Q: What is the proper etiquette when you are cooking a meal for a group of people, where some guests may be vegetarian or have certain food preferences? As the hostess and cook, is it necessary to cater to this one person’s needs or do you make whatever you want and let them decide what they will eat and what they won’t?
A: It really depends. If someone tells you she is a vegetarian when you invite her and you say “no problem,” you really are obligated to make sure she has sufficient food she can eat, even if this means a special dish for her. If you are barbecuing a lot of meat and have a salad and bread to accompany it, you can’t expect she can “make do” with salad and bread. You can always get a prepared pasta, cheese and sauce dish for her, in that case. If, on the other hand, it is a meal like Thanksgiving with several vegetables, potatoes, and perhaps fruit or salad, you can figure she will have enough to eat just skipping the turkey.
When people have food allergies, you are obligated not to include the ingredient they are allergic to.
When people have food preferences, for example they prefer fish to chicken and you are serving chicken, and they will eat chicken, tell them when you invite them. When their preferences really are “dislikes,” as in they won’t eat ham, and you are serving ham, you are better off not inviting them, or at least saying that this is what you are serving but there will also be potatoes, a vegetable and a salad, if they think they can manage with that.