Y’all, we are right at the start of peak wedding season! I have always loved weddings–the sweet looks between the couple during the ceremony, the beautiful flowers and decor, the dancing at the reception. I love it all. But since I became gluten intolerant 3.5 years ago, there is one thing about weddings that gives me anxiety: the food at the reception.
I guess I could just eat a meal right before going to the wedding so that I wouldn’t have to worry about eating at all. But honestly, that can be just as stressful as trying to actually eat the food, what with all of the looks, questions, comments, and internal judgments you may receive from other wedding guests when they notice you’re not eating. It is so much less awkward (and much more fun) to be able to blend in and eat with everyone else.
I have learned that there are ways to make wedding meals much less anxiety-provoking. Here are my tips for enjoying wedding food while remaining safely gluten-free!
1. Don’t call the bride. Or groom. Or brides/grooms. Some might disagree with me, but I do not think it should be the engaged couple’s responsibility to know about and cater to every wedding guest’s food preferences, personal weight loss program, or allergies. Getting invited to a wedding reception and being served a free meal is a privilege, not a right. The happy couple is trying to please the majority of their guests with their food–they can’t worry about each individual diner. If they think to request a special gluten-free plate for you, that’s just icing on the cake. Additionally, with all of the stress that they’re under, they don’t need to be bothered by a phone call from you demanding that they list each menu item and tell you whether it’s gluten free. Shoulder this task yourself and let the couple worry about the hundreds of other little wedding day details.
2. Determine the reception venue. This is your first step in a series of detective work to find out which menu items will be gluten-free. When you receive the wedding invitation, take note of the reception venue–this is going to tell you a lot about who is in charge of the catering. For example, a country club venue already has large-scale cooking facilities and will likely be taking care of the catering in-house, whereas an empty warehouse building will likely require an outside caterer.
3. Track down the caterer. If it’s not immediately obvious from looking at the reception venue who the caterer will be, contact the events manager at the reception venue and ask them who is providing the catering for the event. Explain that you have food allergies and are trying to find out which foods you should or should not eat. My experience is that 99% of people are more than happy to give you this information (I’ve only encountered one events manager who refused to disclose the caterer).
4. Contact the caterer. Reach out to the caterer a week or two before the wedding. By that point, the menu should be finalized. Explain that you have a gluten allergy and are trying to find out which foods are and are not safe for you to eat at the reception. Do NOT request a special gluten-free plate. The engaged couple (or their family…whoever hired the caterer) is the only one who should be placing orders. In my experience, caterers are always more than happy to provide information about what you should and shouldn’t eat–they are used to it and are typically well aware of gluten sources and cross-contamination. I typically call first, then follow up with an email if I don’t hear back.
5. Pack a snack…and $20. You are now armed with a list of foods you can eat at the reception. Even if it seems like plenty, be sure to pack a snack and some sort of payment method in case you need to go out to purchase dinner elsewhere. You never know what you’re walking into. The beef tenderloin may be gone by the time you make it to the front of the line, or the serving size of the gluten-free foods might be quite small. Be prepared to discretely scarf down a protein bar in the bathroom!
6. Visually assess the food. You’ve been told what’s gluten-free, but eyeball it for obvious visual cues nonetheless. One time, I went to a wedding where gluten-free options were actually marked on the paper menus that sat atop the place settings. I was ecstatic! I quickly made my way to the taco station, which was designated as gluten-free. However, I could tell from the color of the tortillas that they were obviously made from flour, not corn. There had been some sort of behind-the-scenes error. So, I just skipped the tortilla and loaded up on toppings. Being observant for signs of gluten can save you from an accidental poisoning.
7. Ask a server. If all else fails–for example, if you were never able to get in touch with the caterer prior to the wedding, or there is a totally different menu being served than what you had been told–flag down a server. You average server will not know which items are gluten-free since they weren’t the ones preparing the food, but they may be able to take you to a catering manager who does know.
By following these general guidelines, I am able to find out as much as possible ahead of time and come to the wedding prepared. That way, I can fully relax and have a fun time during the special occasion!
Do y’all have any other tips for safely navigating weddings as a gluten-free guest? I’d love to know! Leave me a comment.
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P.P.S. – Obviously, everyone is different in terms of how sensitive they are to gluten. There may be additional or different steps you need to take as a wedding guest depending upon the severity of your condition.