Sunday, August 06, 2017

Should picnic host anticipate all guests' dietary restrictions?

A reader, F.G., had been planning a summer family event for months. She'd sent out invitations, solicited family members for activity ideas, rented an inflatable bouncy tent for the children attending, and loaded up on groceries, drinks and other provisions for the daylong event.

"I wanted to have enough variety of food so everyone could find something they liked," F.G. writes. "But I tried not to make the menu overly complicated since we expected four to five dozen relatives to show up in our backyard."

The event was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. and go until 8 p.m., so F.G. had loaded up on enough food to serve a hearty meal -- burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, coleslaw, potato salad, three-bean salad and other items, as well as plenty of melon and cake for dessert.

Weather cooperated brilliantly on the day of the event, F.G. reports. Sunshine, but not too muggy. Perfect weather for gathering, sharing a meal with family and reminiscing. Kids enjoyed bouncing in the inflatable house. Adults played horseshoes, croquet and beanbag toss. And the drinks and food began to flow.

Late in the day, an adult nephew who hadn't RSVP'd showed up with his wife and kids as well as four or five adult friends who had been visiting him nearby. F.G. was glad to see him and to welcome the unexpected guests, RSVP or not. A few more burgers, hot dogs, and corn on the cob were tossed on the grill and F.G.'s nephew and his group mingled with the family.

F.G. yelled out to her nephew that there was food ready on the grill for them and they proceeded to come over, load up their plates and return to mingling.

About half-an-hour later, the nephew walked up to F.G. and asked if she had prepared a vegetarian option for the non-meat-eaters in the crowd, indicating that two of the friends he had brought along didn't eat meat.

At first a bit flustered, F.G. writes that she ultimately responded by recommending the corn on the cob, salads or any of the non-meat side dishes she had prepared.

After the event ended (and her nephew and group were among the last to leave), F.G. hoped everyone had had a good time. But she worried that it might have been wrong not to have a vegetarian entree as an option. Or whether she should have indicated something on the invite that hamburgers and hot dogs would be served.

F.G.'s question falls more into a question of etiquette than ethics, but she does still raise the question of whether she did the right thing. F.G. did exactly the right thing by offering her nephew non-meat suggestions when he asked. If the nephew or his friends had special dietary restrictions, the right thing would have been to let F.G. know or to ask her about the menu. Or, if he was truly concerned about his friends getting something in particular that they wanted to eat, he should have brought it with him and asked to toss it on the grill.

Better yet, the nephew should have had the courtesy to RSVP to the invite to let F.G. know he'd be attending with friends in tow. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Azalea Lover said...

The hostess did nothing wrong and everything right: any vegetarian could look at the vegetables on the menu and make quiet choices of their own.

The nephew did several wrong things: showed up w/o RSVP and added to the insult by bringing uninvited guests, then crowned his poor manners by implying that his aunt should have prepared a vegetarian option for unexpected non-meat eaters.

I hope this the mother and/or father of this selfish boor speaks to him about his poor manners.