Accommodating Food Restrictions and Allergies

Justin McIntosh

The wedding food pictures posted to the @whyveganspreeat (that's “why vegans pre-eat”) Instagram account are mostly of half-empty plates. And it's not because the pictured meals were so enticing the guest couldn't wait to get started. In fact, using the word “meals” might be a little generous.

The most appetizing plates on the feed consist strictly of a sad-looking iceberg salad and, maybe, a bag of chips. Other wedding guests weren't so lucky. Some plates have nothing but watermelon, and one simply has eight baby carrots stacked almost like Lincoln Logs.

Columbus resident Tracey LaRue found herself in a similarly dicey situation in July while attending a wedding catered by Olive Garden.

“They had one vegetarian option—Alfredo pasta—but nothing vegan in the way of a meal,” LaRue noted on the Vegan Columbus Facebook group during a discussion about eating vegan at weddings. “So I loaded my plate up with about five breadsticks and a pile of iceberg lettuce with one olive.”

That's why LaRue eats before wedding receptions. “And I keep a Clif Bar or something in my purse,” she adds. “Usually [I] get some fries or something on the way home, too.”

Though LaRue has had her share of bad experiences, catering to wedding guests with dietary restrictions—like veganism, vegetarianism, gluten sensitivities, kosher or food allergies—is increasingly more common, says Robert Himes, general manager of A Catered Event.

These days, Himes says, almost every wedding has a guest with a dietary restriction that must be accommodated. Most often, the guests are gluten-free or vegetarian, but various food allergies come up, too.

“I don't want to call it a fad, but it seems to move in waves,” Himes says. “Going back five or six years ago, we almost never had a special request.”

To help the betrothed accommodate all their guests, Himes recommends addressing dietary restrictions as early as possible, starting with their interviews for caterers. Talk to the chef to decide whether a plated or buffet-style dinner might work best.

A buffet worked particularly well for vegetarian Heather Niccum at a wedding she attended in October 2015.

“I was able to pick and choose what I wanted, and it wasn't awkward if I turned away an entree that wasn't vegetarian-friendly,” Niccum says. “And they had plenty to choose from besides green beans and corn.”

The experience stuck with Niccum so strongly, in fact, that she's considering a similar approach at her own wedding in March 2017. She knows of at least two family members who are gluten-free, but to accommodate others with special dietary needs, Niccum is asking guests for their food and drink preferences in the RSVP.

“Then we can plan our bar and buffet accordingly, or if they have to have special plates, we can accommodate them, too,” Niccum says.

Asking guests for their dietary needs in the RSVP is a popular way to plan ahead for special diets, says Marla Ruoff, sales and event coordinator for Bosc + Brie. And once that information's known, couples should strive to carry it through the entire menu, not just the entree.

Ruoff says it's particularly important to offer appetizers that every guest can eat, especially during the hour or so between the wedding and the reception.

What's more difficult to decide is whether an entire wedding menu should reflect the diets of the newlyweds, she adds. If the couple is vegan, for example, what's the etiquette of providing an entirely vegan meal?

“If someone asked us that, my first question would be, ‘How many guests are vegan?' ” Ruoff says. “But if it's something [the couple] wants to do, or are dead set on that menu, then I'd say, ‘OK, that's what we're going to do.' ”

Or, to paraphrase Himes: You do you.

“My biggest thing is [for the newlyweds] to please themselves first,” Himes says. “You don't hear anything from the guests—they rarely make any waves at a wedding.”