You’ve probably noticed from the growing collage of Save the Date announcements on your refrigerator that, yes, it’s that time of year again: Wedding season is upon us.
Weddings are joyous occasions, and a major element of the celebration is the abundance of delicious food and drinks on the menu. But as anyone with unique dietary needs knows all too well, attending a catered event has its challenges, especially because of the delicate etiquette rules surrounding weddings. As a gluten-free guest, you want to partake and be polite, but you also need to ensure your own safety—which means navigating that buffet just got a lot more complicated. And as a bride planning a wedding with gluten-free friends or family in attendance, it can be confusing to figure out which menu items will be safe for some or all of your guests, and how to communicate these needs to your caterer.
Thankfully, there are a few easy things you can do—guests and brides alike!—to ensure everyone in attendance can “eat, drink, and be married.”
If you’re a gluten-free guest:
1. Communicate early. Most brides will begin designing their wedding menu months before the big day, so don’t be afraid to get in touch as soon as you receive your invitation. If you know the bride well, a short call or email should be more than sufficient. Many wedding websites also include a place for guests to contact the couple with questions. It’s also acceptable to write in a note about your gluten-free needs on your RSVP card, especially if it asks you to select a menu choice. However you choose to get in touch, don’t stress or apologize for doing so. Most brides will be relieved that you let them know, and will do what they can to accommodate your needs.
2. Be flexible. If you’ve been living with Celiac for a while, you’re probably already well-practiced at this! Many caterers will be able to easily create a gluten-free plate just for you, or provide a list of gluten-free buffet items you can eat. However, depending on the venue, the menu, and the style of the meal (family-style, buffet, or a formal sit-down affair), the caterer may not be able to provide you with a full meal’s worth of options. If you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to eat a full meal at the wedding, it is completely acceptable to bring some gluten-free snacks in your bag, or to eat beforehand.
3. Tactfully avoid cross-contamination. If it’s a sit-down meal, you should be able to avoid cross-contamination simply by reminding your server of your gluten-free status when you sit down. But buffets can be a little more tricky. Many caterers are becoming more familiar with the specific needs of gluten-free eaters, but your fellow guests may not be aware, and may inadvertently cross-contaminate dishes and serving utensils as they add food to their plates. The easiest and most delicate way to avoid this situation is to approach the caterer or one of their staff members ahead of dinner, explain the situation, and ask them to set aside a plate of the gluten-free buffet items before the line begins. Then, when it’s your table’s turn to hit the buffet, just ask for your plate and head back to the table. Everyone else in line will be so excited to eat, they probably won’t even notice.
If it’s your wedding:
1. Consider asking about dietary restrictions on your RSVP card/wedding website. Most people with allergies will let you know ahead of time, but some guests may feel more comfortable speaking up if prompted. Even if you don’t plan on designing your menu around these people’s needs, it’s always better to be aware—and there may be more guests with dietary restrictions than you initially realized. Remember that it is not your responsibility to design your wedding menu around one or two guests, but it is up to you to keep them safe and do what you can to make them as happy and comfortable as possible while they’re at your event.
2. Work with your caterer. These sorts of requests are becoming increasingly common, and top-quality caterers will be able to handle them with ease—so trust them! Your caterer can help you decide whether to include a certain number of gluten-free dishes, or to prepare a special plate for specific guests. If you’re gluten-free yourself and want to create an entirely gluten-free menu, the right caterer should be able to come up with a delicious meal that fits your needs and will satisfy all of your guests, gluten-free and non-gluten-free alike. If you can extend this courtesy to dessert, great! But if not, don’t worry. Most gluten-free folks won’t expect you to forego the wedding cake just for them.
3. Label things clearly. Even if you know which items on the menu are gluten-free, your guests may not, and may be too polite to ask. Clearly label any gluten-free items at the buffet or dessert table to make sure they will be enjoyed. Ask your caterer to provide ingredient lists for each dish beforehand, so that you can easily and accurately write labels for each item.
At the end of the day, weddings are about love, family, and friendship… with food coming in a distant fourth. That’s why it’s worth the minimal effort to plan ahead for your or your guests’ gluten-free needs—so you can avoid worries and enjoy the special day with a happy heart (and, ideally, a full stomach).