If you've been planning your wedding for a minute, you've probably already discovered that the most enjoyable part of planning is the food tastings! Most social gatherings are centered around food, so it's no wonder that weddings are the same. But as you sit down at your tasting, it can be difficult to switch gears from "OMG this is the best thing I've ever tasted" to "Will all my guests be able to eat and enjoy this?"
When you go out to dinner with friends, everyone is able to order what they want and you don't have to worry about their allergies; but if you've ever prepared a lasagna with garlic bread for guests, just to find out that someone is lactose intolerant and another is gluten free, you probably served up some salad and an apology (and maybe whatever else was hiding in your pantry).
To make sure all your guests have the opportunity to truly enjoy the menu that you and your caterer created, it's important to take your guests' food allergies and dietary restrictions into account before they end up eating side dishes only.
Why it Matters
Aside from just making sure everyone at your wedding enjoys their meal, discussing allergies and dietary restrictions before the wedding is a way to show love and respect for your guests. By asking upfront, it says "I love you and appreciate that you're coming to our wedding, so we want to make sure you can safely enjoy a delicious meal!" It greatly reduces the chance of food-related medical emergencies, which definitely sounds like a win. And it also helps your caterer manage the food quantities!
Just imagine, your caterers have prepared this delicious meal for your wedding, and the buffet has chicken and pork as the protein options. But halfway through dinner, your caterer lets the wedding planner know that the chicken is running dangerously low, and the pork has barely been touched! This was the case at my own wedding, because when I placed the order with my caterer, I didn't realize that most of my husband's family members don't eat pork due to religious dietary restrictions. This problem could have easily been avoided if I'd just asked my guests about allergies and restrictions before the wedding.
Ways to Collect Allergy and Dietary Restriction Info from Guests
So once you've decided to take your guests' allergies and dietary restrictions into account, the next step is figuring out what you'll need to share with your caterer. While collecting this information may feel like a daunting task, there are a few easy ways to make this happen (without calling all 100+ invites).
One popular option is to add a line to your RSVP card for guests to write in their dietary restrictions. Guests without allergies will be able to leave the line blank, and those with allergies can easily provide information that you can then share with your caterer. Alternatively, you can include the menu on your wedding website with a place for guests to submit their dietary restrictions online.
If you're aware that some guests have allergies before even asking, you can request that your caterer shares the ingredients of your selection menu items beforehand. Allowing your guests to review the ingredients will help them make decisions about what they can and can't eat, especially if there are a few options on the menu to choose from.
While many allergies are fairly straight-forward and need to be entirely avoided, dietary restrictions may leave room for interpretation. If anyone mentions that they're diabetic or gluten free, ask them about the level of limitation. You'll want to know if your guests are gluten free by preference, or if they have Celiac disease; if any guests have Celiac, the caterer should be aware, to avoid cross-contamination. For diabetics, ask if your guests would they feel comfortable avoiding certain menu options, or is a non-sugar sweetener like Stevia the best option for the guests.
Planning Your Menu
You may be thinking to yourself, if guests are only sharing their allergies on the RSVPs, won't it be too late to change the menu? Well, the lucky thing is, your caterer probably has a few tricks up their sleeve, and you can always do some proactive planning.
Even if none of your guests end up having an allergy or dietary restraint, it's always safe to plan as if some guests do. Think about some of the most common foods people tend to avoid (such as meat and animal products, nuts, shellfish, gluten and dairy) and provide some options on your menu that could appeal to someone who can't eat those items. For example, you can provide a few options for hours d'oeuvres and ensure that at least one option would be available for a guest with one of the common allergies. After all, you don't need every option to include meat, dairy and gluten! And if your heart is set on a serf and turf entree option, make sure there is an equally delicious chicken option in case any guests have seafood allergies.
Long after your menu is set, you may end up receiving some notes from guests about allergies or restrictions that can't be avoided based on the menu you've planned. But don't worry about changing the whole menu for a few guests! Your caterer may be able to provide a separate meal for those guests, such as a scrumptious vegan plate. Even if your guests will be enjoying a buffet, your caterer should still be able to provide a separate meal for guests with allergies, rather than having your guests pick their way through a buffet for something they can eat.
If you and your partner have any dietary restrictions or allergies, you may decide to have the entire meal feature foods you can eat, such as an entire vegetarian spread, but you might also want to have some entrees with meat for the carnivores in the group and have your caterer prepare a special dish just for you.
While thinking about your menu, make sure you consider the hour d'oeuvres, entrees, sides, desserts and drinks. Did you know that some alcohol contains animal-based products? And many beers contain gluten. If you're concerned about your guests being able to drink with their allergies or restrictions, talk with your bartender about alternative options that they (and everyone else) can enjoy. Likewise, many desserts can't be enjoyed by diabetics, those with gluten intolerance, or nut allergies, but there are still plenty of options that will wow all your guests.
Making Sure Each Guest is Satisfied
No matter how food is served at your wedding, you want to be careful of hidden allergens and avoid any unfortunate food-related incidences. For a plated meal, your guests may be able to select their meal at the wedding or pre-select their entree option, so they likely know what is involved in the dish they've chosen. If you've provided assigned seating at your wedding, consider having a symbol on the place card so servers know the guest has an allergy and can be cautious before serving them.
For a buffet, you may want to inform guests of the menu options, including ingredients and allergens, at their place setting. This allows them to review the menu and be aware of foods to avoid before heading to the buffet. If cross-contamination is a concern, especially with Celiac disease, consider allowing guests with allergies to go to the buffet first. And of course, you can always add a few cute signs to the buffet, labeling what each option is and listing any allergen concerns.
No matter the allergy, guests will appreciate the consideration you've shown by safeguarding them against an allergic attack, and they'll love that they still have plenty of delicious options to choose from.
For more tips and tricks to have the perfect wedding day, Beauty & the Budget Events would be happy to help. Let's chat!