Elaborate Eaters: What is the Etiquette on Accomodating Food Preferences When Entertaining?

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.

Dear Santa: When is someone “Too Old” for a Christmas Wish List?

Q: My sister-in-law, who is in her late 20’s, works and lives on her own, and sends out Christmas Wish Lists for herself each year. In my opinion, Christmas Wish Lists are left for children, not adults. Am I correct in thinking that she is out of line?

A: It depends entirely on your family custom regarding Christmas gifts. If everyone continues to exchange gifts, and the family tradition is to let people know what you would really like, then this can go on until everyone is in his or her eighties! There is nothing wrong with this, assuming it is a tradition in the family.

Religious Requests: Are Guests Expected to Attend Services when Staying with a Religious Host?

Q: My son and his girlfriend came to visit the family. On Saturday I mentioned that we would be attending church services the next day when my sons girlfriend informed me that she was not religious. I thought it would have been correct that as our guest, she would attend with us. Am I wrong?

A: It is fine to offer the opportunity – “We will be going to church tomorrow if anyone would like to come. . . .” but not to expect or assume your guests, even your son, will attend. Your son’s girlfriend, however, needed only to say that she would not be attending but would be fine entertaining herself while you were gone. Your son obviously needs to work out his religious beliefs between family and girlfriend and to find a way to respect everyone’s belief system. He might have said, for example, “Mom, we won’t be going with you, but you go right ahead and we can have brunch when you get back, ” or words to that effect. By the same token, you wouldn’t insist that your adult son accompany you.  When you next speak with him you can tell him that you weren’t trying to impose your agenda on him but had no idea that the thought of church would offend him so simply offered it up. Even if you are concerned, he needs to draw his own conclusions and work them out for himself.

Mazel Tov: What is an Appropriate gift to bring to a Bar Mitzvah?

Q: What is an appropriate gift to give to a young man at his bar mitzvah? We are neighbors and have known him since he was little. Is money and a card appropriate?

A: Money and a card are an excellent Bar Mitzvah gift. Others could include a gift certificate to a store that carries items he could use for an interest or hobby, or one of those items if you know what he could use. But if you aren’t certain, money is always appreciated and often is given as a gift at a Bar Mitzvah.

Reason for Response: Do I need to RSVP even if I am able to attend?

Q: What is the proper etiquette when receiving an invitation (bridal shower, wedding, birthday, etc) and the issue of RSVP. Some people say you only respond when NOT attending, others state that you respond when you ARE. Could you clarify this issue for me?

A: R.S.V.P. means please respond, whether you are attending or not. It is an obligation to reply promptly.  Only when an invitation reads “regrets only” (which is never a good idea) you do not have to reply if you are attending.