How to Communicate Your Dietary Restrictions with Others 

Shanthi Appelo
Shanthi Appelo

| 4 min read

Woman at a restaurant reading the menu
It used to be that those who made very specific meal orders in restaurants – asking that certain items be left out of a dish or served on the side – were perceived as picky eaters. These days, awareness of common dietary preferences, restrictions and allergies is increasing.
At times, individuals may find it challenging to express their dietary limitations to others. Here are some ways to clearly communicate dietary restrictions at restaurants and among friends and family members.

Different types of dietary restrictions

There are many different types of dietary restrictions. There are individuals who have allergies that can be life-threatening, such as severe reactions to seafood or nuts that can cause anaphylactic shock. Others may experience discomfort or serious physical symptoms due to food sensitivities like lactose or gluten intolerance. Additionally, special diets such as vegetarianism or veganism can impact food choices. While not often considered, abstaining from alcohol can also be a type of dietary restriction.
Surveys have shown more than 16 million adults in the United States self-identify as having food allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, with millions more having food sensitivities and choosing to live alcohol-free lifestyles.

Navigating pressures of making a lifestyle change

If someone has a dietary restriction, whether it is new or pre-existing, they need to communicate this information regularly. These conversations can create pressure as family, friends and coworkers may give feedback or ask questions. Unfortunately, some people may not take allergies or food sensitivities seriously and disregard them, but it is important to hold firm on food boundaries.
Individuals with dietary restrictions often face these challenges while dining out, at work or when visiting someone’s home. They may be guilted and urged to “just try a little” of a certain dish or food, even if it conflicts with their food boundaries. Learning to communicate effectively about dietary restrictions can diffuse these pressures.

How to communicate dietary needs at restaurants

Restaurants are among the easiest places to spell out food restrictions. Communicating dietary needs means being very specific about the food being requested, and what needs to be left out of the order. Research the menu ahead of the restaurant visit and plan out suitable options. When ordering, kindly ask the restaurant staff questions about the ingredients and how they are prepared. For example, if someone is allergic to fish and the restaurant serves other fish or seafood dishes, they should make the waitstaff aware of their allergy so their food does not come in contact with other fish dishes or equipment used to prepare fish.
Once food is delivered to the table, confirm with the waitstaff that the meal was prepared as requested. If food is served with a restricted ingredient, kindly request a replacement.

How to communicate dietary needs with friends and family

Talking to family members or friends about dietary restrictions ahead of an event or even a small gathering is just as important as when someone orders food in a restaurant. However, the dynamics can be different – especially if the food is being prepared by a friend or family member. It’s best to take a straightforward approach.
Some tips:
  • Contact the person hosting the gathering well in advance.
  • Be friendly, but firm when explaining food allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • Get comfortable saying “no thank you.”
  • If it’s a large gathering, offering to bring food or pay the extra cost for food that fits the requirements is a nice gesture.
  • If it’s a casual dinner, consider bringing a dish to pass that meets your dietary needs.
  • Thank the host or hostess for keeping needs in mind.
If someone is questioning dietary restrictions, take it as an opportunity to educate them in a friendly way instead of feeling judged or ashamed.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health news and information, visit
Photo credit: Getty Images

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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