how to cater to guests with lactose allergy or intolerance

Lactose-Free Etiquette: 4 Rules For Guests And Hosts​

who this class is for

Waiters and hospitality staff, House-party hosts, Guests with an allergy or intolerance to lactose

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About this micro-class

Lactose-free etiquette is the set of rules to appropriately plan a menu and manage the dining experience for guests with an allergy or intolerance to lactose.

1. Be prepared to tend to guests allergic or intolerant to lactose

How to spot the symptoms of an allergy or intolerance to lactose

A lactose-free diet is a dietary regimen for people allergic or intolerant to lactose. Such a diet forbids any foods based on milk or that may contain lactose.

The most common symptoms of a reaction include:

  • An itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat, or ears.
  • An itchy red skin rash.
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or roof of the mouth.
  • Abdominal cramps, vomiting, bloating, wind, and diarrhea.
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing.

Emergency plan

Every host should have an emergency plan in place in case a guest or customer experiences an allergic reaction.

Ensure that the staff knows how to call for medical assistance if needed.

2. Plan a safe lactose-free menu and dining experience

Avoid lactose traces and cross-contamination

Even a small amount or trace of lactose can trigger a reaction.

Intolerance symptoms usually happen after ingesting a large amount of lactose. However, people allergic or intolerant to lactose tend to avoid it altogether. Thus, their body grows less accustomed to it, and sensitivity increases.

Follow cooking etiquette principles to cook food safely. Designate specific utensils, cutting boards, and cooking surfaces for lactose-free dishes.

Create a transparent lactose-free menu

Clearly mark all the dishes or items on the menu that include lactose and those that are 100% lactose-free. Label them with a recognized symbol or statement. Make detailed ingredient lists available to customers or guests upon request.

Serve each food on its dedicated plate

Allow your guests with a lactose allergy or intolerance to pick the foods they can eat and avoid the ones they cannot eat. 

Avoid serving multiple foods on the same plate. Instead, try to separate them. Assign a plate to each food or ingredient. Serve condiments and sauces separately from food. Present each food with its serving utensils.

Include safe options for your guests allergic or intolerant to lactose

Some foods present a lower risk of triggering an allergic reaction or food intolerance. Plan some safe dishes that almost any guest will be able to eat. For instance, baked potatoes or salad are safe options for most guests.

Be open to accomodate special needs of guests allergic or intolerant to lactose

Offer ingredient substitutions whenever possible to accommodate guests allergic or intolerant to lactose. Be transparent about potential substitutions and any extra costs involved.

Be open to customizing dishes and offering a lactose-free version. Clearly communicate any limitations in customization due to the nature of the dish or kitchen processes.

Avoid foods that may be unhealthy for guests allergic or intolerant to lactose


In general, meat can be appropriate in a lactose-free diet. However, a lactose-free diet must avoid any meat that may contain lactose, such as processed or frozen meat. For instance, bacon, hot dog, or sausage may be excluded.

Fish and seafood

Fish or seafood are commonly appropriate for a lactose-free diet. However, it is best to avoid canned or processed fish.

Dairy products and cheese

Lactose-free diets forbid any milk, dairy products, and cheese. However, milk substitutes may be appropriate, such as soy milk or almond milk.

Eggs and honey

A lactose-free diet usually allows eggs and honey.

Vegetables, fruits, and tree nuts

A lactose-free diet allows all types of fresh vegetables and fruits. However, processed vegetables and fruits may contain lactose.


In general, people on a lactose-free diet could eat any type of grain or cereal, such as rice, pasta, couscous, and quinoa.

Bakery products like bread or pizza are allowed as long as they do not include any milk, dairy, or cheese such as mozzarella.

Condiments and sauces

A lactose-free diet allows oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, and spices.

Sauces and dressings may contain milk or lactose, thus they are often excluded.

Sweets and desserts

Guests on lactose-free diets can eat sweets or desserts.

However, they must avoid any food with milk, cream, butter, or lactose, such as pies, pancakes, cookies, and ice cream.

Drinks and alcoholic beverages

Lactose-free diets allow most drinks. It is possible to drink coffee or tea without milk or cream. Soft drinks or alcoholic drinks without lactose are allowed. Smoothies and milkshakes are usually excluded.

3) Politely ask your guests about their food restrictions

At home

It is perfect etiquette to ask guests allergic or intolerant to lactose about their dietary restrictions. Lactose-free diets differ and may include or exclude different foods.

In written formal invitations, it is sufficient to ask guests to inform the hosts about any dietary requirements. In informal invitations, a simple “Do you follow any diet or have any dietary restrictions?” works. Another option is to ask if guests avoid any food. 

Never judge or question someone’s dietary restrictions. Avoid asking additional questions, such as why someone follows a diet. Some guests may be uncomfortable sharing their food restrictions.


Hospitality staff should encourage guests to communicate their food allergies or intolerances when making reservations and upon arrival.

Waiters should ask about food allergies before taking orders, and convey this information to the kitchen.

4. Etiquette for guests allergic or intolerant to lactose

Clearly communicate your food restrictions

Clearly state with your host if you have any dietary restrictions.

Do not expect a change in the menu based on your needs. As a guest, you do not want to sound entitled. Instead, you can ask if there may be some lactose-free options for you. 

Do not expect the host to accommodate your requests. However, any considerate host will feel compelled to adjust the menu to your needs.

Politely refuse food that you do not eat

If the host serves a type of food that you do not eat, simply avoid it. If the host or another guest explicitly offers such food to you, politely refuse it. It is enough to say “no, thank you”. 

Provide additional details only if someone asks you. Be brief and avoid annoying others with your dietary restrictions.

Do not pressure others

Do not expect others to adjust their menu or diet to your dietary restrictions. Similarly, at a restaurant, do not expect the other guests to change their food order.

Lactose-free etiquette mistakes

The worst etiquette mistakes for a host are: 

  • Not accommodating your guests’ requests that are due to their intolerance to lactose.
  • Using the same kitchenware with different foods.
  • Asking personal dietary questions.

The worst etiquette mistakes for guests allergic or intolerant to lactose are: 

  • Not communicating your dietary restrictions to the host.
  • Pressuring others.
  • Sharing unsolicited details about your diet.

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