For any wedding guest with a food allergy or dietary restriction, attending a wedding can be like entering a world of unknown. Gazing at a menu filled with can't-eat items can feel frustrating at best. As a result, something known as the silent meal option has taken up a place in catering lingo, offering guests off-the-menu meal options that are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. Here's how it works.
Catering to the Masses
You'd be hard-pressed to walk into a room of 200 people and not find at least one vegetarian, vegan, paleo, or gluten-free person. A wedding is a classic example, though some guests may make an exception if their dietary restrictions are only temporary. Either way, you're bound to have at least a handful of guests who aren't able to eat the menu you've carefully selected for your wedding. While some couples will put an allergy-friendly option on their menu for anyone to select, others ask their caterer to prepare just a small number (usually 3 to 5 percent) of vegetarian and gluten-free options to have on hand for those who really need it. But because of the limited number of these meals, couples wouldn't list this option on their menu.
How to Spread the Word
Guests who've attended many functions and weddings will know to ask their waiter for the off-menu options, but others may feel obligated to accept a meal they can't eat. Rather than have your friends and family suffer through the obligation, it's usually best to ask in advance of the wedding day for a meal selection. If you're keeping the alternative options quiet, you can make a small mention on your menu cards that there's a vegetarian and gluten-free option available upon request.
Asking for a Meal Selection
When you send out your invitations, you may choose to include a meal selection of beef, lamb, chicken, fish, or vegetarian. This will help you get fairly accurate quantities of each to your catering team in advance of the wedding. This way, the silent menu options will be for back-up only.
How Many Dietary Restrictions to Cover
Dietary restrictions and allergies seem to be increasing daily, but you can usually count on a gluten-free option and a vegan option to cover most of your bases. If a guest has a very specific allergy, like shellfish or nuts, they'll likely let your catering team know prior to the start of the meal. Most wedding guests are happy to share this information, especially on a reply card that asks for menu options, and caterers are generally more than happy to accommodate these requests on the fly, assuming they have options on hand to cook with.
Selecting the Silent Meal Options
Your catering team often won't bring up the silent meal option, preferring to use ingredients from the other dishes they're serving to make something that suits the specific dairy-free, grain-free, or shellfish-free requirements. However, if you know from the time you start planning that this is going to be something you want to have a say in, go ahead and let your catering manager know you don't want the silent meal options to feel like an afterthought.