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When you start traveling for work or working in professional services, you will find yourself at team dinners on a very regular basis. Group dinners are a great opportunity for networking, but can be difficult to get through if you have dietary restrictions. It can be frustrating to navigate group meals, and you don’t want to go home still hungry. If you have dietary restrictions, consider the following tips when you hear that a group dinner is on the schedule.
Be upfront about your restrictions
Be honest with the scheduler about your dietary restrictions or special diet. Do not be afraid to speak up to the teammate who is coordinating the dinner. Restrictions are not something to be ashamed of.
You may be concerned that your restriction will be an inconvenience to the host. However, it’s way more awkward if you get to the restaurant and admit that you knew that you can’t eat anything on the menu. The host will wonder why you didn’t speak up! Don’t be shy, and don’t let yourself fall into that situation. You will make your host feel bad if you go home hungry – it is really no trouble to let them know ahead of time.
Know the difference between a restriction and being picky
You don’t need to try every appetizer that is ordered, and you don’t need to try unusual dishes. While trying new foods is one of the perks of having team dinners, you can easily turn down an app and pass it to the next person.
It’s fine if chicken is the only meat that you will eat, but don’t be the person that will only eat chicken fingers and nothing else. It is hard to please everyone in a team dinner, so help your host out and be open minded. Don’t say “I can’t eat anything on the menu”, when in reality there’s just nothing that interests you. Even if you don’t like the restaurant, try to find at least one dish to eat. This is only one meal out of the hundreds you will eat in your lifetime, you can deal with it for one night.
On this note, avoid excluding entire food groups. Nobody wants to hear “I don’t eat Indian food” or “I don’t eat Mexican food”. Every cuisine is going to have a variety of dishes, and maybe you just haven’t had a good dish from that cuisine yet. Even if a certain type of food isn’t necessarily your favorite, be open minded and give it a chance for one night. Even if you don’t usually like that type of food, you should still give it a shot. Worst case scenario, you can order delivery later.
Have a backup plan
If your dietary restriction is causing a lot of issues with team dinners, have a backup plan. It is fine to go to team dinner for the networking, and to just eat afterwards. This may be your best option if you have a restriction such as kosher that will prevent you from eating at a wide range of restaurants.
If you do not drink alcohol, no matter the reason, the fact that you don’t drink will become a conversation topic. Accept it, and have an explanation ready for the individual who inevitably asks. At happy hours or dinner, still get some type of beverage to have in your hands. Cranberry juice is my personal go-to, but you can also just get a soda or a mocktail such as a a virgin mojito.
If you are vegetarian, get used to the fact that sometimes your only option will be a salad. Your team will hopefully be considerate of this, but you have to accept that every now and then you may genuinely have nothing to eat. Again, have a backup plan of delivery later, or be open to just munching on appetizers.
Dietary restrictions and team dinners can be difficult to navigate, but it is something that you will get used to over time. Don’t let your restrictions prevent you from attending group meals – still try to go as often as you can for the networking benefits.