How to Plan for Food Sensitivities at Your Reception

A group of wedding guests eating food at the reception.

In modern times, it’s hard to get even a small group of people together without encountering allergies, sensitivities, and preferences in food. Everything from allergies that can send someone to the hospital to an ethical choice to avoid meat can cause the need for special options when it comes to cuisine. As someone planning a wedding, you may wonder how much or how little to accommodate these needs. Most people will quickly and happily remove peanuts from the menu to avoid anaphylactic shock, but what other ways can you choose your wedding reception menu to maximize the happiness of the guests and the comfort of those with sensitivities? Here are some rules of thumb to follow as you prepare your reception choices.

Ask for Food Sensitivities with RSVPs

One of the easiest ways to know what food restrictions you are likely to run into with your guests is to ask as early as possible! If you happen to know your cousin has Celiac disease, or that you have a high percentage of vegetarians in the crowd, you will be able to respond to that. However, if you want to have as complete a picture as possible, it’s wise to ask on your RSVP cards. This way, you can make sure to pass more exact figures on to your caterers. Even if you’ve already discussed having a wheat-free or nut-free section of the meal, this can help them order correctly.

Create “Modular” Options for a Buffet

A wedding buffet on rustic wood tables.

When dealing with a variety of food needs, one way to create the meal is to make it modular. This often ends up being in the form of a “bar.” A salad bar, taco bar, or baked potato bar all allow guests to assemble their own food and include only what they like (or can) eat. These options are often less formal than traditional wedding food, but in the case of a lot of food allergies or sensitivities, this can be a good way to go. Even for fancier dishes, it is possible to ask the caterer to, for instance, make potatoes without dairy and allow people to add butter themselves, so that more people can be accommodated.

Discuss with Your Caterer How to Label Foods

A wedding buffet with signs next to each dish.

Once you’ve settled on how to design the menu, work with your caterer to make sure that there are actually labels for all the food. Too often at both sit-down and buffet-style dinners, there is no way to actually know what is in each dish other than with a visual inspection. By creating beautiful signs that are harmonious with your decorations, you add a useful piece of information to save a lot of frustration and pain for your guests. By avoiding any dish labeled as containing foods that cause reactions, your guests can painlessly and carefully select their dinner for themselves. Honestly, knowing what is in a dish is helpful even for people who simply have food preferences; little tags or notes that explain what each menu item is helps everyone.

Recognize What Is Essential and What may Be Optional

Everyone has a different definition of what is worth accommodating at their wedding. For some brides, it is an expression of care to have a very diverse menu that allows everyone to have a satisfying meal, given their own preferences, sensitivities, and allergies. For others, the need to economize prevents the catering from including a lot of alternatives or accommodations. While it is certainly essential to at minimum keep your guests safe, it’s always up to the bride and groom how much they want to customize the menu.

It’s good to have information about what your guests prefer, but chances are that no matter what options you provide, there will be at least one person who doesn’t enjoy anything on your menu. Thus, do whatever you can to make your decisions about the menu with the best information you have. After that point, try to let the issue drop and don’t worry too much. Persons with food allergies and sensitivities are accustomed to choosing their food carefully, and your choice of what to serve your guests is ultimately just that: your choice.

All of this is to say that the time you spend analyzing your menu is an act of kindness that is well worth the time, but you cannot worry yourself too much about the possibility of someone not being able to eat everything on the menu. Rather, focus on picking the food you want, which will be safe for your guests, and which will reflect what you and your partner value. This may be a few cupcakes and a glass of punch, all the way up to a 5-course meal; those choices are up to you and can be incredibly fun, even when working to honor food sensitivities.

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