gluten makes me ill with a variety of issues when I ingest too much of it (so I eat GF about 95-99% of the time), but I’m not full-on Celiac (as far as I know, I’m not willing to go back to eating enough gluten to take the tests because I was flipping miserable a few years ago when I was eating it all the time) so if somebody refused to serve me something when I don’t personally have to worry about cross-contamination, I would not be a happy camper. I mean, I can see if somebody says they’re celiac or that they can’t risk cross-contamination, but I’m an adult woman so should certainly be allowed to buy whatever I want. I’m fortunate that I’ve never gotten ill from cross-contamination, it’s generally just when I eat too much actual gluten-containing products in too short a time.

              1. JessaB*

                The problem is one of liability. If you’re very clear that you’re gluten free because of choice and not Coeliac disease, that’s one thing, but most places are scared of being sued. You say gluten free, they accidentally cross contaminate you end up in hospital they end up with problems. Too many ignorant people have made trouble before. If someone says highly sensitive or allergic and they can’t make a guarantee, they shouldn’t be selling. You happen to be one of the people that knows your limits, too many people don’t.

                1. the gold digger*

                  Exactly. If it’s not really an issue for you, then don’t ask for gluten free. Assume you are consuming gluten and adjust accordingly. But my cousins spent years involved in a lawsuit with a customer who said she broke a tooth on a peach pit in the filling to a pastry (the filling came from a vendor) and they are DONE with lawsuits. Even if a small business wins (which they did, as did the fruit vendor), just going through the lawsuit is very damaging financially.

              2. TL -*

                If you’re disclosing a food allergy/condition, they’re going to assume that it’s because you want to avoid that item. If they don’t think you can avoid it in their shop, they have every right to refuse service.
                If you don’t want to be refused service for an allergen/ect…, don’t disclose. Once you tell them, responsible food providers will feel like they share some of the burden of managing your allergy. Don’t punish them for that.

          2. Sydney Bristow*

            My SIL is allergic to tomatoes. We ordered pizzas for our super casual rehearsal dinner and specifically ordered a white pizza so she could have some. Every white pizza I’ve ever had has cheeses, sometimes chicken, and sometimes basil. Turns out this pizza place puts some sort of teriyaki sauce on top and she had to assume there were tomatoes in it since we didn’t know for sure. I felt so bad! Tomatoes can be sneaky.

            1. JessaB*

              Eh, this one I would have asked, I know it’s a thing, but I had this happen to me and almost died of it. For years and years and years “special sauce” in restaurants was cant for something tomato based. In Bennigan’s it wasn’t. I took a bite of a slider (because I didn’t check,) and found out that special sauce there was a mustard thing. Now, no matter what I ask about everything. It was my own damned fault. I would ask what’s on the particular pizza (but then mustard flour in pepperoni, so I know to check pizza ingredients.)

          3. I'm a Little Teapot*

            OMG tomato is suuuch a pain. I can’t eat tomatoes (not sure if it’s an allergy or some sort of digestive issue, but they make me sick) and I never eat anything that might possibly have them unless I know all the ingredients. If relatives assure me their suspiciously red dish doesn’t have any, I don’t believe them unless I’ve read the labels of anything they’ve put in, because I’ve been burned before by people swearing they read the label when tomato is the *second ingredient*. I never order soup at a restaurant – broth often includes tomato.

            Food at work events is almost always either pizza, sandwiches (with tomato), or Indian curries (which usually have tomato in the sauce), so I always just assume I won’t be eating anything.

            I’m also a vegetarian, which makes it extra fun, because everybody thinks all vegetarians loooove tomatoes in everything.

            1. Janice in Accounting*

              :( I miss tomatoes. I have apparently developed a mid-life sensitivity to them and they make me really sick. I never realized how many foods that I love contain tomato products until I couldn’t have them any more.

            2. TL -*

              No food allergy is easy, sorry and all foods are somewhat sneaky!

              This was more from the perspective of: you’re never going to find tomatoes in your blueberry greek yoghurt brand that doesn’t have tomatoes in the honey flavor, or in the microwavable version of the only brand of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese you can eat. And tomatoes are generally labelled as tomatoes.

      3. aebhel*

        Yeah, as a picky eater, I can usually choke something down so that I’m not starving; it’s not a religious or health-based dietary restriction, just a preference, and that does make a difference in how it should be treated, I think.

        1. msnovtue*

          Absolutely. There are things I’m picky about, and then there’s the stuff I carry an epipen for. Also… please, please, if you’re not actually allergic to something but just prefer a certain type of food (e.g. a gluten-free diet vs Celiac’s), do *not* say you’re allergic. You’re just making things that much harder for those who actually are allergic, because restaurants/caterers/etc. have to go to a lot of extra work for actual allergies. When someone who likes gluten-free food but then swipes the breadstick from their friend claims to be allergic, it gets that much harder to convince people that no, even a trace of gluten/peanuts/ whatever could be fatal.

    5. Sparrow*

      I don’t think it’s reasonable to account for picky eaters unless your group is small. Everyone has feelings about food, and if you’re going to worry about accommodating preferences in addition to needs, you’re better off letting everyone order individual lunches of their choosing, and that’s not always feasible.

      1. baseballfan*

        I agree. I’m not very sympathetic to picky eaters, because I was raised to eat what’s on my plate and/or not make a fuss about food not being entirely to my liking. I don’t expect everyone to like all food (I’m a pretty flexible eater, but I recognize that’s not everybody), but I don’t expect people to want to be accommodated just because something isn’t their taste.

        If someone has an allergy or religious restriction, that’s another matter altogether. But if someone just doesn’t like mushrooms…well, them’s the breaks.

        1. Amadeo*

          Pretty much the same. I totally get dietary restrictions/allergies, and at least vegetarians you can reasonably find something for, but beyond that it gets difficult, and yeah, no sympathy for just outright pickiness, unfortunately.

          One of the tiny offices (less than 10 folks) where I worked liked to occasionally have a nice big lunch. They liked fish. I didn’t. Though I desperately wanted to enjoy the crawfish etouffee they brought for a little office Mardi Gras lunch (who doesn’t like butter and cream?) I just couldn’t do it. But I also didn’t expect them to bring me something else, either. I simply made a lunch out of our other choices and would have gone to get something if none of those had worked out.

        2. Hotstreak*

          How do you tell if it’s a valid medical reason or just a taste issue, though? Would you require employees to specify their medical diagnosis as a condition of receiving their food choices? I realize you’re probably speaking generally about how to treat those things, but I wonder how it would be implemented. It seems rather personal.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Well, I think if someone says, “I don’t like mushrooms,” it’s preference. If they say, “I’m allergic to mushrooms,” then it’s a valid medical reason. You send out the word: “If you are attending, please let me know about any serious dietary restrictions.” And you trust people to not be selfish jerks about it.
            (or say “medical restrictions” and hope that kosher and vegetarian will assume that applies to them; for veg. it’s often medical, bcs they can have bad reactions to getting meat products in their intestines)

            Basically, yes, someone can lie to you. But you just take them at their word, and let them worry about their conscience.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              I’ve found that the majority of people who say “I’m allergic to XXX” really mean “I don’t like XXX”, but don’t want to get judged as picky eaters, thus ruining it for people who actually have allergies.

              1. Kyrielle*

                And, conversely, I say “I can’t have X and Y and Z” and this is true, but if I said I was allergic I’d be lying.

                And sometimes people don’t take me all that seriously because I didn’t say I was _allergic_.


                1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  I think you can say “allergic”, even though it’s not technically correct, for things that are really restrictions for health reasons. I think it’s only jerkish to say it if you’re only using it to bend others to your picky-eating will for things that are not actually health-related restrictions.

                2. Kyrielle*

                  Allergies tend to be more immediate-reaction, however. I can see a restaurant giving me something, realizing it and seeing that I didn’t react to it, and shrugging and deciding people claiming allergies must be fakers.

                  Hours later, when the actual issues it causes hit, however, I will be VERY VERY unhappy. But I won’t be in their restaurant, and even if I call and complain (assuming I realize they were the source of the issue), it’s entirely possible that not all the people who observed it and thought it meant I was faking / allergies were nothing will hear that hey, it did have consequences.

              2. BWooster*

                Which doesn’t matter at all as you are going to accommodate those allergies even if they’re not real. Food organizers are not medical doctors and should therefore not engage in medical dagnoses and just order an option without that ingredient. Simple. This also frees up the time spent deciding which allergies are real for more productive pursuits. Win win in my book.

                1. Anna*

                  No. Too many people who are actually allergic have their allergies questioned because so many people say they’re allergic when they just don’t like X. If people who will not spend the next two days wiped out with diarrhea and stomach pain because they ate breadcrumbs use the word “allergic” to mean “I prefer not to eat gluten” it makes it endlessly more difficult for people who DO have that allergy to be taken seriously. Don’t be an asshole and say you’re allergic if you just don’t like something.

              3. Anti-Squasher*

                I’m in a predicament like this, with squash of all things. Technically I guess I’m “intolerant” of squash and all squash-related food (melons, cucumbers) because I can’t digest it.
                I won’t have an ‘allergic’ hives and itchy throat etc. reaction, but I will get a completely horrible migraine and vomit for a few hours until every last food molecule is gone. And it doesn’t take much, cucumber dressing or some other fruit sitting in a little melon juice on a fruit tray.
                I call it an allergy at restaurants and sometimes to others because if I don’t, they think I mean I just don’t prefer it. And I don’t want to undermine more life-threatening food allergies at all, I just don’t know what else to do.

                1. Debbie Downer*

                  It’s fine. Call it an allergy. It’s an accurate description if the food in question makes you sick. I think the problem here is that people are trying to classify degrees of allergy or degrees of preference. Where is the break point between “this makes me feel a little off” and “this will kill me”? What’s the difference between being picky and an eating disorder? People shouldn’t be trying to make these judgments. They should try as best as they can to accommodate all food preferences because it is the nice thing to do.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  “I cant eat squash, melons, or cucumbers. If they touch my food, I’ll be sick.” But yeah, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling it an allergy, because that’s the level of care you need.

                3. TL -*

                  Call it an allergy! Getting sick makes you qualify and “I’m allergic” is so much more pleasant to say than “I’ll be violently puking with a migraine for the next four hours.”

                4. Anti-Squasher*

                  Thanks for the input!
                  Sometimes I’ve tried to describe to people that it will make me sick, and they don’t believe me.
                  Once I had a waiter admit after I ate a dish that it did in fact have cucumber in it. He then got annoyed at me and claimed he said no when I had explicitly asked before ordering it, because “there was only a little” :-(

                5. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Once I had a waiter admit after I ate a dish that it did in fact have cucumber in it. He then got annoyed at me and claimed he said no when I had explicitly asked before ordering it, because “there was only a little” :-(

                  Trust me, that happens even if you truly are allergic to a food, and people actually believe you.

                6. Anti-Squasher*

                  Rusty, I completely believe you and that makes me even more sad.
                  That’s also the reason I convinced a friend to get a carry an epi pen. She has a common food allergy and isn’t sure exactly how fast it may kill her if someone lied to her about ingredients, and I just know you can’t trust some people about these things.

                7. Mando Diao*

                  Sounds like you have a legit intolerance. Just say it gives you ~stomach problems. No one’s gonna ask for the details.

                8. BananaPants*

                  My husband has a similar problem with tree nuts. He doesn’t get hives or anaphylactic, but the roof of his mouth itches and he’ll get a wicked headache. It started in his teens and at least the itchy mouth goes away pretty quickly, but the headache sucks. He does call it an allergy but feels a little weird about it since it’s not like he needs an epi-pen or something.

              4. Jodi*

                There is the main issue for me. If it’s an actual allergy, restaurants need to take measures that the pan has never had peanuts in it, the knife has never been used to slice peanuts, etc. But if it’s just a preference like “I don’t like the crunch of peanuts” then it’s a little rude to make your vendor jump through hoops.

                1. Kittymommy*

                  I had someone try to prove to me that I’d like a certain fish (I think it wad with shrimp), so even though I told hear I was allergic she still made it with all off it’s seasonings and what not. Luckily I smelt the shellfish before I actually put the bite on my mouth, because trust me, my is not a preference issue, it’s more of a “it will kill me” issue. If someone says they’re allergic, assume they’re telling the truth. Unless you enjoy taking that person to the hospital.

                2. Dweali*

                  Restaurants do take food allergies seriously. The second I’m allergic I’d said it is all hands on deck as far as cleaning, grabbing new items and washing them, and double checking to make sure the offending food isn’t a hidden ingredient anywhere…if the restaurant can’t be sure then they will tell the person ordering and if possible suggest alternatives

                  If your ever ordering from a restaurant/caterer that doesn’t take allergies seriously then find someone/some place else because if they skimp on that then where else are they going to cut corners

              5. de Pizan*

                Definitely agree. I was flipping through a paleo cookbook once, and saw the author actually recommend if you were following paleo to tell restaurants that you were allergic to wheat. As a celiac, I was furious. It’s already difficult enough getting people to take my allergy seriously, largely because of the people who say they’re allergic when they just don’t like it or are following a popular diet. Of course restaurants or workplaces should accommodate your reasonable request to leave out items; but if it’s an actual allergy, a chef has to go through a lot of work to disinfect every surface and use special separate pots/pans to avoid cross-contamination. So lying about it and making them go through all of that just because you don’t like the taste of cilantro or whatever is kind of being a jerk.

                1. Foxtrot*

                  This happened to my friend with celiac. We were all going out to an Italian restaraunt and she was nervous of going. I called ahead to verify they had gluten free options and she would be ok. They assured me they would have food for her.
                  We get there and she orders an eggplant dish, and proceeds to get very sick and not leave their bathroom for like 2 hours. Turns out the so many people jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, the restaraunt didn’t take it seriously and still used flour in their sauce. It was never an issue until someone who was really allergic came in. They apologized profusely, but I was mortified. My friend didn’t want to go out to eat with us in the first place because of this. I felt so bad.

                2. Alison*

                  There were probably other people who reacted later and just never bothered to say anything. Not everyone reacts immediately. I won’t react to gluten until the next day. I just won’t go to that restaurant again

            2. Died of Dysentery*

              Ha, I recently kind of flipped when an organization I belong to used the “medical necessities only” wording on their conference form. I’ve been vegetarian for ethical reasons for 25 years, and it was the first time I ran across that wording. I’m totally used to paying $30 for a plate of green beans at this point, but the idea that my most-of-my-life food commitment wasn’t serious enough for that accommodation because it wouldn’t actually endanger my life bothered me a lot.

              I did as you suggested might happen, and wrote it down anyway…but my feeling is that kosher, halal, ethical veggie people may feel excluded by the medical wording. It feels like a bit of a lie to say it’s medical.

              1. JessaB*

                This. I think they need to say medical/religious at least. Because seriously. Also I think that depending on the venue and reason for the meeting, not including religious could get them in trouble for discrimination.

            3. JessaB*

              Sensory issues regarding food, mouthfeel, taste and other textural things ARE medical. They’re just only realising this now though. A lot of people who are picky eaters aren’t making “choices” in the way that people usually use the word. However, not being allergic means we can often pick it off, or push it to the side. It doesn’t however make the adverse physical reactions to certain foods any less real or debilitating.

              I literally get a shivering physical reaction to being pushed to eat certain foods (portobello burgers I’m looking at you.) It actually triggered my panic disorder when I was younger and certain people had the authority to try and force me to eat certain foods (parents.) Mainly because I had grown ups who tried to force me to eat certain things.

              I’m an adult now. All I have to do is refuse to eat it.

        3. sam*

          I’m actually a super-picky eater and I agree with this. The list of things I simply do not like is long, and I know it is completely unreasonable to expect everyone else to cater to my specific desires. There’s a certain point at which I know I’m going to have to take care of myself. Sometimes that means not being embarrassed to take a sandwich that is “close” to what I want and pulling it apart to remove the ingredients I don’t like (ugh, tomatoes). Sometimes that means getting a snack before/after a meeting.

          All that being said, my cafeteria’s habit of making over-elaborate sandwiches with, like, 18 different toppings is ridiculous.

          Also, why does everyone put nuts and raisins in dessert? Those are both gross, AND lots of people are allergic to at least the former.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Sweet Tomatoes and their love of putting either dairy or nuts (or both!) in most of their constructed salad dishes makes me so sad. (But the actual salad bar is awesome, so there’s that.)

            And raisins are also not low-FODMAP for those of us on that diet. Alas.

          2. WellRed*

            I hate raisins, but just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s “gross.” It just means I don’t like them. And it’s rude to tell other people their food is gross.

            1. the gold digger*

              it’s rude to tell other people their food is gross.

              I am sure Sam would never say that to someone’s face, WellRed. :) But here, in anonymity, I think it’s OK for us to be honest about foods we do not like. I think tripe is gross.

              1. JessaB*

                The problem and I get it is that while the term “gross” can be considered rude, that’s what some things are for people with strong mouthfeel or other food issues. I mean shivering eeewww kind of reactions to some food.

                The other thing I would like to request in general, is that if someone is pushing something to the side of their plate and just eating around it, don’t go “WHY are you DOing that? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like it, you should try it.” at people (youse all know the tone of voice I mean, and the loud, letting everyone know about it routine.) We’re trying to be polite and not call attention to whatever it is that is bothering us, or that we can’t eat in quantity but if a little gets through we’re okay. Just please don’t comment on someone’s food.

                And don’t add anything to anyone’s plate without making sure they’re okay with it (bacon dressing lady mentioned above I mean you.)

                1. leslie knope*

                  i have this issue with squash and eggplant and no one every understands!! i literally gag at the texture.

                  i also have the same issue with meat except it extends to the smell.

                2. sam*

                  Thank you JessaB – of course I would never comment on someone else’s food. But if I bite down on a foodstuff that has nuts and/or raisins, it will trigger my gag reflex so severely that I will literally regurgitate the food at the table. That is actually gross – not just for me, but for every poor soul who has to witness it. :)

        4. NJ Anon*

          “You’ll eat what’s on your plate or not at all!”
          I tell people I am the least picky person on the planet! So it’s hard for me to understand why people won’t eat someting “just because.”

          1. Doe-eyed*

            For what it’s worth, that’s what my mom used to do to me, sometimes forcing me to sit at the table for upwards of 6 hours at the time to finish food that was making me physically retch. It pretty much cemented and enforced my picky eating.

            1. Faith*

              As a child, I would actually throw up if someone forced me to eat something that I didn’t like or to eat anything when I was not hungry. It wasn’t anything I did deliberately. It was just my body’s way of saying that it wanted no part of whatever was on the plate in front of me. After a couple of incidents like that, my parents stopped forcing me to eat things I did not feel like eating.

              1. Fact & Fiction*

                Yep. My mother was generally good about not forcing us to eat things we truly didn’t like, but for some odd reason she tried to make me eat baked beans/pork and beans several times at BBQs when I was really young. A few instances of me immediately throwing them up finally convinced her that yes really, I hate those things with a passion.

              2. leslie knope*

                the same happens to me. my parents knew better than to enforce it at that point.

            2. Robin B*

              Yep I spent many an evening sitting alone the kitchen table because the very thought of those peas on my plate made me queasy.

            3. Wendy Darling*

              I spent like 15 years of my life refusing to try new foods because my parents forced me to eat things that I found nauseating. Basically anything I ever managed to choke down a single bite of I “liked” and would henceforth be made to eat, even if I actually hated it and just managed to not vomit.

              I’m actually not a picky eater at all now but there is a short list of foods that are on my Oh Hell No list because when I put them in my mouth some very simplistic, unevolved little bit of my hindbrain goes “Wait, what? What are you doing? That’s not food! GET RID OF IT! GET IT OUT NOW!”

              I can, for instance, barely choke down a single bite of egg in any format where it is still recognizable as egg. I actually check back in with eggs every few years to see if I still find them revolting, and it hasn’t worked out for me yet.

              1. JessaB*

                I maintain that anything that makes one sick, whether from allergy, sensitivity or mouthfeel or smell or any other reason, is a “Legit Medical Problem.”

        5. Astor*

          I don’t know if it’s useful for you to know, but “raised to eat what’s on your plate” doesn’t work for every body.

          My parents thought I was acting out when, into my teens, I gagged on a lot of food. But it was a physical reaction that I couldn’t control. And there was a heap of other foods that didn’t make me gag, but did make me feel pretty sick. I think having to eat what was on my plate and not make a fuss certainly contributed to making me picky about food in general. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I became willing to try foods again, partly because I realized that I wasn’t as sensitive to a lot of food and partly because I was no longer forced to eat things that made me sick. There’s tons of things that I don’t like but I’ll eat to be polite, but there’s also a lot of things that I just haven’t been able to make myself eat.

          And I have multiple friends who thought that they just didn’t like x food which their parents regularly fought them about. As adults, they were able to keep this food out of their diet. And then at some point, they realized they were actually having an allergic reaction to that food and that’s why they felt such strongly toward them. Even just with mushrooms I have multiple friends who thought they just didn’t like them until they discovered that they kept getting sick whenever they ate dishes that (they didn’t realize) had mushrooms in it. And ditto friends who just thought they didn’t like x and realized that every time they sucked it up as an adult they’d end up with bathroom issues, itchy throats or numb lips, or whatever.

          I’m not saying every picky eater is like this, but a lot of us who say that we’re picky are trying to describe an actual (if often mild) physical symptom.

          I don’t expect to be accommodated for at every meal, but I do want it to be easy for me to *eat*. So if you’re providing food and can’t make sure to serve something that I can have, please at least give me the opportunity to bring something else.

          1. Doe-eyed*

            Big hugs, I commented on a similar thing above. I have the same reaction! I was baffled for years by how people would force themselves to eat things they didn’t like that much. If I don’t like something, it makes me gag or heave. I’ve forced my way through meals trying to be polite only to have to leave afterward because I’m so sick. :(

            Getting the “I was made to eat everything on my plate!” cheerleading squad in every time I bring it up doesn’t help :\

            1. Marisol*

              My parents never made me eat anything I didn’t want to eat as a child, and now as an adult, I have a healthy relationship to my appetite and easily maintain a slim figure. This is, I daresay, a rarity for women in the U.S. Forcefeeding is unnatural and unhealthy, a relic from a puritanical past where one’s very desires were considered sinful. God forbid you actually *enjoy* the experience of eating!!

              If anyone ever tried to pester me about the virtues of “eating everything on the plate” I would question *them* on their health and fitness level. There’s nothing wrong with being a picky eater, whether it stems from a physical malady or not.

              1. Ife*

                I was raised this way too, and I really dislike the mentality of “if it’s on your plate, you must eat it.” The way I see it, it’s “waste” either way… either I throw it in the trash/compost and it returns to the earth through that channel, or I force feel myself, and then the extra food is either stored as fat or it… passes through… and returns to the earth.

                1. Marisol*

                  Yeah really–possibly giving you health problems on its way out. Our bodies are not a garbage disposals!!

              2. EmmaLou*

                To grant our parents some slack they were raised by people who didn’t have enough. Who had to make do with what there was. If all they could afford was porridge, then that’s all there was and they weren’t going to let you starve. If the only vegetable they had was green beans or squash, then, that’s it. “You have to eat this because it’s all I can give you.” And you need your vitamins. And mom was probably going without. Now we have so many more choices. Few of us are having to only serve green beans because that’s all the store had or that’s what we grew or that’s all we could afford. Again. The patterns though can be hard to break.

                1. Astor*

                  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely know my parents were doing their best with the knowledge and experience they had. But I also think it’s worth educating others that “you have to eat what ever I feed you” is *not* the best way for a lot of kids. If a kid is struggling while trying to eat their porridge and then spends the evening in the bathroom, it’s not actually better for their bodies to eat it. If parents can, it’s great to give your kid some room to figure out what works for them, and to have control over their bodies. When parents can let them choose between green beans and squash, it’s great to let them choose. And to let them choose every meal. Maybe squash gets stuck on the roof of their mouth and they haven’t yet figured out how to handle it. So when they have chili, they can swallow it no problem. But when it’s squash and beans on toast, they can’t. Just because a kid can’t articulate the problem, and a parent can’t imagine it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

                  Parenting is hard. Being an adult is hard. Being a kid is hard. This stuff isn’t going to work for everyone. But I definitely am going to fight the idea that they way to keep people from being picky is to force kids to eat foods they don’t like.

                  (In case this isn’t obvious, I’m not suggesting serving unhealthy or expensive food in place of what’s on offer. Or even always serving an alternative. But sometimes there are easy options that get missed because we think that it’s more important to keep our kids from being one of those dreaded picky eaters.)

            2. DoDah*

              As a kid I was given two choices:
              1. Eat what we give you
              2. Or don’t eat until the next meal

              I am now a thin 50 year-old with a good relationship with food.

              1. TL -*

                I was told eat what I was given or make my own meal.
                I was self-sufficient in the kitchen at a very young age (PB&Js or leftovers) and everyone in my family was much happier.

              2. radiator*

                I was picky as a kid and my mum let me eat or not eat whatever food I felt like. I’m now an adult with an adventurous palette. I have a friend that was forced to eat what was on his plate and if he didn’t finish it it was brought out at the next meal, he now has the worst relationship with food – almost a phobia in some contexts. I guess my point is that people react differently to different upbringings.

          2. pope suburban*

            Yeah, I threw up a few times at the table when I was a child because my mom wanted to force me to eat mushy foods, and there was something about those textures that I just could not handle. And I was a pretty puke-averse child who’d often spend hours trying not to throw up when I had the stomach flu, so it’s not like it was a stunt. As an adult, I can pretty easily avoid foods that make me gag, and I’m fine with things like picking mushrooms off a pizza slice or ordering an appetizer if the entrees are all suspect to me. It’s not a big deal for me, not compared to people who have medical problems with foods, and I don’t understand the glee some people take in being cheerfully insensitive about it. Yes, it is excellent that you can eat anywhere, but many people cannot and that is okay.

          3. PlainJane*

            Depending on the event and catering options, it isn’t always difficult to accommodate picky eaters. I commented on this above, so I’ll keep it short here, but if you can provide a “DIY” option – build your own sandwiches, salad bar with lots of choices, etc. – that works fairly well for people with dietary restrictions as well as picky eaters. People are “picky” for lots of reasons that go beyond, “I don’t like x” (as the comments here indicate) and I see no reason not to be accommodating when possible.

          4. Temperance*

            I have a food allergy to certain kinds of peppers and texture issues. I can’t stand spongy, creamy, or gelatinous foods. I hate gamey meats.

            I think it’s because my parents are force-feeders, and would make us eat disgusting foods (creamed chipped beef, yuck) and sit at the table until we finished them. I will actually throw up or gag on things.

        6. picky*

          Techically speaking, taste and texture are my picky thing. But I also have been diagnosed with a selective eating disorder. So it is offensive to me when people refuse to accommodate me because I am ‘just picky’ about something – I literally cannot bring myself to eat it.

          1. Anna*

            I think there comes a point where you can’t expect people to accommodate everything that you react to, though. Unless you’re providing a very specific list, I don’t think you can be offended. And if your list is really complicated, again, I’m not sure you can be offended. I think most people will do what they can, but you can’t expect them to move mountains for you. And clearly “simple side dish” is not specific enough because every person is going to interpret that based on their experience.

      2. Joseph*

        I’m a picky eater and I don’t necessarily expect to have a meal just for me. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that there’s a bit of variety in the options – particularly if you’re ordering for a large group.

        As a concrete example, if you’re mass ordering sandwiches, I realize I’m going to be eating a sandwich which might have dressing or something on it. I wouldn’t order dressing myself, but whatever. But I think it’s entirely reasonable for me to expect you to order a mix of tuna, roast beef and ham instead of showing up with 50 tuna sandwiches and nothing else.

        Or if you’re ordering a couple pizzas, it’s fine if you want to order one veggie pizza, but you should make the other pizza something more common like plain cheese or pepperoni.

        1. the_scientist*

          This is a good way to put it. A little variety is never a bad thing…..and I’m sure the non-picky eaters and non-vegetarians are plenty sick of the luncheon meat sandwiches they get at basically every meeting!

          I used to have to plan meals for groups of about 40, with several vegetarians and someone with celiac disease (who was also vegetarian, and also a picky eater)….and I’m sure there were allergies and preferences that I wasn’t aware of. I always got rave reviews for buffet-style catering (Lasagna/pastas/pizza with garlic bread and salad; Greek food). Panera was really popular for lunch meetings of less than 10 people, because you can get soup, salad AND sandwiches, and their sandwiches are a little better than the usual ham/turkey on white bread. We had a pretty shoestring budget for these meetings and I could stay well within the price per head and get decent food. If you live in a reasonably-sized city, finding creative catering options is NOT challenging. Might be harder in small towns or rural areas, though.

        2. baseballfan*

          Totally agree with this. It’s reasonable to plan for some variety, and then most of the time people can take care of themselves.

        3. Elsajeni*

          I also think it’s general good practice to make the food as modular or build-your-own as is feasible, especially for things that can’t easily be removed, like mustard/mayo on a sandwich. Maybe completely build-your-own sandwiches aren’t doable — totally understandable; the line would be long, it would be harder to predict how much of each ingredient you’d need, and buffet-style setups create cross-contamination concerns for folks with allergies — but how about pre-made sandwiches with sauce packets on the side instead of sauce already on the sandwich?

          1. PlainJane*

            This! You’ll help out people like me who gag at the mere suggestion of mayo as well as people who have medical or ethical dietary restrictions.

            1. Temperance*

              YES. I will forever hate Jimmy John’s for their insistence on slathering it on everything. I refuse to order food from them since the one time we requested no mayo/mayo and mustard on the side, and they still put it on. I was so pissed.

      3. Laura*

        Absolutely. My division at work (over 40 people) is having an off-site event tomorrow and lunch is provided. I’m gluten-free and I avoid dairy and processed foods wherever possible, so I’m bringing my own lunch. I don’t “deserve” a special lunch, and I certainly don’t expect (or want) my employer to know about my dietary preferences.

    6. Pennalynn Lott*

      Exactly. I have a friend who is allergic to garlic and onions. Another who is allergic to tomatoes. Someone else who is allergic to dairy. Another who breaks out in hives if anything contains avocado, strawberries or kiwi. Another who can’t eat eggs. I, personally, can’t eat fish or shellfish. And that doesn’t even get into all the unique personal preferences (two friends of mine refuse to eat olives, another hates pickles of any kind. Yet another can’t stand the taste or texture of mayo. Etc., etc., etc.).

      Because of religion’s special status in our labor laws, as well as some potential life-threatening issues with certain food allergies, I can see making accommodations for those restrictions, but I can easily see the rest of it devolving into: “You got a gluten-free meal for Sally, why can’t Tommy have a dairy-free meal, Parker have an allium-free meal, Lucinda have a vegan meal, and I have an egg-free meal?” Seems like at some point you’d just hand people vouchers to go buy their own stuff.

      I eat really low carb, but I don’t feel put out when I can’t participate in Pizza Friday, or the free donuts and bagels that are brought to meetings. I put that [highly optional] food restriction on myself; I’m not going to force anyone else to accommodate me or feel left out because they don’t.

      1. Koko*

        Even when it’s not life-threatening, allergies should be respected. I have a non-Celiac wheat allergy. If I eat bread at lunch I’ll spend most of the afternoon in the toilets puking, having diarrhea, or both, and then be constipated with anal itching for 3-5 days after. It’s not life-threatening but it sure as heck isn’t something I avoid purely because I don’t like it. (Quite the opposite. I wish I could still eat tiramisu and biscuit sandwiches. I love them, they just don’t love me.)

        As Alison says, it may not be convenient if you have a gluten-free person, an egg-free person, a dairy-free person, a Kosher person, etc. but I’m sure the people who have those allergies don’t find it very convenient either. People shouldn’t have to choose between being left out of the employee perk or eating something that makes them physically ill, and the lunch orderer doesn’t get to decide whose illness rises to the level of being worth taking seriously.

        That’s of course different from just, “I don’t like X.” I have eaten plenty of food that I didn’t especially care for as long as it didn’t contain wheat. There are foods I don’t love but at least I have the option to eat them or not rather than being excluded because my body will revolt against the food if I eat it.

        1. Book Person*

          It’s true that it’s less convenient for people who have the allergies more often than not! And on the convenience front, it may be feasible to batch some restrictions together on the meal front.

          We have a range of allergies / food restrictions at my company, including severe egg allergies and dairy allergies more broadly, vegans, vegetarians, and celiacs. It just meant that both the meat and vegan options we ordered were egg, dairy, and gluten free (the latter obviously for the egg and dairy!). The sides for the main dishes were all vegan and gluten free, too. Two primary meals with a range of accommodations, and everyone complimented the food–though, to be fair, we did have an excellent caterer for it. I think it becomes less convenient if each restriction is viewed as requiring a separate meal altogether.

        2. TL -*

          Non-celiac wheat allergy too (though my symptoms aren’t as severe as yours :( ). I would much rather eat wheat than have special meals. And tiramisu (I saw some gf tiramisu at my local coffee shop this weekend, actually!)

        3. Jane Eyre*

          1000% THIS! I’m in your boat with the non-Celiac wheat allergy with the always fun addition, IBS-C. I’m a month into a new job and have yet to mention any of this because it just makes for the most awkward table talk ever. So far I’ve only had to weather one potluck brunch. I had the kale salad, deviled eggs and fruit kabobs, my contribution. Happily no reactions to any of it!
          But I so miss biscuits and gravy!
          Incidentally, have you tried sourdough bread? Genuine San Francisco style sourdough bread is the one wheat bread I can eat. But it must be the real thing made using aged sourdough culture which can be tough to find outside of CA. I am ECSTATIC to be able to eat sandwiches again!

      2. Megs*

        Yeah, I really believe in the hierarchy of needs here. I’m allergic to capsaicin, for example, but I’ve never gone out of my way to tell a workplace about it because I can almost always find something and it won’t kill me if I accidentally eat a little bit, it’s just really unpleasant. Occasionally that something to eat is pretty sad (remembering eating a plate of plain rice while the rest of the office ate chili) but it’s usually fine. I think it’s great to accommodate as much as possible, but sometimes a line needs to be drawn, and so long as that line covers religious and allergies, I think it’s acceptable.

    7. CeeCee*

      I think this could be solved relatively easily by sending out an email beforehand saying something like

      “We’re ordering for event x and would like to be as accommodating as possible. Please relay any dietary restrictions or preferences. Please note, all restrictions will be met and we will do our best to accommodate preferences, however due to budgeting requirements restrictions will take priority over preferences.”

      Or something to that effect. More eloquent and professional, obviously, but with the same general sentiment.

      1. Leatherwings*

        I really love this wording, it strikes a lovely balance of being as accommodating as possible while still being clear that not every tiny preference is appropriate to share.

        1. Grapey*

          And also gives the head up that someone who is very picky would do better to bring their own lunch so they don’t starve.

          1. Liane*

            There are a lot of people out there who won’t hesitate to lie about being allergic to a food when they just don’t like it. Which has resulted in restaurant/catering people assuming that everyone who claims an allergy is lying and ignoring the restaurant protocols for preparing a meal for an allergic patron (which I understand involves sanitizing *all* surfaces, utensils and dishes involved, not just omitting allergen from that person’s dish.)

      2. DeskBird*

        I feel like this is creating too much work. Especially the preference part. If people have come forward with dietary issues like the vegetarian or the gluten-free people I think it’s fair to e-mail them before the event to check-in and see if they are coming so specialty food doesn’t go to waste, but asking 200+ people for their preferences on food could be opening Pandora’s box.

        1. CeeCee*

          I think it does create some extra work, but I also think it gives everyone an opportunity to feel heard.

          From the ordering end, you don’t have to accommodate every preference, but say you’re ordering pizzas and salads and you have a large amount of emails stating people don’t like mushrooms, it isn’t really too much to ask that the veggie pizza come without mushrooms.

          I think it’s a compromise in that everyone gets a chance to be heard and restrictions are met, while at the same time, a few preferences might be able to be accommodated as well. Kind of a win-win for everyone without an exceptionally excessive amount of work.

        1. anonymoushiker*

          I think this makes sense, but it also is more work. As a vegan I’ve often been left out despite those ordering knowing I don’t eat egg/dairy. Honestly if you have a gist of what type of restrictions/allergies you’re dealing with, a good way to deal with it is doing combo orders for the restrictions (Ie, the vegetarian dish is also vegan or the vegan dish is also gluten free or..etc.)

          1. Koko*

            My company accommodates a pretty broad range of diets by doing buffet-style catering. So going down the line there will be a plate of bread or buns, a platter of meat(s), a platter of meat substitute or falafel or equivalent, a platter of veggies, a bowl of rice, a bowl of salad greens, and a couple bowls of various dressings. Dessert is usually a cookie platter and a fruit platter.

            Everyone can just assemble their own plate based on their own needs and preferences. And even people who can eat anything hate or get sick of cold sandwiches and chips and love the “upgrade” that comes with this approach.

            1. The Rat-Catcher*

              I was going to suggest this! Fresh fruit and veggies work into an awful lot of restricted diets.

          2. Hotstreak*

            As a Vegan, would you say your food choice is a restriction though, or more of a preference? I realize some folks must be allergic to meat, since people can be allergic to most anything.. but most vegetarians or vegans I’ve met have follow that diet because they believe it is healthier, or more ethical.

            1. Izzy*

              There are people who are vegetarian/vegan when it’s convenient. For most of us, though, eating meat (and/or dairy/eggs) is just not going to happen. I can’t even imagine eating something that I knew had meat in it, and I get really sick if I accidentally eat meat. Plus I’m a vegetarian for religious reasons, so now you’re stepping into that territory as well. It’s a hard and fast restriction.

            2. bearing*

              Religion- and philosophy-based dietary choices run a spectrum from preference to restriction, and sometimes are head-scratchers. I’m a Catholic in the USA, and am not required at this time to abstain from meat on Fridays outside Lent; but I do so by choice because the practice is encouraged; but (as it isn’t required) I prefer to try to graciously accept what’s served to me should I be a guest. But come Lent and avoiding meat on Friday becomes a restriction, no longer just a preference. I definitely wouldn’t expect a box-lunch-orderer to remember this, but seeing as the point is sacrifice and penance it is rather more sensible (if a bit wasteful) to peel the meat off one’s sandwich and eat bread with lettuce and tomato peaceably, than to find someone to complain to because there weren’t enough tuna sandwiches ordered. So even though I’m literally not “allowed” to eat meat on Fridays in Lent, I think of it more as a preference than a restriction — I prefer to choose fish or vegetarian options if I am given a choice, but if I can’t do that then I’ll choose to eat just the bread or fruit cup or whatever parts of the box lunch.

              What starts as a philosophical preference can become a physiological restriction. If you spend a long time eating vegan, you can get to the point where you’re unused to digesting dairy and meat, and accidentally eating some can make you ill.

              1. Debbie Downer*

                I still remember one time at school lunch when I was told I couldn’t have the fish sticks because I wasn’t Catholic. Yeah, it’s a Friday during lent: you should have just made fish sticks the main option instead of making is a religious issue if I want to eat them.

            3. Government Worker*

              I became a vegetarian in part for ethical/environmental reasons, but it’s also kind of a convenient cover for picky eating because I just really don’t like meat. But it’s been 8 years or so since I’ve knowingly eaten meat, and at this point it would feel really weird and take a conscious decision and act of will to put meat on a fork and put it in my mouth because it’s such a longstanding and deeply ingrained habit. I consider it a restriction at this point, but that’s because in my part of the country it’s common and easily accommodated, and because I will not eat rather than eat meat. I probably don’t get sick if I eat a veggie burger that’s been cooked on the same grill as meat or if I eat soup with a little chicken stock in it (I’m sure those things have happened without me knowing now and then), but based on what I’ve heard from others, eating meat is likely to make me sick.

              1. Sarah*

                I have vacillated between vegetarianism and full-on veganism over the last 7 years, and I found out the hard way that this can even apply to the proteins in egg. I’d been full-on vegan for almost a year straight, my longest stretch ever, and one day found myself in a situation where I was starving hungry and the only option was an egg salad sandwich. 30 minutes later . . . stomach cramps like you wouldn’t believe. At this point in time I do eat egg occasionally and it’s mostly fine, but I don’t even want to know what would happen if I went back to eating meat.

            4. blackcat*

              I haven’t eaten mammal meat since I was a kid. When I was 19 or so, I tried to eat a burger. I puked everywhere.

              Some people stop producing sufficient meat-digesting enzymes when they stop eating certain meats. I’m sure it’s possible for me to retrain my system to digest meat, but it would probably be a significant process. I *can* eat mammal meat in very small quantities without ill effects, but if the only protein dish offered has non-removable mammal meat, I’m not going to get enough food from that meal.

              But I also, ALWAYS have my own food, often in nuts/snack bars. I become a horrible cranky person when hungry, and so I do my bet to avoid that.

            5. anonymoushiker*

              Well, it’s not a preference because I won’t eat food if it’s not vegan. I often refer to it as a ‘restriction (by choice)’ to clarify that it’s not my body having an allergy/intolerance, but it’s stronger than a preference.

          3. Marisol*

            As someone who frequently orders meeting for meetings, I don’t think it is significantly more work. You send an email, make note of the responses, and order accordingly. If the same people will be eating each time, you can safely assume the same restrictions apply and you’ll only have to email occasionally. If someone is getting flak for not accommodating a dietary need (or preference), then dealing with that flak also takes effort, so it’s easier to get out in front of it.

      3. Belle*

        We do something like this but slightly different. We send out an email the night before saying, “here is the food we will have brought in tomorrow: XXX, XXX, XXX by XXX company.”

        This way employees know what to expect as options and can self elect in or out (though even those who self elect out can still eat what they brought or bought with the rest of the team).

        1. Laura*

          I like this strategy. I’d appreciate it if my employer would tell us what lunch will be in advance. I feel lousy when I bring my own food unnecessarily.

        2. ModernHypatia*

          I really love having the information, too – one of the things I love about my current job is that people are really careful about that for large events.

          Most of the time my food limitations aren’t a big deal, but every so often I hit something where the food combo available is not a sufficient meal for me, and *that* causes problems. Knowing the menu in advance means I can juggle other meals that day, have a backup available if I need it, etc.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I would leave off “preferences.” Just stick with “restrictions.”

        If someone’s preference is SO strong that they personally want to reclass it as a restriction, leave that on them.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes, this. I fall into this category. I’m not a picky eater in general, but I cannot eat fish or seafood. It’s just a preference, but it’s a strong enough preference that I literally cannot swallow anything with the slightest fishy flavor. So I call that a restriction. (Fortunately, it’s an easy one, at least in my region – it’s very rare that anyone plans a meal in which fish is the only option!)

          1. Tau*

            Hello fellow non-fish-or-seafood person! I’m the same. There are a lot of things I’d rather not eat, but fish and seafood are the only ones where it’s “I would literally rather go hungry, would literally rather sit at a table with my stomach growling watching everyone else eat, than force myself to ingest that.” (Also, chance of throwing up if I do – pretty high.) So I list it as a dietary restriction when asked. I figure it should be easy enough to accommodate – if all else fails they can mark me down as vegetarian, I won’t mind.

      5. Turtle Candle*

        I think this is a lovely way to put it. I am 100% on board with handling restrictions, and I am also happy to accommodate preferences most of the time. (I only say “most” of the time because sometimes it does get too complex; there are some people who literally only eat a limited number of things–I had a friend who ate burgers, pizza with pepperoni, turkey sandwiches with no vegetables on them, steak done to a very precise doneness, spaghetti with one of two specific brands of canned tomato sauce, and chicken nuggets, and that was essentially it–and if you have a large enough group that you have more than one or two of those people, it can get very complex, very fast. E.g., I happily accommodated both that person and my vegetarian friend by arranging for pasta with plain tomato sauce until someone else joined our group who didn’t eat red food, and at that point I gave up. But… that’s hopefully an unusual situation.)

    8. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Ugh. I don’t know what to do about this either. I mean, it’s one thing to make sure you’ve got gluten free food for someone with a sensitivity or vegan/veggie food, but another thing entirely when someone is avoiding gluten for 3 days so their belly will be flatter in a bridesmaid’s dress this weekend. I don’t feel like it’s reasonable to collect detailed information on new dietary preferences every time we have lunch. Do we try to accommodate short-term (fad?) diets? What if they change every month? What about just plain picky? I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to ask a ton of questions about why someone does or doesn’t eat certain food, but there’s a limit. I had an employee one time tell me they required 100% organic. No. And frankly, nobody eats 100% organic unless they prepare every single thing you eat and spend a fortune on food.

      I say this as a very picky vegetarian who doesn’t eat soy or any processed foods. Personally, all I expect is to be told what will be served so I can decide whether or not to bring my own food.

      1. NJ Anon*

        We solved this issue by no longer serving food at meetings. Need to eat? Bring your own. End of story.

        1. Here, kitty, kitty...*

          I’m kind of leaning toward this as a solution, as well. There are some instances when dietary restrictions will have to come into play anyway, such as the holiday party – even if attendance ISN’T mandatory, those who choose to come should still have something there they can eat – or a client dinner, in which case everyone should have access to something they can eat there, too. But daily meetings, potlucks, etc.? Don’t force people to work through lunch, let them have that time to decompress and take care of their own dietary needs. That seems to lead to a lot less unhappiness on both sides (the company’s and the employee’s). People are there to work, not socialize. If someone organizes a potluck that isn’t company-sponsored, then employees with restrictions should plan on having a backup meal in case the organizers missed the memo, as it were. This might sound harsh, but I have diabetes and missing a meal can have serious consequences for me. I’ve learned to always make sure I have access to food I can eat, because it’s ultimately up to me to be responsible for my own health.

      2. Izzy*

        Ahaha, the 100% organic people! I sympathize with the idea. But dude, I’m trying to feed a hundred people on a shoestring budget. Whole Foods is around the corner. Knock yourself out.

      3. Callie*

        I was in a college marching band and home game days would mean we were at the stadium (depending on game time) for a 12 hour or longer day. Because we could not bring food or drinks into the stadium, lunch would be provided for us; at the beginning of the season, we filled out a card where we checked off our choices and we got that same box lunch, with our name on it, every game day all season (6-8 times). It worked out for pretty much every dietary need and no one stole anyone else’s food. It accommodated real preferences/allergies/restrictions but not the situation you described. It was tasty, too. :)

      4. Anna*

        I may be a heartless human, but my empathy for 100% organic person could go no lower. That shrieks of entitlement and I have little space in my life for that sort of BS.

    9. Florida*

      I am picky eater, and I don’t think an office needs to accommodate preferences. If the lunch is nothing but hamburgers, then a vegetarian CAN’T eat it. If the lunch is eggplant, then the vegetarian CHOOSES not to eat it. There is a big difference.

      No matter what the office serves, there is bound to be someone who doesn’t like it.

      1. Marigold*

        I mean, I choose not to eat eggplant because I feel pukey afterwards. I’m not allergic to it, it just grosses me out so much that I had a bad reaction. I wish that I liked it (and mushrooms) because it would make my life a lot easier.

        More often than not, the situation has been that everyone will get burgers and then produce a portabella burger for me, and then I can’t eat it and am left sitting there like a jackass who refuses to eat something she doesn’t like. Sorry, folks, but I’d rather not feel sick for the rest of the day.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Ok, then call that a restriction, not a preference. Eggplant makes you sick. That’s very different from “eggplant is slimy, so I won’t eat it.”

        2. a*

          If it makes you nauseous to eat it, I’d say that falls into the category of dietary restrictions, even if it’s not an allergy.

        3. nonegiven*

          If it makes you feel pukey are you sure it isn’t an allergy? Allergies aren’t always hives and throat swelling.

          1. Marigold*

            It’s definitely not an allergy. If I was on a desert island and all there was to eat was eggplant, I could eat it, but I wouldn’t be happy about it and would feel gross all the time. It’s not, like, health-gross, it’s more mind-gross, which then makes me feel queasy. Like if you think about something disgusting for too long, it can make you feel sick. If people say the word “eggnog” around me one too many times, I feel like I’m about to throw up, even if I haven’t had a drop.

            1. Anna*

              But you would probably get very creative!

              I don’t like eggplants either and avoid them whenever possible.

            2. PlainJane*

              This is the thing a lot of people don’t understand about “picky” eating. I can eat lots of things I don’t like (and do when I’m at some catered event) but there are a few foods that literally make me gag. It’s not medical; it’s a powerful disgust reaction. I liken it to asking someone to drink blood. Most people could do it without any medical repercussions, but they’d probably puke. So I do my best to accommodate other people’s pickiness without judgment.

      2. Green*

        Agreed. I think you should accommodate all health-related dietary restrictions, all ethical or religious dietary restrictions (veganism, vegetarian, halal, Kosher). Anything else is a preference instead of based on needs or a moral/religious code; we’re generally expected to have to compromise on our preferences in a society with other people, but it’s not reasonable for an employer to expect someone to compromise their health or ethical/religious code.

      3. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Right, exactly. I’m vegetarian and I hate mushrooms, especially portabellas. Of course, lots of times the vegetarian option has been a portabella mushroom burger or something. Well, that’s my problem. I just push it around on my plate, eat the sides and maybe a protein bar later.

    10. Kristine*

      I also used to hate eggplant and mushrooms, but I had to get used to eating them because they were the vegetarian options provided 95% of the time. I’ve actually come to like them and even learned to make a mean eggplant lasagna.

      1. sam*

        Not a vegetarian, but I’ve never understood the assumption that vegetarian = will eat any and all (and only) vegetables?

        People still have different tastes and preferences.

        Our office will generally have some sort of non-meat pasta side dish to go with everything. like a pasta primavera or pesto something. If you used gluten-free pasta as the base, I think you’ve got, like, 95% of the dietary issues covered.

          1. Elle*

            Great article! I’m curious, since you wrote this in 1995, have you noticed an improvement in people’s attitude, and also in your ease at ordering in restaurants?

            1. A Cita*

              I’ve been vegetarian since 1989. It’s much easier now and people’s attitudes have greatly improved. So much so, that I am shocked..shocked at the amount of restaurants in NYC that don’t offer vegetarian options. It’s really weird. But the fact that I can be shocked about it shows how far we’ve come.

      2. Marigold*

        I wish I could deal with them. The reason I stopped eating meat is because I don’t like the flavor/texture of meat. Eggplant and mushrooms are the meatiest vegetables, which means I do not care for them either.

        I can eat mushrooms if they’re chopped up and inside something else, but whole mushrooms and eggplant just have too much of that umami/savory flavor happening.

        1. JessaB*

          Waves at a fellow traveller on the “mushrooms larger than minced are awful” mouthfeel road.

    11. Karo*

      As a picky eater, I think it’s on the picky eater to figure out what he or she wants to eat based on the available food. It’s not that I can’t eat what’s available, it’s that I choose not to – and that’s a huge distinction. So if I’m at an all day meeting that only offers deli sandwiches (and I can’t stand lunch meat), then I either don’t eat or I only eat whatever sides I can find that are appetizing.

    12. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Hm. I think for me it depends on how restrictive the pickiness is. You don’t eat mushrooms? Not a big deal; we’ll find a caterer that will make a vegetarian sandwich without mushrooms. You don’t reach any raw vegetables? Sorry, I’m not tracking down an entirely separate meal for you (or letting your preferences hold hostage the entire order, i.e. “Pizza is the only thing Brianna likes, so I guess we’ll just get that for every meal.”)

      Someone else mentioned FODMAP; I’d consider that medical (in the same vein as folks who eat gluten-free). I’m not going to be in the business of asking everyone to justify their restrictions to me, so if picky people want to take advantage of that by calling their preferences restrictions, so be it.

      1. Laura*

        FODMAP is really so restrictive, those who follow that should really bring their own lunches because it might be near-impossible for employers to find food options that meet their needs.

        As someone with food preferences, I would much rather just bring my own lunch instead of worrying about cross-contamination or dairy hidden in various things.

    13. Plain Turkey Sandwich*

      I posted in the open thread about this issue and I think this is what I was trying to get at, when I send around a menu a coworker responds the only thing he can have is a plain turkey sandwich no condiments plain turkey plain bread. It’s not hard to accommodate but on the chance we want to order something other than sandwiches how accommodating do I need to be. He has called himself a picky eater.

      I also have a vegan who doesn’t seem to enjoy salads but I don’t get a response when I ask her what she likes to eat or suggestions of restaurants (after she made a snarky comment about salad at a lunch, I sent the menu around beforehand as well). So that’s tough, the consensus is that I have been overly accommodating in trying to get their preferences.

      1. JessaB*

        I think the reasonable with the picky eater is “here is the menu we’re ordering from, pick something and tell me what you want me to get you,” and if they don’t like anything, that’s now on them to bring their own food. On the other hand most places are willing to make something plain and if they really can’t you might want to toss that particular place off your list of choices.

        Also I love getting the menu in advance. It means I can call and check ingredients with the actual restaurant/catering company and be ready with “Okay I checked I can eat this and this and this but not that. Here’s a marked up list.”

        But being allergic to mustard I would understand if occasionally the company wanted barbecue. However if that was all they ever got I’d be really ticked and I’d want to know in advance so I could bring food.

        Mr. B has serious gut reactions to spicy food. He now brings something in every time they’re having a potlatch or a catered event because better than 50% of the time it will be something spicy that he can’t eat. If it’s not, great, he eats there and if it is he’s prepared.

        I personally get that no company can accommodate everyone every single time. However, effort needs to be made, and the time one finds out that accommodations can’t happen should not be AT the event after they’ve presumed they’re going to be eating and have nothing to fall back on. It’s all about the communication.

    14. Artemesia*

      As someone who has gone to great lengths to make sure there were vegan or vegetarian options, it does infuriate me when the vegan turns to me and says ‘oh I don’t eat beans.’ A vegan who doesn’t eat beans has to make that known when expecting to be accommodated.

    15. Person of Interest*

      If you have a few people with very restricted diets, why not just give them in advance the menu from the place where you are ordering and ask them what they would like you to order for them, and then set these orders aside so they can be claimed by the right person? Don’t make yourself crazy trying to guess at someone’s accommodations when you can just have them tell you what works.

    16. Misc*

      To complicate things further, there’s picky eating which you can just shrug and go ‘tough luck’ about, and there’s ‘I absolutely cannot put this stuff in my mouth’ selective eating disorder level stuff and then there’s ‘I have weird and complicated food issues’ and it’s very hard to make judgement calls from the outside. Or even the inside.

      (Personal anecdote time: up until a year ago, I would just have claimed to be the pickiest eater ever and would have quietly starved before eating anything on my long list of ick foods, but wouldn’t have made a thing of it because I was ‘just picky’. NOW I have discovered my ick foods line up amazingly, scarily well with FODMAPs (onions and cooked tomato are the worst, and also in everything), along with a whole bunch of foods I didn’t violently dislike so always forced myself to eat but was never that fond of. Apparently my body knows exactly what it shouldn’t eat, but I always just assumed it was a sensory issue. This …helps overall, as while I have an even more limited diet, I also have guidelines that I can actually explain to people, but explaining it to someone unfamiliar with the diet would still be painfully difficult and there’s a very high chance I just can’t eat anything a lot of the time if nobody’s accounting for the lactose/gluten etc free people with something that isn’t full of onions or a giant salad).

  3. AJSV*

    Great response, Alison! I am allergic to gluten and my organization never takes gluten free needs into account when they order food for meetings I’m a part of. Even though I always let the person ordering food ahead of time know my restriction and always offer to help plan the order or offer items that work. We always use the same caterer and they definitely have items I can eat–my assistant has no problems with ordering food I can eat–but it’s upper management that refuses to accommodate. It definitely makes me feel undervalued.

    1. Sadsack*

      That sucks! So what do you end up eating? How crummy to bring your own food when they could easily order you something.

      1. AJSV*

        Yes–I just bring my own. For meetings of 20 people where everyone else is treated. Not very welcoming!

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          This seems to me like it runs afoul of the ADA. Because of your disability you’re having to personally provide something the rest of the office is supplied for free. You might mention it to your HR department.

          1. an anon*

            The ADA only protects conditions that severely affect or curtail a major life activity. While someone with celiac can’t eat gluten, they’re not unable to eat in general. I doubt it would be considered a disability for ADA purposes.

            1. BobcatBrah*

              Not to mention that most people that are gluten free don’t actually have the allergy. People have latched onto an allergy diet to use as a fad diet.

      2. Koko*

        I’ve had to do that at a previous employer. It *IS* really crummy, especially because everyone notices that you’re eating different food that you brought yourself. People who didn’t do the ordering will feel bad and try to apologize and you have to reassure them it’s OK (even though you actually do feel slighted but you were raised not to make a fuss), and often people will seize the opportunity to start asking you about your dietary restrictions.

        Honestly the last thing I ever want to do is have the 14,000th conversation about my wheat allergy and have a room full of people staring at me and feeling like I’ve got a spotlight shining on me because of my weird food needs. It’s not that I think anyone is judging me, of course. It’s just that I get sick of talking about it and sick of standing out. I just want to be able to eat lunch without it being remarked upon, like everyone else.

        1. GF Jessica*

          Omg yes. THIS. This is exactly how it feels. I have Celiac Disease and so then it turns into, “how sick does it make you?” “what does wheat do to you?” Um, let’s just leave it at you don’t want to know ok?

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Same here. It’s a very uncomfortable situation (and I’m so tired of talking about celiac at work – seriously).

    2. Megs*

      I dated a dude with celiac’s and company events were really rough for the same reason. I remember going to an employee appreciation banquet with him where he could only eat the mashed potatoes or something like that because they pre-mixed the salad dressing and croutons.

      1. Marigold*

        Dressing should always always always be on the side. Croutons should be customizable.
        When I become supreme dictator of the universe, salads will never be served pre-dressed.
        (I don’t eat salad dressing of any kind, in case you couldn’t tell. Give me that dry bowl of lettuce, thank you very much.)

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          I don’t like salad dressing either. Back in the day when restaurants used to always pre-dress the salad, I had a lot of arguments with waiters about “NO dressing? You’re SURE?” “Yes.” “So… no dressing AT ALL?” “No, none.” Nowadays they always bring it in a little container on the side, so I can just ignore it.

          1. Marigold*

            I still get those comments. “I’d like this sandwich, but no balsamic on it, please, and a salad, but no dressing.”
            Staff tends to stare for a while or question me. “Not even olive oil and vinegar?” No! Please let me enjoy my dry eatin’.

            1. Koko*

              Hahaha this is too true. I avoid sauces and dressings because 9 times out of 10 they’re mostly sugar, but there are other wet ingredients that do just fine.

              At the local Mediterranean counter service place I get a scoop of tzatziki yogurt (which they consider a “dip” that you get at the beginning of the counter, rather than a “dressing” which comes at the end of the counter) and a couple of lemon wedges to squeeze on the salad. Almost every time the employee is super confused that I don’t *also* want a salad dressing.

              For Mexican salads some sour cream and refried beans make it plenty wet without adding some southwest-ranch-chipotle dressing on top, but they act like I’m the weirdest person in the world for not wanting it!

            2. WT*

              Right on with no dressing – I like lemon juice and even that is such an amazing novelty for servers, coworkers, etc.

        2. Megs*

          100% agree. Most restaurants put so much dressing on it’s just a sneeze away from lettuce soup. It’s not any sort of dietary thing for me, I just think it’s gross.

    3. neverjaunty*

      You are undervalued. I mean, you’re actually offering to help work with them, and they don’t have to change their food provider.

      1. Mabel*

        And it’s not hard at all to find really delicious GF cake! And they did this at HIS party.

      2. Christopher Tracy*

        They did this at my training program graduation (and they bought two cakes – one chocolate and one vanilla). The director of the program ended up giving me a box of gluten free snack bars instead – uh…thanks, lol.

      3. Zucchinibikini*

        At my farewell for my last job (I’m also a coeliac) they put on a morning tea spread with cakes, cookies, dips, crackers etc … How sweet! EXCEPT for the fact that the only thing I could eat was the carrot sticks (and not even those once people started dripping cracker crumbs on them on the way to the dips).

    4. INTP*

      I’m gluten free and definitely feel your pain, but at the same time, I prefer that a company doesn’t accommodate me at all rather than half-asses it. If it comes from a caterer or restaurant that is well-versed in gluten free foods and avoids cross-contamination and clearly separates and labels the GF items, that’s fine. On the other hand, if someone just takes it on themselves to order things that they just assume are gluten free (like salads or french fries), or orders whatever the restaurant employee says is okay without really grilling them to see if they know what they’re talking about, then the gluten free option might very well not be gluten free. However, they’ve created a situation where I’m socially obligated to eat it because I will look like a massive ass if I either eschew it completely or ask about how it was labeled on the menu, what the employee told them, etc to figure out if I trust that it’s really gluten free. For most takeout places it’s easier to just skip and bring my own food.

    5. Mabel*

      What jerks! It sounds like it would be very easy to order something you could eat. Since your assistant orders food for you from the same place, could you (or your assistant) call them and ask them to add a meal for you whenever they are asked to cater a meeting at your office? This way, you’d circumvent the higher up jerks who are doing the ordering. And if it’s a meeting you’re not part of, someone else can eat the GF meal, or you can grab it before they set up the food for the meeting.

      I’m allergic to wheat (and I don’t eat beef or pork), so I’m accustomed to finding that salad is the only thing I can eat at a buffet or catered meal. I expect this and don’t make a fuss about it. However, if I was constantly excluded from meals that my company was ordering for everyone else or had to eat salad every. single. time., I’d be angry and feel like I wasn’t valued or even given a second thought. And that’s a crummy way to feel at work (or anywhere else, really).

    6. Brisvegan*

      I was going to make a similar comment. I’m vegan (as hinted in my ‘nym) Most of our admin staff are amazing about ordering for the mix of gluten free, vegan, kosher, vegetarian etc staff that we have in our faculty. As others have said, the vegan option is often also able to be the gluten free, vegetarian meat free kosher, meat free halal etc option. (Note, however, “vegetarian” =/= “vegan” as most just vegetarian stuff often relies on egg and/or dairy and so is not vegan – ask the hungry vegan how I know!) It’s not impossible to have a few options that cater for lots of people.

      However, I have run across admin staff who thought people with dietary requirements were causing trouble for them. They would send our standard forms asking dietary preference and then would order for some of the dietary issues and not others, even though our institution’s in-house caterers will easily cater for everyone (and do, when other people order). Nothing says “we don’t value you,” like deliberately ensuring some staff members regularly go hungry at catered events. I know OP is probably thinking, “why do I have to do extra work?” but they are communicating “Our organisation does not value you” and/or “Our organisation will discriminate against you, based on your health issues, religion or deeply held ethical values” to those who OP is making go hungry when everyone else is eating. OP, please just find a caterer who can cater for everyone.

      (Also, I have had one past bad supervisor who deliberately left people off catering, but required them to attend whole day events or lunch meetings, as part of a pattern of bullying, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

    7. Betty Sapphire*

      I understand your pain, AJSV! A close family member of mine has Celiac Disease. Seeing his (severe) allergic reaction to gluten is terrible. Gluten is an allergen that can do serious harm — it’s not just a diet fad, which I unfortunately think makes others perceive this as a less-serious dietary restriction.

  4. Roscoe*

    I would just send out an email or something and give people choices of dietary restrictions, and just keep that file someplace for when you are ordering this food. But its on them to respond to it. That way they don’t have to tell you every time, but you have it all someplace.

    And I feel your pain. Having been the person who does this, it gets annoying when people decide that now they will only eat vegan or gluten free when it was never a thing before.

    So put the onus on them to get you that information, but then you just will need to do it and make sure they aren’t feeling left out. The only time I can see it being a big issue is if you have a strict budget to adhere to. At that point, you may need to figure out a compromise.

    1. Dawn*

      “…it gets annoying when people decide that now they will only eat vegan or gluten free when it was never a thing before.”

      Sometimes people don’t have a choice because they’re doing it for medical reasons. Trust me, it’s about 100x MORE annoying for the person who’s having to go on an elimination diet to suss out a potential allergen or who suddenly has to go vegan because of intestinal issues than it is for you ordering food!

      1. KHB*

        And also, people actually are allowed to change their minds about their self-imposed dietary restrictions. Not all vegans have been vegan since birth, nor should they have to be to get their requests for food they can eat taken seriously.

        1. Ever and Anon*

          But then it’s on them to inform the world of their decision, before they expect everyone else.
          If last week you ate Jello and this week you don’t, its really not reasonable for someone to guess. If you’re on a specialty diet of only fair trade nine grain bread and kale, or on super strict triple-rabbi-checked Kosher, you suck it up and bring your own lunch or wait to eat later.

          If it’s a duty of others to accommodate your needs and convenience, it’s also your duty to think of theirs.

          1. nofelix*

            I don’t think the employees are expecting the food organiser to be a mind reader. There’s no guessing involved. As Alison says, it’s part of making people feel welcome to make sure they’re taken care of. That means providing vegetarian options because it’s such a common diet, and taking a reasonable approach to discovering what else will be necessary. It’s not very difficult to include “please rsvp and include any dietary restrictions” on the event invite.

      2. LawBee*

        I think Roscoe was referring more to the trendy dieters who are gluten free – except for pizza. They exist, they are deeply annoying for those who have the medical reasons or are committed to the ethics behind their choice.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Speak for yourself.

          I have a medical reason behind my gluten-free diet, and **I** am not annoyed in the least by people who are avoiding gluten for fad reasons, or avoiding it in most cases but will splurge on something they love.

          This is actually a hot button for me. Consider the comment above said with a little bit of heat behind it.

          1. Bean*

            Celiac here, and I concur. Who gives a [hoot] what anyone eats?

            And while I understand that it’s the main reason behind many GF peep’s annoyance with fad GF follks, I take great umbrage with blaming fad gluten avoiders for waiters not taking restrictions seriously. It’s not anyone’s call to decide when or where to take anyone’s allergy seriously, full-stop. It’s always, always, always the serving person, chef, and/or restaurant manager’s fault if you’re spitefully served gluten because they saw someone refuse bread but drink a beer. ALWAYS.

            (Also, frankly, waiters don’t always know best – I was once accused of faking my celiac because I ate glutinous (emphasis on the “i”) rice. Based on his attitude and eye-rolling, that waiter probably uses that to justify not caring much about GF.)

            1. Callie*

              Because it’s super annoying when you go to a lot of trouble to accommodate someone’s GF needs–if you’re doing it right, it’s a lot of being very careful about cross contamination and extra cleaning–and they just say JK I EAT PIZZA IT’S FINE. If a person doesn’t need to be GF, they shouldn’t ask for all the extra work and preparation required to really do GF right. These people are assholes.

              (No, I am not defending people who then get slack with GF preparation. I’m just saying that people who make others do GF prep for no reason are assholes.)

              1. Mabel*

                The first time the person making my sandwich on GF bread asked me if I had an allergy or a preference, I thought, “why in the world would you eat this way if you didn’t have to?”

                1. Christopher Tracy*

                  Ha! I say the exact same thing. Not only is the gluten free version of junk food rarely as good as the gluten filled version, but it’s expensive as hell to eat this way too. My grocery bill increased once I found out I had celiac even though I was buying less food at the store – wtf?!

          2. nofelix*

            Yeah I agree. My girlfriend is gluten-free and it’s the fad dieters that have made it easier for her, by making restaurants more aware that this is a thing.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          If I had to avoid gluten for medical reasons, I think I’d probably be happy about the number of people who choose to go gluten-free for other reasons, since they’re part of the reason there are more gluten-free options now.

          1. Mononymous*

            This, absolutely! Higher demand leads to more and better products available to us.

      3. baseballfan*

        I think everyone understands that; the post above was referring to people who simply eat (or don’t eat!) what’s trendy.

        I worked with someone who was vegan. She never made a thing of it, brought her own snacks to meetings, and ordered the vegan option at conferences. NBD. Then one day we all went out and she ordered a steak. Say what? She explained, “Yeah I’m paleo now.”

        1. Kelly L.*

          People do change, though. I have a friend who was a vegetarian when I met her, and then went on Atkins and started eating meat. And then later she discovered some food allergies too. So it’s been an ongoing process with her. I get how it’s annoying–I sometimes had trouble keeping up and would beg her to pick the restaurant because I’m an omnivore and don’t always know what’s permitted under what diet–but it’s still real and it’s still her life.

          TL;DR even if it’s following a trend, that’s still where that person is at that point in their life.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            I hear that. I tell people I’m veggie because I eat meat very, very rarely, and my belly won’t tolerate lots of meat. I’m pretty picky about what it is and where it comes from. But sometimes it annoys people who’ve seem me eat meat that I won’t eat it. I mean, sometimes I go several months with no meat. I’m not going to eat it three times in one day.

          2. sam*

            Yeah – I have a friend who didn’t learn until she was almost 30 that she had Celiac. the constant pain that she had been in her entire life until that point? basically dismissed by every doctor she had been to as all in her head. It was the actual Dr. Atkins who figured it out.

            (I’ll save my rant about how women are treated by the medical community for another time.)

            But she also has chronic migraines, which at one point had her docs putting her on a radical elimination diet where, combined with what she couldn’t eat because of the Celiac, she couldn’t eat pretty much anything – we met for brunch (or “brunch”) one day while she was going through this and that was an…interesting…meal. That didn’t last very long, mostly because she needed sustenance.

            The worst part is that she LOVES to cook. so now she hosts parties where she cooks elaborate spreads of food where she can’t eat 90% of it.

          3. Green*

            It’s also sometimes easier to give people a well-known line than the specifics of what you will and won’t eat.

            For many years, I ate shellfish but otherwise ate vegetarian. I often just said vegetarian because I can happily eat vegetarian foods without having to get into: “Yes on mussels, no on pork, no on chicken broth in my soup, yes on oysters…” Later I spent two years completely vegetarian. For the last two years I’ve eaten meat regularly, but my particular conscience is bothering me and this past month I’ve been going back to vegetarian. I certainly will give a status update if it impacts someone ordering for me, but otherwise do I really need to go into my internal moral struggles and ethical considerations?

        2. Anonnyfood*

          Yeah, I was 30 when I was diagnosed with a genetic skin disease that can become very painful if not carefully maintained. I didn’t learn until after a few years that there are many foods that aggrevate my skin and I discovered the Paleo diet, which helps me. Sometimes I’ll go off of it on a whim, then my skin flares up and I have to get real strict about it again. I am glad no one has to order my food.

        3. Jenna*

          She may have been diagnosed with an allergy or celiac and not wanted to make a fuss. Paleo is much easier to do if you are celiac than vegan is, because in some places the steak and the vegetables are the only safe things for a celiac to eat. Vegan options and substitutes sometimes have a lot of wheat or gluten in them. Salad dressing is not always safe(modified food starch is evil!). Sometimes the soup has wheat flour in it(has Panera gotten better at that yet?). Also, if you are celiac you may have some mineral deficiencies due to the condition of your intestines and what they have been able to absorb. I know I was anemic, and was told to take vitamins of certain kinds for a while after diagnosis. I have often said that I could never be vegan, and part of that is my celiac because some restrictions don’t exist together easily.

      4. Roscoe*

        I get when its for medical issues. But literally sometimes people just all of a sudden decide that they are vegan and that throws a whole wrench in your plans on what you can order.

          1. Roscoe*

            Yep. And I’m allowed to be annoyed at your constantly changing preferences that I have to deal with. I think it really depends on how often its an issue. If you are ordering food once or twice a year? Fine. If you are ordering it once a month and every other month someone is on some new fad diet, its annoying.

            1. Anonnyfood*

              If the person tells you before you order the food, isn’t that sufficient notice? Give the person the menu and tell them to pick something within the budget. The shouldn’t be something to be annoyed over.

              1. Chriama*

                I think the idea is if they’re constantly changing their food preferences to something restrictive or unusual, you have to start from square 1 every time you order food. You can’t have a list of go-to caterers because someone always needs something new. I’m giving Roscoe the benefit of the doubt here. Being annoyed with people but still accommodating their needs (and not making them feel bad about it, obviously) is normal and totally professional.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It would throw a wrench in your plans if they were suddenly diagnosed with a violent food allergy, too.

            1. neverjaunty*

              It’s not about knowing your co-workers. It’s about “oh man, this person suddenly changed what they eat and it inconveniences me”.

        2. Megs*

          Although there certainly are a small number of people out there who are really, truly flaky with their dietary preferences (I know a couple! I don’t invite them to dinner!), it’s probably best to assume good faith with sudden changes unless it’s clearly not the case.

        3. Cordelia Naismith*

          I sympathize — people following a diet just because it’s trendy and not for medical, religious, or ethical reasons are definitely annoying. But you still have to accommodate them. Because what’s the alternative? Making people pass a test to prove they’re really vegans or really gluten-free, and not just following a fad? That idea makes me really uncomfortable.

          But, yeah, I may have internally rolled my eyes sometimes when certain people I know announce yet another diet they’re following. I don’t say anything because other people’s diets aren’t my business, but I get where you’re coming from here.

      5. Laura*

        Or specific religious reasons. For example, Catholics cannot consume meat on Fridays during Lent. Some of us give up meat altogether for the season.

  5. Kasia*

    Would something like a salad (dressing on the side) be a good/easy choice for both vegetarians and those who are gluten-free? Sure it might not be the most filling choice but at least it’s something. And most catering places will have that as an option. It also goes well with things like sandwiches or other entrees so it won’t go to waste if vegetarians/gluten free people don’t come.

    1. Dawn*

      Getting a salad as a consolation prize is like winning the shittiest lottery ever. “Hey we ordered this awesome Italian food from the greatest restaurant in the city but we know you’re vegan/vegetarian/gluten free so you get… SOME LETTUCE! We know you can’t eat any of the entrees or any of the desserts so here’s a bowl of greens with maybe some tomatoes on top if you’re lucky, and man we really hope the prepackaged salad dressing doesn’t accidentally have wheat/anchovy in it!”

      1. Roscoe*

        So instead of getting you a salad, they all need to change the restaurant they were planning to order from?

        1. Kristine*

          Not necessarily. Just order from an awesome Italian place that carries gluten free pasta. I have to plan events for a company of 650. You learn pretty quickly how to cater to all dietary needs while 1) filling everyone up and 2) keeping some variety in the places you order from.

          1. BRR*

            I think planning for a large group is easier in certain ways. If one out of ten is vegan it’s more difficult than if 10 out of 100.

        2. KHB*

          Yes. You can eat at whatever restaurants you want to eat at on your own time, but when the goal is to feed a group, you need to pick a menu that can accommodate everyone, to the extent that that’s possible.

        3. Laura*

          Honestly, I think they probably should change the restaurant – in the same way that if you’re trying to accommodate a vegetarian, you probably shouldn’t plan a lunch at a steakhouse (at least, not if you actually want to be thoughtful and accommodating).

        4. Rusty Shackelford*

          Why not? Assuming there’s more than one restaurant in the world, if one can provide something satisfying for everybody, and another can’t, why not change?

          1. Roscoe*

            I guess my issue is the ” this awesome Italian food from the greatest restaurant in the city” part that gets me. I think I’m ok with saying, ok this place doesn’t have it, but here is an alternative from a place next door, as opposed to saying no one can have this great restaurant because you can’t.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But the point of the business meal isn’t to give a certain number of people a fantastic culinary adventure. It’s to feed everyone.

              1. Roscoe*

                I suppose. But everyone is still eating, just not the same thing (which they wouldn’t have been anyway).

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Oh, if you’re saying order from both for the meal, that doesn’t seem like a problem. It would just be problematic to stick with the first restaurant and expect some people to put up with an iceberg lettuce salad.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              Well, sure, if the person ordering is willing to order some food from the Greatest Italian Restaurant Ever and also order some really good accommodating food from the really good restaurant next door. But does that ever happen? Not in my experience. If you’re only going to order from one place, you should order from the one that can give everyone a meal that scores 6 or better, not from the one that’s going to provide a 10 for some people and a 3 for others.

      2. Mike C.*

        Getting a salad as a consolation prize is like winning the shittiest lottery ever.

        LOL, this is amazing, thanks! :)

      3. super anon*

        I love this!

        I said this upthread, but it’s even worse if you also happen to be lactose intolerant and they ordered a pre-mixed salad with cheese in it – even better if they’ve also provided a dressing that involves dairy or whey. I did a brief stint of trying to be vegetarian, but I gave up because of the difficulty of finding both dairy & meat free options. I have no idea how vegans do it.

        1. Hallway Feline*

          Exactly! Usually all I can eat at work events is dry bread. It’s a treat when they order from the Italian place and they bring the vinaigrette…

        2. Mabel*

          Me, too, but it’s also pretty difficult to find gluten free food that is also meat free (for eating out).

      4. Bean*

        Yeah, but honestly sometimes celiacs gotta suck it up. Of course I’d prefer something other than a millionth salad, but that’s not always realistic and I get that. I tend to expect sustenance and good faith effort from work food; tastiness is a bonus.

      5. Christopher Tracy*

        LMAO @ Dawn! Unfortunately, salads have become my go-to at most catered work lunches. *sigh* And good luck getting some plain oil and vinegar – I can’t eat most of the dressings.

      6. Act*

        Yuuup. My company is an giant asshole who likes to get salad as an “accommodation” for those of us with medical restriction, and it’s hard to express how much I hate them for it.

    2. Leatherwings*

      For the sake of all the vegetarians in the world, I am begging you not to order catered iceberg lettuce salads with dressing on the side for us to eat. Nicer salads? Sure. A /little/ bit of effort is always appreciated. :)

      1. Kasia*

        I get that, but it would at least be SOMETHING. Is that a something the OP should do for every meal, no. But if you’re in a bind it’s better than not providing an option.

        1. Shiara*

          Personally, I’d prefer to just be told “I’m sorry, but we can’t accommodate your dietary restriction” than to show up expecting food and then finding out that I’m expected to eat the side salad as my main meal. (This has happened to me more than once. It is super frustrating.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, it’s kind of an F-you in a way. Like “we know we’re supposed to get you something so here is a wilted iceberg lettuce leaf.”

            1. Macedon*

              Also, those of us who try to eat balanced vegetarian meals and not overdose on cheese and carbs inevitably find our calorie intake reduced and our appetites rousing more frequently.

              What I’m trying to say is, if you’ve told me not to eat because you’re providing, and I come in famished to lettuce? You’d better have a garden of it. Because I’ll be eating for a while.

          2. TL -*

            THIS. I once had someone email me the menu for a work event, I picked out the 2 items I could eat (this is not unusual for me) and … they didn’t order either of them, nor did they tell me. It was a breakfast meeting; I could’ve grabbed my usual breakfast and been perfectly happy. Instead, I starved until lunch, where I also couldn’t eat anything, and then slipped out afterwards to grab something.

            1. Hotstreak*

              That’s the reason why I always ask for a detailed menu ahead of time, and call the caterer to verify what they are bringing. I’ve shown up to meetings where the only thing I could eat was the chopped lettuce, which, by the way, is about 8 calories per cup. Yes, Eight. Not exactly enough food to keep me going strong through the end of the day!

          3. firstgirl*

            100%. As someone with a severe gluten intolerance, I’m pretty adept at packing non-perishable foods that will keep me full, and I’d much rather bring my own food than end up hungry because I munched on lettuce, or worse, end up sick because the event organizer or caterer didn’t fully understand my dietary needs and fed me something that wasn’t safe. A conference organizer recently told me she didn’t think she could accommodate me beyond salad – I brought food and was grateful for her honesty.

            For work events, I think there’s a higher bar for long meetings or travel that makes it hard for folks to bring or go out to get their own food, than for optional lunches or treats at the office. Especially in a small office where I’m the only one with a gluten free diet, if someone orders me a gluten-free pizza, cake, etc, I’ll feel pressured to eat it – no matter what food I brought to work, whether I want the extra calories or whether I feel confident that the food was prepared properly. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to talk to your employees directly and ask how they want to handle their restrictions!

        2. Chriama*

          OP needs to come up with a general game plan for accommodating this stuff though, so it’s not really an option she should be looking to because it’s not feasible long term. Lots of places offer vegetarian/vegan options, and gluten-free and kosher are becoming pretty common as well. OP says she orders food for 200 people — she can afford to stick to caterers and restaurants that are accommodating to her needs.

          1. Brisvegan*

            This! Getting stuck on what to order one time if you don’t have notice is understandable. Having an F***-you pattern of never ordering or only ordering the chopped lettuce for the people with dietary requirements is deliberately rude, if it’s your job to regularly cater events that include those people and if there are catering possibilities available in your locality.

    3. Koko*

      As long as it’s a real entree salad and not just a side salad, sure. “Real entree” means it has a full serving of protein and some complimentary veg flavors, not just lettuce with shredded carrots and dressing.

      I’m wheat-free and half of the meals I make myself are salads, but they are full of chicken, goat cheese, bell peppers, strawberries, candied pecans, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, avocado, hard-boiled egg, etc. They’re just as a substantial as any other meal, they’re just served on a bed of lettuce instead of on bread or pasta.

      In fact, when my wheat allergy was diagnosed, that was literally how I trained myself to eat: Take whatever I would normally eat, remove the bread or pasta, and put it on a bed of lettuce or in a bowl.

      I mentioned above but my company is very large and has loads of different allergies to accommodate, so they always do buffet-style catering: We’ll have a plate of bread or buns, maybe a bowl of rice, a platter of meat(s), a platter of meat substitute or falafel or similar, a platter of veggies, a bowl of salad greens, and a couple bowls of various dressings. Dessert is usually a cookie platter and a fruit platter.

      Everyone can just assemble their own plate based on their own needs and preferences. And even people who can eat anything hate or get sick of cold sandwiches and chips and love the “upgrade” that comes with this approach.

    4. INTP*

      Frankly I prefer to be warned ahead of time that I won’t be accommodated rather than be “accommodated” with a salad. I know it comes from well-meaning intentions, but it’s a PITA. For one, I don’t know if whoever ordered it just assumed that all salads are gluten free, or if they specified that it needs to be gluten free so they could avoid contaminating it with crouton crumbs and all, so I might be nervous to eat it. And it creates a situation in which I have to eat the salad to look gracious and appreciative, but I also have to eat something else if I don’t want to wind up faint from hunger, which is awkward to do in front of the person who thinks they were accommodating me by ordering me a salad. It makes me look a lot less like an ass to be able to say I’m eating my own lunch because I have a gluten allergy than to have to say I brought in food because I have a gluten allergy and the salad they so graciously accommodated me with is not enough for me.

    5. Mononymous*

      Always ask the individuals you’re trying to feed–never just assume. (Says the celiac who also has Crohn’s, and as such often can’t eat raw vegetables without substantial pain.)

  6. KHB*

    Can you ask people to RSVP with their dietary restrictions? As in, “The menu will include vegetarian and non-vegetarian items. If you’re planning to attend and have any other dietary needs, let me know by such-and-such a date, and we’ll take care of you”?

    1. Newby*

      That should take care of the problem of special ordering expensive alternatives and then having them go to waste.

      1. KHB*

        And also people who decide to go vegan/start keeping kosher/whatever between one event and the next.

    2. KR*

      I like this because it puts the onus on the person with the restriction to tell you instead of having to remember (or even worse, remembering that someone has a restriction but they’ve since had to update their diet plan).

  7. B*

    I order a lot of food for our organizations meetings and yes, I keep track of everyone’s dietary restrictions as well as immense dislikes. I find everyone appreciates, and is thankful, when I am able to accommodate the various needs. As a way to make things a bit simpler I will consolidate some of these restrictions together – the vegan and vegetarian and gluten free can all be combined into a dish. The kosher person – do they keep kosher kosher or is dairy/vegetarian ok? This is a big distinction. If they are ok with dairy/vegetarian well you just combined that into one as well and if not then have the kosher place do a vegetarian meal everyone can eat.

    To you it may be a pain but to others it is a very big distinction.

    1. Koko*

      I realize it may not always be feasible and this comes down more on the side of preference, but when I’m forced to eat vegan because of a bread allergy it makes me really sad.

      I actually went to a conference a couple years ago where they tried to do this. The “allergen-free” option was cold vegan “spring rolls” – just chopped veggies wrapped in rice paper – with packets of chips. The “regular” option was sandwiches and packets of chips.

      The next day suddenly they had a hot buffet with meat options and vegetarian options, and breads/toppings/dressings/etc on the side. I overheard a planner saying they had changed the menu at the last minute because of how many complaints they got after the first day’s lunch. Having planned these type of things before, I know that means they lost their deposit on lunch for days 2 and 3 – so I can only imagine how bad the complaints must have been for them to shift gears midstream like that.

      I didn’t personally complain because I was raised by my Southern mama never to make a fuss, so I just sucked it up and ate the spring rolls, but I honestly wanted to cry when I realized I was going to have to last until the end of the day on cold veggies before I could go eat real hot food with protein. I imagine the vegans felt similar about the lack of a starch to keep them full.

      1. Jenna*

        As a celiac, even the spring rolls would have made me very nervous because sometimes the wrappers and sauces are safe, and sometimes they are very not. I don’t like playing roulette with my health, and sometimes you can trust the word of the servers, and sometimes they don’t know what they are talking about. Spending the rest of the afternoon in the restroom is a high price to pay and I worry about what food I eat when I am not the one cooking it.

      2. B*

        I understand but sometimes it is a matter of space, money, and convenience because sometimes I can only order large quantities. If someone is being good enough to try and accommodate all of the dietary restrictions those with dietary restrictions should also recognize only so much can be done.

        1. Jenna*

          I understand an effort was made, but, it’s still really hard to feel grateful for lunch accommodations when you are still hungry. Especially if you were told there would be food you could eat so you didn’t bring something yourself.

      3. INTP*

        I usually have the opposite problem at restaurants, the gluten free menu is only meat. I’ve been known to eat an iceberg lettuce salad at restaurants and then scarf down a kind bar in secret (always have these in my purse!). I don’t understand why it’s so hard to find a vegetarian salad! (I’ve also been known to bring a can of beans to a restaurant to make my side salad into a meal.)

        1. Koko*

          Also, why are the meat entrees always just meat with a token 3 baby carrots on the side? It’s so rare to find an option that has meat but is generous with veggies.

          I actually end up ordering two dishes almost every time I eat out, because I want a full portion of meat but I also want a big ol’ plate of veggies to go with it. All these restaurants are just serving giant portions of half-meals!

    2. Ahad ha'amoratsim*

      There is quite a bit of kosher food that is not vegetarian, and quite a bit of vegetarian and vegan food that is not kosher.

  8. Bwmn*

    Speaking to the kosher guidelines specifically – I think that this is a case where it’s in your best interest to speak to this colleague specifically as getting a kosher meal is highly specialized. First, not all kosher is the same – so checking before hand is very relevant. Second, just because food is kosher – people still have preferences and if you’re only ordering a meal for one person, there’s no point in ordering a kosher corned beef sandwich if the person happens to hate corned beef. And lastly, most people who keep kosher to a certain level do not necessarily expect their non-Jewish employer to properly cater food for them. So this employee has likely already sorted how they eat through out the day, what catering is or is not to their liking, etc. Additionally, it may be that this employee would prefer to bring their own sandwich/main course – but items like whole uncut fruit would be appreciated to enjoy among their coworkers.

    I’m sure others will have more specific thoughts on the gluten-free colleague, but because so many of the realities around keeping kosher are so involved, I don’t think the employee would be at all insulted to be consulted directly on what would be most accommodating for their needs.

    1. Karyn*

      I agree with consulting the employee directly. At one of my offices, the managing attorney was strictly kosher and kept a separate set of plates specifically for kosher food. This employee may not keep that standard, but may keep others (e.g., like myself – I avoid pork, but I’m not so much on the meat/cheese separation).

      Funny story, as an aside: I once had to literally dive in front of a coworker at my former office because she was about to use a kosher plate for her sausage and pepperoni pizza. She had no idea, of course, but I didn’t want her to have to tell managing partner about it, lest it be A Thing (this managing partner was sort of kind of a little bit nuts). That’s the fastest I’ve ever moved in my life.

      1. Bwmn*

        Yes, I used to work in Jerusalem – and while many are very understanding about not knowing all those “things” – not everyone is. Then there’s those who keep Glatt kosher and those who find eating non kosher vegetarian food acceptable and a million and one points in between. Just an issue about how long someone will wait between eating meat then milk will vary.

        Lots of dietary issues and preferences can be complex, but keeping kosher is extremely complicated and I just can’t imagine any observant kashrut Jew expecting a non-Jewish employer to guess what they’d prefer.

    2. My 2 Cents*

      Your post brings up something I wanted to point out: Sometimes Kosher/vegetarian/gluten free food is stuff that is really good and ALL people would like, even if they don’t have dietary restrictions, so maybe that’s the way to go.

      For example, I’m not kosher at all but I LOVE a corned beef sandwich and would take it over a turkey/ham/etc sandwich any day. So, if your budget doesn’t allow you to order lots of different meals why not order corned beef and everyone gets something they can eat? Plus, it’s not the same old stuff they usually get at lunches so a change is good. (I know that not everyone likes corned beef so this specific example may not work, but the overall point is that you can probably find something that works for all and isn’t gross if you try).

      1. Bwmn*

        A reality of just about all kosher catering is that it will be more expensive than non-kosher catering. Maybe every now and then if there’s a specific restaurant or caterer that is truly enjoyed that’d be a way to go, but to change all catering to be kosher would likely be a significant cost increase in catering if it were to continue all year.

        I will also add that kosher colleagues – like everyone else – sometimes go on diets to lose weight and would just rather eat their food from home for that reason. I’m sure there are loads of ways to make a larger decision to be accommodating, but given both the increase cost of kosher catering and everything that goes into it – since it’s just one person, just have a private conversation and ask them.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Thank you for this. And anyone who is insulted about being asked to help navigate their level of kashrut isn’t observant so much as a jerk.

    4. Temperance*

      I work with some people who keep kosher. How I handled it was asking them which restaurants they preferred; the kosher option in my office is pretty nasty and kind of looks like Alpo, so I wouldn’t want to eat it, either.

    5. suspectclass*

      Yes! I keep kosher in that I don’t eat pork, forbidden fishes, or meat with dairy. But I do eat pretty much all dairy w/o regard to whether it is certified kosher. These days I’m pretty much pescatarian. However, because I have ethical objections to a lot of the meat industry, and because explaining what kind of fish I can eat is A Thing (and because fish options are often gross or involve shellfish/catfish), I just ask for vegetarian. The person who organizes our office potluck tried to get me to explain what I technically could eat (after I told her to just lump me in with the vegetarians), and ended up deeming me high-maintenance because she found the fish designations too complicated. She asked!

    6. Ahad ha'amoratsim*

      I agree. And it is very easy to inadvertently render kosher food non-kosher, even with the best of intentions.

      People who keep kosher make mistakes in their own kitchens, even if we are familiar with the intricacies. If someone has no idea what kosher means, it’s a real gamble to expect him or her to serve you a kosher meal. It may have been kosher when it was delivered, but that does not mean it will still be kosher by the time it reaches you — unless it was delivered sealed, all seals are still intact, no holes have been poked in the packaging, it has not been reheated, etc.

      1. LS*

        This reminds me of a time when my (ex) brother in law was travelling for work and he told his client not to worry about food because he was strictly kosher. They assured him that they were only too happy to accommodate him and he sent pics of the relevant kosher hechsher / symbol. When he arrived he found that they had made him a bread roll with (kosher) cheese and (kosher) cold meat :-0 all kosher individually but not as part of the same meal…

  9. Anna No Mouse*

    You might be able to kill two birds with one stone by combining choices. Make sure your kosher meal is also vegetarian, or that your vegetarian meal is also gluten free.

    It’s also important to remember that if someone has celiac disease, they may become severely ill eating gluten, so they aren’t trying to make your life harder, they are just trying to avoid a trip to the ER.

    1. KatieKate*

      Speaking as a vegetarian who often ends up with awful veggie meals–please give me some bread!

      1. orchidsandtea*

        Speaking as a gluten-free eater who often ends up with awful veggie meals — please give me some protein!

    2. Not Karen*

      For the record, celiac disease is an intolerance, not an allergy, so it’s not likely to send you to the ER (though yes still possible I get it).

      1. Narmowen*

        No, I won’t go to the ER. I’ll just break out into a horrible, painful, itching rash within 24 hours, be stuck on the toilet for the next couple of days. But, no, I probably won’t have to go to the ER.

        And please, no Vegetarian meals for this celiac. The worst thing is seeing everyone else get a nice, fulfilling sandwich and cookies while I’m stuck with a salad.

        1. Emma the Strange*

          Or in my my case, you just get really gassy and feel like you’re pooping acid-coated glass shards two days later. (I gave into temptation and ate some delicious mac and cheese on Saturday. My digestive system has been exacting the bill over the last two days, so this is very fresh in my memory).

          1. TL -*

            Amy’s gf mac and cheese is pretty good if you add in a good helping of your own nice cheese on top of the prepackaged sauce (if you like/crave the boxed stuff, which I do. Not actually a fan of the homemade type.)

      2. ToxicNudibranch*

        No, but celiac will send you heaving to the toilet, and possibly a bucket besides. I know a lot of people have self-diagnosed or decided to stop eating gluten for *reasons*, but for people with celiac, it’s still terrible, even if they don’t have to visit the ER.

        1. Megs*

          I have never seen a human being in as much pain as my ex- having a celiac attack. Seriously.

          1. A Cita*

            I’m not celiac (was tested for it), but gluten intolerant (yes, it is actually a thing–you can never *comfortably* eat gluten–lots of yucky side effects that builds up over time, but not the every time effect that celiacs experience and not from trace amounts).

            When you’re intolerant and you ignore your body because you love the bread-like things, you end up with a celiac-like attack. The worst pain I have ever been in–I literally thought I was going to die. (And I have endometriosis–it does not hold a candle to a celiac attack). Shaking, cold sweats, so much pain you pass out, can’t even stand, have to crawl to the toilet, need a bucket as well. Horrible. And seems to get worse with each one. And that’s just from intolerance. I can’t even imagine what a celiac disease sufferer goes through. It’s no joke and not to be trifled with.

        1. Rowan*

          Not to be the “well actually” person, but…well, actually.

          Celiac is not, by strict medical definition, an “allergy”. An allergy is a histamine reaction that can kill you within minutes. Celiac is an immune disorder in which the immune system targets gluten within the intestine, and the intestine is “collateral damage” in that war.

          Gluten intolerance is a hypothesized disorder in which, maybe, a different part of the immune system targets gluten. As of now, medical evidence is still shaky and contradictory as to whether gluten intolerance exists. (My intestines, however, are quite certain it does, unless I’m in the 2% of celiacs who have the disorder without having the accompanying genes.)

          1. KR*

            +1 Celiac disease over time literally destroys the villi in your intestine meaning that if left untreated, someone with celiac disease could lose the ability to absorb nutrients from their food, essentially starving to death in their own bodies. My grandfather has advance stage celiac disease. He’s on the toilet all the time, has accidents frequently and literally everything makes him sick. He went through some rapid weight loss a while ago and is now a combination of very thin and always bloated. It’s sad.

          2. TL -*

            Allergies can be deadly but most aren’t, especially for adults. An allergy is a reaction mediated by the part of the immune system that has the potential to trigger anaphylaxis. An allergy can become deadly, even if it isn’t when it initially develops – that being said, most never become life-threatening and they truly can range from mildly annoying –> deathly. (However, you can’t predict which allergy will worsen and which won’t, which is why you would want to avoid mild allergens if at possible.)
            Celiac’s could never do that, because it’s controlled by a different part of your immune system which can’t trigger anaphylaxis. (For the science nerds, allergies are an IgE-mediated reaction; celiac’s is an IgA-mediated reaction.)

          3. Artemesia*

            I know several people who are not whiny high maintenance nut cases who claim to feel much better after years of low level digestive issues when they avoid gluten. I certainly believe them. Celiac is different in that this is a serious auto immune disorder that causes real physical damage as well as misery. And whereas many people who avoid gluten to feel better are not bothered by a tiny bit or contamination, people with Celiac really can be triggered with trace amounts.

            1. Cafe au Lait*

              There is a phenomenon between too much yeast and digestive issues. I read an article about slow bread (sadly, I can’t find right now) and digestion. In short: commercial bakeries use too much yeast as a bread starter, and add yeast again after kneading. It helps fluff up the bread quickly, but doesn’t provide a ton of nutritional punch.

              The best way to make bread is over a very long time. At most, a single loaf of bread should only use 1/4 teaspoon of yeast to get started. It should take 12 or more hours from start to finish.

          4. A Cita*

            Yeah, my doctors hypothesize that gluten intolerance is immune related, but different than celiac (so you’ll test negative for celiac). They say they see it people who already have other auto-immune disease, as immune stuff can create cascading effects.

            We narrowed it down to gluten intolerance (I do have a different auto-immune disease) when I kept coming in with abdominal pain and there were no cysts or fibroids (which they thought at first) and negative tests for celiac.

            As I said above, the triggers are different (in that we can have trace amounts–even small amounts on occasion), but if you do like me and gorge on it for a couple of days, you do get a celiac-like attack. It’s so terrible, I am deeply afraid of ever having to go through that again. I’ve experienced it a few times now and never, ever, ever want to go through that. I live in fear of it, actually. It was terrifying.

        2. Jenna*

          Celiac disease is what I have been diagnosed with. The doctor did all the tests. The colonoscopy was educational.
          It does not operate like a nut allergy, or a peanut allergy. The physical symptoms that I get if glutened take an hour or so to manifest and include vomiting everything up that I have eaten in the past twelve hours, diarrhea a few hours or a day after that lasts for a couple days, and gas for about two weeks. There is no way to stop the vomiting except to ride it out and not try to eat or drink anything, even water, for three to six hours. Zip lock bags are a wonderful thing, because being face down in a toilet for several hours sucks.
          My body reacts to the gluten protein in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley by attacking the little cilia in my digestive tract. The physical symptoms are annoying, but, that isn’t all it does. It interferes with my absorption of minerals and vitamins, and can cause long term damage leaving me more vulnerable to cancers in the intestinal tract.

          The really fun thing is that gluten hides in so many things! Modified food starch, caramel coloring, soy sauce(gluten free is available but not usually what restaurants use), beef broth(more beef broth is safe now, but, when I was diagnosed there wasn’t any safe), glucose made from wheat…
          In addition to the possibility that someone dropped a crouton into the soup or the dip.
          Anything processed is suspicious to me because of the modified food starch problem, so chain restaurants that make their food offsite are far down my list of places that I will eat because their dressings and soups are often not safe. I have been in restaurants where the shrimp cocktail was not safe for me as listed by their own menu. That one confused me and made me wonder what on earth they were using in it.

      3. Izzy*

        I have been to the ER because I ate something I have an intolerance to. I wasn’t in danger of dying, but the pain was bad enough that I really thought I had a burst appendix or something. Food intolerances can really, really suck.

      4. Bean*

        It’s actually essentially an autoimmune disease. I’ve had to go to the ER due to fluid loss and high fever after getting glutened.

      5. Anon Moose*

        Regardless of all the people above who have disagreed on the facts, even on the face of it “It won’t likely send you to the ER so…” is a really really crappy reason for not making an extra effort so they don’t become ill or be unable to eat.

    3. Bwmn*

      I think that combining vegetarian with kosher or gluten-free might be a very expensive and ultimately unhelpful option. Kosher catering by and large is always going to be more expensive than non-kosher catering. Often vegetarian dishes are enjoyed by all – people wanting one slice of mushroom pizza as well as a piece of pepperoni and so on. If the point of having kosher or gluten free options is to make sure that specific individuals are specifically cared for, then there is a high risk of both running out of those specific options before those people arrive and spending more to still end up not catering to the specific people in mind.

    4. writelhd*

      my best friend has celiac disease and I can tell you she at least would really rather you NOT try to provide her food, unless it comes sealed in a package that is labeled as gluten free and that she herself can open, and I don’t mean *anything* homemade or even necessarily restaurant made, because some restaurates say “gluten free” but still don’t mean “safe for celiacs” She has friends/family (including me, before I knew better) who don’t fully understand celiac who try to make her gluten free things but she has to refuse them (and hates having to do it), because she can’t know she won’t end up in the ER unless she WATCHED them make it and knows they sponged down the counter with a clean rag beforehand didn’t sneak a stir with the same spoon as was in used in cooking the non-gluten free item by accident. Trust me, no one enjoys being that much of a pain, and being spared from having to feel that way is in itself a courtesy. People with celiac also aren’t generally *expecting* to be able to eat food at events like that, so if your gluten free person is celiac, I would just have the direct conversation with her about it. Providing a space which she can clean to her satisfaction herself, that nobody else *touches* before she’s done, where she could put together some small pre-packaged gluten free things might be a nice gesture , but I’d talk to her about it first to see. People with celiac are very very used to those kinds of conversations and defining such boundaries for themselves. It’s really much better to ask than to assume.

      1. Laura*

        This is a great explanation of how serious celiac disease is. I choose to be gluten-free, so I love getting a gluten-free pasta dish, but I know very few kitchens are truly safe from cross-contamination. If you have a celiac coworker, the best thing you can do is ASK what they would prefer to have for company events. They may request to have nothing at all, so as to avoid potentially dangerous food situations.

        1. Jenna*

          I’m not so sensitive that I end up in the ER(see my comment above) and so I tend to take more risks than that. I haven’t given up restaurants entirely and I do let friends cook for me, but, it it very much a trust issue. I have a short list of restaurants where I will eat, and a trusted group of friends whose food I will eat.
          This makes eating at a work buffet or potluck a little tense, and sometimes I may skip the supposed gluten free options if there’s anything at all that feels off, or, if I am just not up to worrying about it that day. I appreciate the thought, but, sometimes I don’t have the energy to worry about whether someone was careful enough and whether I might possibly get sick.
          I know it may look like I am making someone be careful about food prep and then not utilizing or appreciating the effort, but, if you ever end up in this position you will understand.

      2. Maxwell Edison*

        This. When my friend who has celiac came over for Thanksgiving, I made sure to specify to all the guests that ONLY the Mickey Mouse cake server was to be used with the gluten-free dessert, so there was no cross-contamination between cake servers.

      3. INTP*

        I don’t have extreme reactions to small amounts of gluten (for me it’s more of a cumulative thing, if I get too lazy about cross contamination for a few days I will start to have issues, like when I tried sharing a toaster with the rest of my family), but I feel the same. There are the health risks of course – cross contamination or misinformation from a restaurant, or someone ordering things that they assume are gluten free that often aren’t (salads, french fries). But there’s also the fact that gluten free vegan/vegetarian food from anywhere that doesn’t specialize in health foodie fare is usually not very good or very filling. Providing the gluten free option is a nice gesture, but it also makes me feel like I have to eat it or be seen as ungrateful, when I’d usually rather just eat some tasty leftovers from home. I personally would appreciate the chance to explain that I’d rather prepare my own food.

  10. Leatherwings*

    I used to be in charge of ordering catering for a huge group of teenaged summer campers, so it was critical we covered everyone’s dietary restrictions. Like OP, sometimes campers chose not to attend the meal and that could be frustrating but I generally found it not that difficult to special order a handful of veggie, gluten free, and pork-free options. Worst case, I had to run to a restaurant next door and grab a couple of entrees to go.

    That’s not a terrible amount of work to do to retain happy employees.

    As far as picky eaters go, I think having several options is the best thing. Order a few different types of burritos for them to pick, but if they just straight up don’t like beans then they are just SOL. You can’t accommodate every single like or dislike, but if you’re making an honest effort then most everyone will be happy.

    1. Fog*

      We’ve always had great luck (and feedback) with “build your own” catering. A taco/burrito bar, that sort of thing.

  11. Allisonthe5th*

    I agree… I have a pretty serious wheat allergy, so the latest Gluten-Free diet trends have improved my quality of life immensely. I’ve dealt with it so long that I’ve come to automatically hate food events because there has historically been very little, if anything, that I can eat and then there’s the associated litany of questions about why I’m not eating. Not to mention the fact that if it’s not convenient to bring food, I’m also starving!
    However, my department of my current company, has been more than kind and accommodating to my food allergy and, honestly, I’m so touched that they care enough to be sure I’m catered to. That kindness has immeasurably boosted my morale and dedication to my team/company. That said, I don’t expect special treatment, nor demand to know where MY special meal is, but am always grateful for the consideration.

    1. Joseph*

      That’s interesting. I have a friend with a serious Gluten allergy (like “if the cafeteria worker didn’t change her gloves, he’ll be sick for days” level of serious) and he’s actually said it goes both ways.

      On one hand, it’s nice that people now realize what you’re talking about as opposed to the blank stares and complete ignorance as to what gluten even is, much less if it’s in the food.

      But on the other hand, there are so many people who are now “gluten-free” simply because it’s a trendy diet (with no real medical reason to do so) that he’s found it can actually be counter-productive too. He’s ran into far too many people who treat it like a joke and/or assume it’s not a real medical issue but just something he’s asking since it’s trendy. “Oh, you’re gluten free! So am I! Did you lose weight yet?” Or, more dangerously, even sometimes by people in food service “Oh, you’re one of those gluten-free guys. Yeah, I’ll put forth lots of effort dealing with your fad diet – just like I did when the last customer came in telling me to reduce the carbs in his meal.”

      On balance, I think the fact gluten-free is now A Known Thing has been positive, but it’s not all good.

      1. Koko*

        I’m with Allisonthe5th. I love how easy it is to find wheat-free options ever since gluten-free became fashionable. Bless those people who are voluntarily avoiding wheat and creating such a market for these options, bless them hard.

        Like your friend, I also hate that my allergy is called into question far more now than it was before the trend erupted. But I place the blame for that not on the trendy folks who have given up wheat. I place it squarely on the judgy-mcjudgersons who think it’s their job to decide whose dietary needs are legitimate and whose aren’t, not on the people who have decided to give up wheat. The problem isn’t that people are following a trendy diet, the problem is that other people care too much about people following a trendy diet.

        1. Allisonthe5th*

          Yes!! Bless them so hard!! I am happy to put up with someone thinking I’m a trendy eater if it means I have food options. :)

        2. Observer*

          I’m not so sure that there are more questions than there used to be. In some cases, the questions are coming from different people. In others, it’s just another excuse. Before it was “who ever heard of such a thing?!” and now it’s “Oh, that’s just the faddish thing to do.”

          I know someone who said that she never believed in allergies. Then “G-d taught me a lesson and I had a child with severe allergy to milk.” And, yes this kid had really severe allergy to milk. Major issue.

          I remember years ago someone sent a chocolate basket to the office for some reason. It was supposed to be a non-dairy basket, but was in fact not. When the place was called their initial reaction indicated that they totally didn’t get it. Considering that this was a place that was supposed to be selling kosher and catering to a fairly observant Orthodox community, their reaction was more than slightly tone deaf. (I’m not surprised that they didn’t have long term success.) They got an earful on both counts – especially since my co-worker with dairy allergy had trusted that the chocolates were totally non-dairy because a careful kosher food establishment just doesn’t make those mistakes. And when a food is certified as non-dairy by a reliable certification, you can be sure that it’s non-dairy.

      2. Karo*

        I hear your friend on the last part – My mother is GF because she has an intolerance that leaves her in horrible pain and, as Emma the Strange so eloquently put it, feeling like she’s “pooping acid-coated glass shards.” When I was working on the catering for my wedding earlier this year I asked a number of different times what items would be GF and the guy kept saying “oh yeah, haha, who cares, such a silly diet, lol.” It got to the point where I had to explicitly share my mother’s allergies with him – something he didn’t need/deserve to know – for him to take it seriously and give me that information. It was incredibly frustrating.

        1. Carmen Sandiego JD*

          Ugh, I get that. At the past wedding I went to, there was a food item with gravy (with possible additives the SO was allergic to). The waitstaff forgot to get the allergy-free version, so they swiped off the gravy messily, handed it back. Less than an hr later SO had horrific stomach pain.

      3. Allisonthe5th*

        Yes, I do definitely get that frustration that some people take it like a fad or a non-serious. I actually have gotten an anaphylactic reaction from someone toasting wheat bread in my Wheat Free toaster! But overall, there are lots of options that are individually prepared and wrapped and it’s MUCH easier now. I remember the years of eating little outside of baked potatoes and salad b/c I couldn’t figure out what else I could eat.

        Also, I hate that people assume they can ask about bowel issues b/c I’m off wheat. LOL! No, stop thinking about my bathroom habits! My throat swells shut and I die! haha

        1. TL -*

          …I don’t have an anaphylatic reaction and I would seriously consider strangling someone who put anything wheat in my wheat free cookware.

          1. Allisonthe5th*

            College roommate…the Dean of Students had to call 911. My mom was more ticked than I was. Ha!

  12. Important Moi*

    What about sending an email that not only asks about dietary restrictions, but also asks for suggestions that those parties can eat?

    I think reasonable people would not have an objection to providing suggestions.

    1. AnotherAnon*

      Agreed – it could even be in the form of a SurveyMonkey with choices of different meals that are commonly provided by your catering company/eateries that supply your lunches, and respondents could check off the things off the menus that they can and want to eat.

      As far as having limited quantities of vegetarian foods available and having non-vegetarians grab them all so there’s none left for those who need them – maybe you can have your food providers portion the special meals differently, like in individual containers instead of self-serve buffet-style platters? You can set them aside as people are collecting their food in a special section marked “vegetarian/gluten-free/kosher/etc.” or you can keep them out of the main food areas and let the folks with dietary restrictions know in advance to see you/some other point person specifically to collect their meal.

      I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 20 years. I’m usually gracious about these situations when I get left with a hamburger bun and condiments for lunch, but there was one recent lunch that really pissed me off. We were told boxed lunches would be provided – usually there’s at least 1-2 veg choices – and I arrived and saw every single box was tuna, chicken, turkey, roast beef, etc. I ended up scrounging a granola bar out of my purse and having that for lunch while everyone else ate. I mentioned this to the person who had ordered the food and suggested she make sure there were veg options included, and her response: “well you’re not paying for the lunches, so don’t complain.”

      1. Marigold*

        A former workplace had a BBQ-style potluck one day. I was told there would be veggie burgers. I didn’t bring my lunch because hey, veggie burger. Once the potluck started, it was revealed that oh, no, we didn’t get veggie burgers. Sorry. Enjoy your hamburger bun.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Worst. This has happened to me also. It’s usually “Well, you can have some of the lettuce”
          I’ve learned to be good natured about it, but ugh.

          1. Amadeo*

            A place I worked did have one of these cookouts and did get a package of veggie burgers for the one or two veggies we had in the office.

            Everyone else who was not a vegetarian and got there first simply ate them all. -.-
            So, there’s also that problem.

            1. Brisvegan*

              I went to a conference where they actually put our name and dietary requirement on labels on the wrapped food and someone took my vegan meal! Seriously, whoever, if it had my name on it, and it is a distinctive, not shared with anyone else name, don’t touch dude! I have no idea why someone would do that.

              (Awesome caterers quickly made me a new meal, but still – WTF, food stealer?)

      2. Elder Dog*

        Packaging the non-standard meals up seperately and having people ask for them is the first good idea I’ve seen for handling the “we got veggie burgers, but you were at the end of the line and the standard meal people ate them all already because they thought it was a healthier choice” problem. Thank you!

        Now if someone could come up with an answer to “The first 12 people in line ate all the pepperoni and veggie pizza and there’s only weird stuff left” question…

      3. INTP*

        Ugh. You’re not paying for the lunches, but you might be planning your day around them. You need to know if you aren’t going to be fed so that you can bring something for yourself!

    2. Turanga Leela*

      Yeah, this is smart. This way you’re not driving yourself crazy trying to come up with a meal for employees with one or more dietary restrictions. (It’s the “or more” that can really be a challenge—multiple food allergies, or allergies plus religious restrictions, can be hard to accommodate at the same time.)

      Also, if there’s one employee in particular who needs a special meal, it’s not unreasonable to confirm the person’s attendance before your order it. Nothing high-pressure, just “Hey Larry, just checking to make sure I should order a kosher meal for Wednesday’s meeting.”

    3. Manders*

      This is a great solution. I’ve run into problems in the past when I thought I was being accommodating by bringing something that I thought fit someone’s dietary restrictions, but it turned out I didn’t know enough about their unique health situation to choose a safe food for them or I chose a dish they didn’t like.

      OP, is it possible to give the people with restrictions the power to order their own food or place an order with you? That way, you’re not stuck guessing what’s best for them, and food won’t be ordered for meeting they aren’t planning on attending.

      1. Jennifer*

        This is reminding me of being on an event planning committee recently where someone sent an angry e-mail to the committee saying “why wasn’t the menu gluten-free?” We had a committee member who was gluten-free and thought the menu was fine. Times like that, hell, I don’t know what to say. We HAD someone vetting the menu with that problem and it still wasn’t enough. To be honest, sometimes you just cannot manage to please everyone, or some people.

        Meanwhile, I went pretty hungry at the event because it turned out that their bean salad was gross and the fruit salad was 90% cantaloupe (which I don’t like) and all I ate was the mushroom sandwich and cookies. But…that’s my own fault for being picky and not liking the food options.

        I think all of this stuff is very frustrating, really. It’s really hard to please everyone with food issues, especially when the restrictions get more and more complicated.

        1. Manders*

          It can indeed be really frustrating! And it’s my understanding that two people with a food allergy or intolerance might still have some big differences in the amount of that item they can eat without getting sick, so it’s totally possible that a menu could be safe for one person and not safe for another. And don’t even get me started on different ideas of what’s kosher enough–it’s just so much easier to have someone choose their own meal than to try to guess on their behalf.

        2. Marisol*

          What I would say is just what you said, that you had vetted the menu as best you could with someone who was gluten free: “Hi Jane, sorry you weren’t happy with the lunch. I had the menu carefully vetted by someone who is gluten intolerant, so we thought we had our bases covered. Would you like to let me know what you’d like to be different in the future, so that we can get you something you are happy with next time?”

          A gracious response like that is a good CYA, and even better, might make the person feel rightfully ashamed of their bad behavior, and less likely to act out in the future. (And the satisfaction you might feel is a guilty pleasure that I think someone in your position deserves.) There is a difference between making a good faith effort to accommodate a dietary restriction, and feeling like you have to accommodate a flat-out jerk.

    4. Batman's a Scientist*

      Another option is to order enough vegetarian food for everyone. I’m not a vegetarian, but I love pasta and I will always, always choose pasta over any meat option at a party or wedding or whatever.

      1. Manders*

        The tricky part is that both of the employees OP is dealing with might not be able to eat something like pasta. One needs gluten-free food (most pasta contains gluten) and one needs kosher food (which, depending on the type of kosher they keep, may have to be prepared in a special type of kitchen that most Italian restaurants don’t have).

        I have a friend group with a high rate of food allergies and intolerances, and depending on the restrictions you’re working with, sometimes it’s just not possible to prepare one dish that every single person in the room can eat.

        1. Batman's a Scientist*

          True. I was actually responding specifically to the issue of not having enough vegetarian food for the actual vegetarians. And, in my mind I was thinking “in addition to other types of food you might order,” but didn’t make that clear. Sorry about that!

  13. Brooke*

    I think where a lot of people get frustrated on the food ordering side is when the continuum moves closer to food preferences vs. food restrictions (the latter reflecting religious or dietary *needs*).

  14. J.B.*

    I think the best way to handle these is to talk to the affected employees about what they can or cannot have and if they would make specific recommendations. Especially if there are some Kosher options that are also vegetarian you could work them in routinely.

    I’m surprised the person who is gluten free would come up to you only at the event and ask. From what I know of celiac disease, the impacts of cross contamination can be pretty severe. You may or may not be able to accommodate that one depending on where you order from, but having some sort of backup option available could be useful.

  15. Rabbit*

    Hmm, I don’t know. I appreciate AAM’s generous answer, but as someone who is dairy-free, I don’t expect this kind of accommodation at all. Granted, I am not allergic (it “just” makes me break out in deep cysts that frequently make my face swell up and is not worth the $200 dermatologist bill), but as it isn’t a life-threatening or religious thing, I pretty much make sure to bring snacks or just pick out cheese from what is easiest. Sometimes that means I’m sitting at a catered lunch eating nothing–sucks to be me, but I’ll live, and won’t complain about it. My choice to not eat dairy.

    I would really appreciate a company that went out of its way to cater to me, but I would be really surprised if they actually cared–even my old boss who knew I was dairy-free got me an ice cream cake for my birthday “because it’s what most people in the office wanted.” Bless :)

    1. hayling*

      I think you’re being way too hard on yourself. Something that causes you that much pain is definitely worth speaking up about!

    2. LawBee*

      omg I would absolutely speak up about that. Who wants a swollen face or a $200 medical bill for something that’s easily avoided?

    3. neverjaunty*

      I know you mean to be accommodating, but in a way you’re actually being unkind! People who coordinate events want everyone to enjoy the meal and feel good about the shared food.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, I think that just deciding, hey, no big deal, I just won’t eat and won’t complain, is pretty extreme when you could just ask for something else. There’s actually good reason to say something and I think that being the only person not eating at a group lunch is a valid complaint.

        The cake thing is pretty stupid though. Like, happy birthday, enjoy watching us all eat your cake!

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, but that’s assuming her office is good at accommodating and would want to do it. If they bought her ice cream cake knowing full well the birthday girl can’t eat it, I’m reasonably assuming this is not a place that’s accepting of complaints.

          I think I’d do what Rabbit is doing: don’t trust that others are going to accommodate me and take care of myself if possible.

      2. Laura*

        I disagree. Today is my birthday and I intentionally kept it unknown at work so that nobody would buy me things with gluten and/or dairy. Sometimes it’s best to just fly under the radar. My workplace wouldn’t like it if I appeared to “make a fuss.”

        1. neverjaunty*

          If your workplace is run by jackwagons, I absolutely agree that just flying under the radar is the wise choice. I mean that presuming a situation like the OP describes, where there actually is an intent to make sure everybody can eat, then ‘not being a bother’ is counterproductive.

          1. anonderella*

            stealing the word jackwagons, and advocating for its creative use! (I think with my southern accent, it is just fun to say)

  16. BethRA*

    “The point …[is] to provide food for a group of people with diverse dietary needs. And it’s also probably to use food to make people feel generally taken care of and appreciated. ”

    This. Thank you.

    It can feel frustrating, I know, but it really does help to think about why we’re providing food in the first place.

    1. Mononymous*

      So, so much this. I’m gluten free and I’ve had three teams at two workplaces now go out of their way to order meals I could share in for team events, and I can’t even begin to articulate how included and appreciated that made me feel each time. They didn’t have to do that, and believe me, I know how inconvenient it can be. That they made sure I could eat safely with the group, and that they didn’t make a big deal of it but just handled it as “of course we got you something you can eat, since we’re all eating too” spoke volumes about how they value me as a coworker/employee.

  17. AFT123*

    I am not familiar with the dietary needs of kosher people, so maybe this wouldn’t work, but remember the post the other day about having a baked potato bar instead of sandwiches? Maybe it would be easier to have a food that can be set up buffet-style with all of the ingredients separated, so people can choose what they want to eat and you don’t have to do a specialized order. Baked potato bar, pasta/rice bar, rice bowl/Chipotle style bar, etc. I think that would be pretty awesome myself. I’m an omnivore but I usually prefer the vegetable option, and this way everyone can partake and be reasonably happy.

    1. AFT123*

      Please note, I understand I may have some glaring errors in my comment – I’m not familiar with many dietary restrictions and have never been in a position to become familiar with them. If this post is exclusionary, I apologize in advance, it is out of pure ignorance and no malice is intended.

      1. Observer*

        You have nothing to apologize for. What you asked is a reasonable question, even though the answer was no :)

        It’s ok to not know stuff. The problem comes up when people won’t take the time to find out, even when it’s relevant.

    2. Government Worker*

      I’m a vegetarian, and I personally tend to enjoy meals set up this way. But be aware that cross-contamination can be an issue, so anyone with severe allergies is likely to steer clear of the whole setup.

    3. neverjaunty*

      This is a good suggestion, though with kosher, people vary so widely in their observances that it’s best to ask (and anyone who has been outside of a very insular community understands the need to explain these things).

    4. Alton*

      It depends. There are different levels of kosher, and at the strictest level, someone might not eat any food that wasn’t prepared in a kosher kitchen (because otherwise kosher food can become nob-kosher if it comes into contact with or is prepared in the same dishes as non-kosher food). But a lot of people aren’t that strict and would be fine with an idea like this.

      It probably wouldn’t hurt to check with the employee about what they do and do not eat.

    5. Temperance*

      I don’t think this would work well for someone who keeps kosher, although it’s a good suggestion for others. There would be no way to ensure that the cheese and meat offerings didn’t touch (forbidden) and there are differing levels of kosher. Some folks will only eat food prepared in a kosher kitchen. Others are find with vegetarian or vegan food if prepared in vegetarian or vegan restaurants (because the meat and dairy will never come in contact there).

    6. Bwmn*

      I think that these sorts of options are great for those who are vegetarian, avoiding carbs or dairy, and a lot of other situations – however I feel that when there’s something medical like celiac (if that’s what’s at stake with Gluten Free) or intensely strict (Kosher), I don’t know how well it’d work for either.

      I think that these are two examples where it’s entirely appropriate to talk to people about what accommodations they require and what they would prefer to be included. If the point of food is to gather people together and feel welcomed – then reaching out to them and asking what is best really is the right place to start. Because there’s no point to go out and find gluten-free Glatt catering when someone really is happy with iceberg lettuce with dressing on the side or bringing their own food.

    7. Observer*

      It’s a nice idea and I imagine it working for a lot of situations. But, it’s almost certainly not going to work for people who are fully kosher. The easiest way to understand a large category of issues here is to think about cross contamination. So, you can’t use the same utensils for meat and dairy, and you can’t use the utensils you use for any non-kosher items for any of the kosher items.

      If your kitchen is kosher and organized for kosher, it’s not that hard. But, in this type of setup, coming from a kitchen that isn’t set up for this, it’s a recipe for kosher disaster.

      Vegan is the one exception.

  18. Julia*

    I have a weird allergy. In addition to being allergic to shellfish, I am also allergic to cinnamon.

    My company LOVES pot lucks. Except for me it is Russian Roulette as I try to figure out what I can eat.

    Last time, I chose salad and squash casserole only to find out the dressing had cinnamon and the casserole had mini shrimp. Who puts cinnamon in salad dressing?? (Take it the salad did have cranberries and pecans.)

    Please label what you bring to pot lucks. Next time, I am bringing ham biscuits and only eating what I bring.

    1. hayling*

      At our company Thanksgiving pot-luck, I volunteered to make little place cards for everyone’s dish, and marked them as to whether they were vegetarian, had gluten, had shellfish, and/or had nuts. Everyone thought I was a little crazy but they know I’m fairly neurotic!

      1. Anon Accountant*

        As somebody with anaphylactic food allergies thank you!! Thank you on behalf of all of us affected. We really appreciate this.

        I can’t begin to tell you how many times people think we are just “being picky” when we ask about how their potluck dish was made. Or even getting offended by someone asking.

        1. blackcat*

          On the flip side, I have had people look at me strangely when I say “There are no nuts, but my kitchen isn’t nut-free.” I don’t want someone assuming that “no nuts” means no cross-contamination. It’s *unlikely,* but I do not remember what stuff I used to make those peanut butter brownies those two times or if anything was stored in a container that previously contained nuts.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, I am always a little unsure–because I can say “this dish has no nut ingredients” or “this dish has no wheat,” but for someone sensitive to cross-contamination… I can’t guarantee that the pan was autoclaved since it last had peanut oil in it, or that no flour dust was present in the environment when I was making the thing. I mean, I have a seasoned cast iron pan that gets scrubbed with salt and water but never properly washed with soap because that would strip the seasoning, so I always have to ask my vegetarian friends how sensitive they are to the ghost of bacon past before roasting veggies in it.

            Serious sensitivity can be difficult to impossible to accommodate as a home cook, no matter how well meaning you are. All you can really do it be honest.

      2. Regina 2*

        This is so nice. I’m a vegetarian that’s never eaten meat/fish in my life, and so I have a hard time distinguishing it in food. This is especially so in soups/sauces where you might not see visible pieces of meat, but it’s in the broth. I wish everyone would do this, frankly. Would make it so much easier.

      3. Betty Sapphire*

        Excellent idea, hayling! I have a life-threatening seed allergy. I think I’ll make place cards for the next potluck I’m involved in.

    2. AFT123*

      I’m going off topic, but pot lucks… skeeve me out LOL. I am not very trusting of other people’s cleanliness and kitchen habits. Your ham biscuits sound good to me. :)

      1. Laura*

        Same here! There is a monthly potluck organized by a woman in my office whose personal hygiene is… lacking. I’m not about to eat any of that food.

      2. Dangerfield*

        Hell, I’m not trusting enough of my own kitchen cleanliness to want to contribute to something like that, I know it’s nowhere near restaurant standard. I have a stomach of iron but I don’t expect everyone to be able to cope with my lacklustre counter wiping. ;)

        1. AFT123*

          This too!! I have a 110lb Newfoundland dog who constantly sheds, and even though I constantly vacuum, the fur is insidious and gets in EVERYTHING. I’m used to eating my dog’s fur… but I wouldn’t subject other people to it!

    3. EJ*

      my husband is allergic to cinnamon.

      the bad: restaurants rarely label cinnamon, because it’s not a commonly known allergen. we always ask before ordering and get looked at like we have 5 heads. on top of it, i’m vegan (he’s not), so i can’t even try his foods to make sure!
      the good: he never ever touches my carrot cake or cinnamon raisin bagels!

    4. Liane*

      “Please label what you bring to pot lucks.”
      And please make sure people know not to remove your label!
      I had this happen at a post-service church potluck. I knew that we had 2 or 3 youngsters who had to have gluten-free food. I brought cornbread that included flour as well as corn meal, so decided to lay a small note on the plate, “Contains wheat flour!” Because I am in choir, I wasn’t helping set out the food. Fortunately I thought to check and had to go find my note. I would’ve felt terrible if their parents had picked it out for them because the note had gone astray.
      When the church was providing all the food (e.g., Vacation Bible School), there would be gluten-free for these kids and it would be set aside in the kitchen, and was portioned. Example: Church ordered a bunch of large pepperoni & cheese pizzas plus a personal-size gluten-free for each of these children.

    5. Anti-Squasher*

      Yes, potlucks are tough. I usually just assume I can’t eat anything but plain meat or plain bread. Even if dishes are labeled, they don’t often identify every tiny green speck in a dish.

    6. ZenCat*

      Allergy to “cinnamon” here (actually an allergy to the stuff they make fake cinnamon out of which is 99% of the cinnamon people use – called cassia). It’s amazing what has cinnamon in it – even chili sometimes. I always just ask, and if it does… Oh well. I’ve had the allergy since I was little (and I’m sensitive to fructose as well) so it’s an automatic thing and I don’t really miss or crave stuff I’ve never had. I’ve realized reading this thread I would be an absolutely horrific boss or order taker. I love to take care of people but no way could I order for every little good thing out there.

    7. YaH*

      My allergist said to basically treat any food that was cooked in someone else’s home kitchen as poisonous because there was no way of knowing what kind of cross-contamination had happened. The only food I trusted from anywhere other than my own kitchen or some restaurants was from a coworker whose child had the same food allergy.

    8. ReanaZ*

      Ahhhhh….. other cinnamon-allergy havers! It is the worst–it is pretty much never labeled and it sneaks into the weirdest things and a lot of restaurants are jerks about checking. (I’ve gotten dosed with a salad before also. What?) Once I had a 10 minute conversation with the waiter, the owner, and finally the cook about whether a curry was safe for me to eat (curries are so tasty but the worst at hiding cinnamon) and finally determined it was… only to be served spiced rice alongside containing cinnamon. Just why.

      Luckily mine is an intolerance and not anaphalactic–I’ll be quite sick, but no risk of dying–but it is the worst. And I never know whether to tell people ordering food for me or not because it’s kind of silly and seems like it should rarely be in savoury meals EXCEPT IT IS ALL THE TIME ARGH.

  19. LawBee*

    Not to be harsh, OP, but this is part of your job duties, right? So you should put as much thought into it as you would any other part of the job. It’s a fairly annoying-in-the-doing-of-it part, but at the end of the day, people will be so appreciative. It will be worth it.

    If you choose to go the email route, as suggested above, I would word it so you’re asking for dietary restrictions and not ask for preferences. Religious restrictions – talk to the people impacted, they may tell you not to bother, that it’s easier for them to handle on their own. But they will appreciate the asking.

    Why not order everything to be gluten-free? You can’t taste the difference in most foods. If that’s not feasible, just set up a table with what you need to know, and let the caterer figure it out. That is THEIR job, haha.

    1. Megs*

      Gluten free food has gotten more widely available and cheaper in the last few years, but the bread and cheese substitutes in particular still taste quite distinct and are usually more expensive.

    2. TL -*

      You can taste the difference in gf foods – or at least, the texture change is quite noticeable even if the flavor isn’t.

  20. Grace*

    I have Selective (Adult Picky) Eating Disorder. I only eat a handful of different foods. I never expect or ask anyone to accommodate me. I will exclude myself instead of asking people to change their meal plans/restaurant choice. If it’s an event I will be at a while, I’ll eat before or bring my own food.
    With that said, I’d be pleased if I were shown menu options before someone at work ordered food for an event so that I could be included, but I wouldn’t get upset if this didn’t happen.

    1. Allison*

      Me too! I’ve been dealing with sensory processing disorder my whole life, and I’ve always felt like it was rude to ask people to accommodate me, so I just try to eat what I can and then eat food I like before or after, or bring my own. The people who cater events where I work always serve sandwiches with weird mushy stuff in them, so I often get a sandwich, take it apart, and eat half the contents, scraping the weird mushy stuff off the meat as best I can.

      It’s weird, I don’t expect people to accommodate my texture sensitivity, but I’m all for making sure vegans, people who keep kosher, and people with food allergies are included. I guess it’s because people like me were made to believe we were “bad” and “spoiled” as kids, and deserve to go hungry if we don’t like what’s being served, wheras people with allergies can’t help it and people with religious or moral restrictions are sympathetic because they have a good reason for restricting their diets.

      1. A Cita*

        I feel you. About 10 years ago, I suddenly went through a week thing where I couldn’t taste food any more (could smell it–but it had no taste). Probably a virus, but who knows. Anyway, when you can’t actually taste food, you become HYPER AWARE of texture. Boy was that enlightening (and super restrictive). Everything grossed me out. Foods could not be even a touch stale. Crunchy things were the best, but many nuts were out because they were “waxy.” No soft foods–gross. No even a touch wilted veggies. If not super fresh and super crunchy–no go. Same with fruits–even a hint of mealiness-yuck. Dairy was slimy. Basically, I had to eat a lot of juices and broths. That was only for a couple of weeks. I can’t imagine what you must go through.

    2. INTP*

      I love this idea! I’m not picky within my parameters, but the gluten free vegetarian items from standard restaurants and caterers are just not good and not filling most of the time. It would be awesome if there could be a little mailing list of the people with restrictions to send them the menu options ahead of time and let them order or pass. That way I could participate when they’re getting food that sounds good, but not when my “accommodation” will be an iceberg lettuce salad with no protein in it. It would be easier for the OP too because they wouldn’t have to peruse the menu too closely, just order what people email them.

  21. NK*

    Alison (or anyone else), how does this play out in practice? In a smaller group it’s a little easier to accommodate specific needs, but in a larger setting it can get really difficult. And the best intentioned people don’t always know how to go about accommodating everyone.

    While I generally don’t have dietary restrictions, I haven’t been able to eat lunch meat during my pregnancy. The most helpful thing for me is getting a heads up about where the food is being ordered from and what the menu is. For instance, we had a luncheon where the only non-lunchmeat option was Subway veggie delight sandwiches. That’s not enough protein for me while pregnant, so I brought something along to supplement. Sure, it would have been great if there had been a more protein-heavy option, but knowing what I was getting into and being able to prepare was far better than showing up hungry and unprepared!

    1. Argh!*

      It’s actually easier in a larger group because you can spread the cost of the special foods over a wider base, so you can afford more special items.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In some ways it can be easier in large groups; if you have 15 gluten-free people, you might just do a separate order from a different place that does a good job with gluten-free, and so forth.

      1. Anon 2*

        I disagree with this. When catering for 1000+ people it gets to become more difficult because there are so many more different types of accommodations, and you lose the price breaks associated with scale. Especially, if you are in a location that you are contractually obligated to use specific catering services (hotels, convention centers, etc.), as many of those catering services don’t offer all the various dietary options. They cover the big things like gluten free, peanut and shellfish allergies, or vegetarian, but they don’t always cover some other dietary restrictions. For example, it can be impossible to get a kosher meal for someone who follows a strict kosher diet. Because many places don’t have kosher kitchens on-site and you aren’t permitted to bring in food from other places.

    3. INTP*

      I got this idea from Grace’s post above, but maintaining a mailing list of people with restrictions, and sending them the menu options and ordering whatever they request from it, might be viable (unless you’re working with major caterers that won’t make one of anything). It’s an extra step for the OP, but it also keeps OP from having to keep track of what to order for who, or ordering things that don’t get eaten because the person hates that specific item. If someone gets pregnant, goes vegetarian, gets diagnosed with an allergy, etc, they can request to be put on the list.

      I’d just gear the language towards making it clear that the list is for people with strict restrictions (pregnancy, allergies or celiac, sensory-related picky eating disorders, etc) and not just anyone who wants to sign up to get a personal order.

  22. Sara M*

    For medical reasons, I’m just about the hardest person in the world to feed. I am _thrilled_ when someone takes the time to understand my problems and feed me.