Meredith & Nick include a menu with each place setting for their Market Hall Wedding. Photo by Sean True Photography.
If you’re in the middle of wedding planning, you’ve probably already discovered that one of the best parts are 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 orders what they want and you don’t have to worry about their allergies, but if you’ve ever prepared 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 create, it’s important to take your guests’ food allergies and dietary restrictions into account before they end up eating side dishes only.
Because the groom loves cheese but is lactose intolerant, he had a goat-cheese cake tower! Photo by Elope with Emily from Atlantic Beach Elopement at The Cottage @ Crystal Coast in Atlantic Beach NC
Discussing Allergies and Dietary Restrictions Before the Wedding
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 up front, 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!” This also reduces the chance of food-related medical emergencies and 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
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 collect allergy and dietary restriction info from guests (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 share with your caterer. Alternatively, you can include the menu on your wedding website with a place for guests to submit their dietary restrictions or meal selections online.
This large menu displays all items guests can expect to find on the buffet. Photo by Taylor Windham Photography from Allison & Ryan’s Wedding in Hillsborough NC
Tina & Zack chose a fully vegan menu for their intimate backyard wedding. Photo by Elope with Emily of a vegan cake by Taylor Street Sweets.
If you already know some guests have allergies, you can request that your caterer shares the ingredients of your selected menu items beforehand. Allowing your guests to review the ingredients on your wedding website 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 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 feel comfortable avoiding certain menu items, or if providing a non-sugar sweetener like Stevia is the best option.
Catering by Design provides a menu for the appetizers which includes gluten-free crackers. Photo by Brian Anthony Photography from Paula & Sebastian’s Wedding at JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh NC
Planning Your Menu with Allergies in Mind
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 safest to plan as if some guests do. Consider 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 folks who can’t eat those items. For example, you can provide a few options for hors d’oeuvres to ensure at least one option is available for a guest with any common allergies. After all, you don’t need every option to include meat, dairy, and gluten!
Carolina Crust Food Truck makes a variety of pizzas and can create a custom menu, with vegan and gluten-free options available. Photo by Sean True Photography from Katrina & Ben’s Wedding at The Wedding Exchange in Durham NC
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 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.
Because the bride had Celiac Disease, Sarah & Watson had a fully gluten-free menu for their wedding at 21C Museum Hotel in Durham. Photo by MKM Photography.
While planning your menu, consider how dietary restrictions can apply to hor d’oeuvres, entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks. For example, many beers contain gluten, and some alcohol contains animal-based products. 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.
A cocktail menu provided drink recipes so guests could make the best decision for themselves. Photo by Oak City Photography from Erin & Colm’s 22nd Anniversary Party in Raleigh
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 to make sure each guest is satisfied. 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.
City BBQ sets up a buffet with signs for each item. Photo by Kasaundra Felder Photography from Jasmine & Greg’s Wedding at Sugarneck in Sanford NC
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.