Eating With a Group of Strangers

Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!

Recently I've been thinking a lot about talking to other people about food intolerances, specifically how to tell someone that you have an intolerance or an allergy. We've written before on how to tell your friends, family, and even your coworkers about any specific food requirements that you have, and we've talked about how to tell your server at a restaurant (or other people you will only see once). The situations above assume that either (a) you have an existing relationship with the person or (b) you will likely never see the person again. One thing we haven't really touched on is interacting with new colleagues. How do you tell someone about your food intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy when you've just met them and want to make a good impression?



There are a lot of potential scenarios where this could happen. Perhaps you've just joined a new team at work (or just started a new job) and the group takes you out to lunch to welcome you. Or, maybe you are interacting with a potential client at a conference buffet. Or you could even be on your first or second date with a romantic interest. In any of these scenarios you want to present your food requirements accurately, but without them changing the dynamic of the relationship while it's still being formed.

What should you do?

  • First, remember that you shouldn't be ashamed of any food requirements that you have. What you can eat doesn't define you. Don't be afraid to tell people about yourself!
  • Second, be selective about food without being picky. In these "first food impression" scenarios it is possible to select foods that you can eat without being a burden. How to do this? Know about your requirements! Know what foods are likely to have soy, and which ones aren't. Make some educated guesses to narrow down the options before you have to ask about the ingredients. Being knowledgeable and taking steps to finding a solution on your own, can eliminate many of the negative connotations associated with picky eaters.
  • Third, be up front about your food requirements, but not overbearing. You should provide context for needing to be selective about food. Something as simple as "I'd prefer if we didn't get Chinese food. I can't eat soy, and nothing on the menu there is soy-free" goes a long way toward demonstrating that you are a reasonable person who happens to avoid eating soy. However, only talking about your allergy, or not being a little bit flexible, isn't good either.



  • Fourth, be willing to compromise. Don't compromise your health and eat something that you shouldn't just to avoid confrontation, but do be reasonable. You may not get your first choice meal, or you may need to go to a place with limited soy-free options. Recognize that you can eat something, instead of mourning over the lost possibilities of what you could have eaten somewhere else.
  • Fifth, show gratitude. Thank your fellow strangers-soon-to-be-acquaintances for accommodating you. If it comes up naturally, tell them more about your food requirements (but don't be overbearing) so that next time the "where to eat?" question is easier to answer.  

There are always awkward moments in the initial stages of any relationship. While a food intolerance or sensitivity may direct some of that awkwardness, clearly communicating your food requirements helps the focus remain on introductions and not on the food.