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How to Navigate Meeting New People with Food Allergies

How to Navigate Meeting New People with Food Allergies

Meeting new people when you have food allergies

As a young professional with anaphylactic food allergies, I find navigating all kinds of work situations to be a challenge (one that I’ll be writing more about soon!). I wanted to start delving into the topic of food allergies in the professional world with some tips on how to navigate networking and meeting new people when you have to think about severe food allergies. I love meeting new people, whether it’s new friends, professional connections, mentors, or really anyone!

When it comes to meeting someone new, I don’t want my food allergies to be the topic of the conversation. But I also want to be able to enjoy our meeting safely and not have my food allergy always on my mind!

When & How to Tell Someone About your Food Allergies:

Finding a delicate balance between managing your food allergies without continually talking about them with new people can be hard. Generally, new people are very curious about how you deal with food allergies, and that is totally normal!

If you’re confident and matter-of-fact about your food allergies, nobody thinks twice! I have also had many first meetings where the other person has serious allergies too, and I wasn’t expecting it!

For me, I do not bring up my food allergies with a new connection unless it is required as part of the planning. This is because I want to focus on the experience with a new person, rather than my food allergies. With the right plan, I don’t even have to think about them.

Here are some examples of my food allergy etiquette for first meetings:

• If we are discussing food options beforehand, I will mention my food allergies if a type of cuisine is suggested that I know is not safe for me (Sushi or Asian is generally off limits for me)
• If we are planning a meet-up with a group of people, I will usually make a “safe” recommendation and explain my allergies to the group organiser
• If the organiser recommends meeting at an “unsafe” restaurant, I will make an alternate suggestion and mention my allergy

Examples of when I feel it’s unnecessary to bring up my food allergies:

• I suggest a “safe” restaurant and the contact agrees to meet there
• There is no food involved: it is a coffee meeting or a drink
• If we go to a new restaurant that can accommodate me, I will mention my food allergies when I order, and it’s no big deal

I still get nervous about meeting people because my anaphylactic allergy is fairly new. Generally, I want to confirm I can eat somewhere safe with the person or not eat at all. This is also because I have a fast metabolism and get grumpy if I can’t eat!

Here are some tips if you’re a bit nervous (and hungry) like me:

• Suggest meeting for a coffee or drink the first time you meet someone new, rather than a meal. Usually, I find going for coffee to be the most low-stress first meeting. It allows me to focus on the meeting versus having to plan for my food allergies. It is also a smaller commitment when meeting someone new than sitting through a whole meal, which I generally like.
• Recommend a place you are familiar with to meet. 
In general, people enjoy getting recommendations and having the other person take the initiative to prepare the “where”, so I find this works quite well for a first-time meetup. Going to a trusted place can reduce any food allergy related stress. It’s really lovely to eat a meal somewhere that’s safe with someone new!
If you’re going to a new restaurant, make sure you’ve vetted the restaurant beforehand and confirmed they could accommodate your allergies. If you plan far enough ahead, generally this is a great option. For a lot of business meetings, I will call ahead of time and find a new restaurant I can eat at in the process! It’s good to have at least a few days wiggle room in this scenario in case they cannot accommodate you, in which case I’ll recommend a different restaurant.
Limit the time for the first meet up to avoid any spontaneous food-related activities.
 Meeting someone new can be energy-consuming in itself. Sometimes I enjoy planning a non-food related activity with a new person and pack some snacks! If we have a great time, I’ll even recommend a safe restaurant to eat at together afterwards.

Do you have any more tips? Let us know your top tips for meeting someone for the first time when you have food allergies in the comments below!

View Comments (16)
    • I agree! Finding your ‘allergy voice’ and comfort level is key to meeting new people. I like reading Kaitlin’s experience because she has had to fund this whereas I have only known life with food allergies.

  • That must be so challenging, but I’m glad you’ve found some ways to make it work. Always good to be upfront!

    • So true. The times I wasn’t upfront I definitely regretted later on because it seemed to have made the interaction about my allergies more awkward than it could have been.

  • I think people forget how much food comes into play in nearly every aspect of life throughout our lives. Such an important issue to address!

  • Excellent article. This is a great help for those with food allergies who need to navigate a career that requires face to face meetings.

    • Managing allergies in the workplace definitely come with a new set of challenges – sometimes I get super nervous about shaking hands, especially after lunch time.

  • I love seeing this spelled out so beautifully. You have covered the scenarios and given great suggestions that I’ll be using in the future.

    • So true! Matter of fact really makes it easier at the end of the day. Better that than dancing around and potentially getting in an awkward or dangerous spot.

    • Feeling out the right moment to talk about food allergies is always a new experience depending on the person. I feel like Kaitlin’s tips are great if you don’t find the good time right away.

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