Vocabulary for understanding dietary requirements and planning meals out

Explanations of some common dietary requirements, and things to consider when organising meals for customers or colleagues.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I’m not an expert on dietary requirements. These are just a few things that I have picked up through my own experience and through organising large events in previous jobs. If you have any other points that you think people should consider, you can add them in the comments.

It’s fairly easy to find vocabulary lists for things to say once you’re at a restaurant – how to order what you want, find out what things are, and make general conversation. But, whether you’re going out with colleagues or organising a meal for visitors, it’s important to know what people can have, whether that’s for medical, religious, or lifestyle choice reasons. Then you can make the best venue choices, or ensure that you and your colleagues will be able to eat the food provided at the restaurant chosen by whoever is organising the meal.

Let’s look at some vocabulary.

If you’re organising a meal or event, it’s good to find out what dietary requirements people have. This goes beyond people’s preferences, although it’s good to know about those as well!

Firstly let’s look at food allergies. People can be allergic to a specific ingredient:
I am allergic to nuts/mushrooms/seafood
Or you can swap the words round and put the word first to describe what kind of allergy you have:
I have a peanut/mushroom/seafood allergy.

Some restaurants will highlight meals that may contain more common allergies such as nuts or seafood, but some allergies are less common, so you may need to check individual dishes with the serving staff.

AS someone who has to deal with this problem when eating out, I generally have a wider choice in restaurants that cook their own food from scratch, rather than larger chains that bring food in and reheat it.

Intolerances are different to allergies in terms of what is happening inside the body – they are more to do with the digestive system than the immune system. The symptoms are often less severe, but things such as stomach cramps and swellings on the skin can still make someone very uncomfortable, so it’s important to pay attention and make sure people have things that they can eat.

If someone has an allergy or intolerance, it is never ok to just remove the offending item and bring the same plate back. If it has touched other things on the plate, there can still be juices from it left which could cause the same reaction.

Secondly, some people have dietary requirements based on their religious beliefs. The most important thing is to communicate with people about what exactly is ok for them, because not all people who follow the same religion will follow exactly the same dietary rules. So don’t make assumptions!

Also, remember that if someone says they don’t eat pork, it usually includes all other kinds of product from the pig including bacon, ham, lard, or pork gelatine.

You may want to avoid organising social events when you know that some participants will be fasting.

Some other dietary requirements are:

Vegetarian –no meat or fish, but will often eat products with dairy or eggs.
Vegan – no animal products including dairy, fish, meat or eggs.
Pescetarian – vegetarian diet, but will eat fish.
Gluten-free – people with a gluten intolerance or Coeliac disease need to avoid grain-based products with ingredients such as wheat, barley and rye.
Lactose intolerance – this means that people will need to avoid dairy products such as milk, yoghurts and cheese made with lactose.

Alcohol – find out whether your guests drink alcohol. If they don’t, they may be happy to be in a restaurant where people have some wine with their meal, but they might not feel comfortable in bars with a lot of drunk people. Similarly, don’t make assumptions based on national stereotypes – even if a nation has a reputation for drinking a lot, it doesn’t mean that everyone from that country will.

Buffets – these can often be easier to arrange than sit-down meals, especially if you have a lot of people to feed and not very much time, but they are a nightmare if the dishes aren’t labelled properly, or if people with dietary restrictions or allergies don’t want to take the risk because of cross-contamination (people mixing up the serving spoons or putting things that they can eat on plates with things that they can’t).

The setting – if you want your colleagues to be able to talk to one another, choosing somewhere that’s really loud will make this difficult, even more so for those who aren’t communicating in their native language.

Tables – you may not have the choice, but big round tables make it easier to communicate with more people than long ones, where you can only really talk to people around you because people further down can’t hear to participate.

It’s not nice to be surrounded by people happily munching their food while you haven’t got anything because the caterers or restaurant didn’t get your dietary requirements right. Neither is it nice to be told that there is only one thing on the menu that you can have – irrespective of whether you like that thing! So if you’re doing the organising, try to find out about any dietary requirements beforehand so that you can book somewhere that will provide a meal that everyone can enjoy. If you’re being invited somewhere, don’t spring your dietary requirements on them at the last minute if you have the opportunity to give the organiser the information in advance!

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Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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