How to Refuse Food Politely, According to an Expert
There's scarcely anything more awkward than saying no to food your host worked hard to prepare. We'd put it right up there with forgetting a friend's birthday or running into an ex at the grocery store. You may have an allergy or religious dietary restrictions. Or maybe you're cutting down on sugar or simply don't like what's offered, plain and simple. Whatever the reason, there are ways to shimmy out of the awkwardness without your face turning all shades of red. We've consulted etiquette queen Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and best-selling author of Business Etiquette Made Easy and Modern Etiquette Made Easy. Read on to hear Meier's advice on how to navigate these tricky situations with grace.
If you have an allergy or preference, it's up to you to inform your host on the front end. (Although, a good host always asks.) "If a host does not ask about your dietary allergies, it's up to you as the guest to tell them when you RSVP that you have a dietary restriction," Meier says. "You never want to be in a situation where you are sitting at a table allergic to shellfish and the host serves shrimp!" If your host is already planning on making a dish you can't eat, offer to bring your own dish! As a dinner guest, it's always polite to ask if you can bring something to share with everyone anyway. But, usually, if a host knows you have an allergy, they will be more than willing to accommodate.
If you have dinner plans later, it's best to time your meals so you'll have room to eat something with your host. Making a plate helps your host feel valued and appreciated. Plus, they'll feel more comfortable eating if you are too! But say you happened to have a later lunch, and then your host is clearly offended by the minuscule dent left in your plate at the end of dinner. Explaining you just aren't hungry tells your host not to take it personally and wards off potential offense. "Simply point out how delicious everything was but that you cannot eat more," Meier says. "I often compliment before I say no, 'The ham was incredible, but I can't fit even a bit more in! Thank you anyway.' You could also say 'Oh, I had such a late lunch, so just a smidge of the ham will be perfect, thank you!'"
Use Gentle Phrasing
"Etiquette is about being kind and respectful to those around you, especially to a host who worked so hard to prepare such a meal for you," Meier says. "You want to be kind and considerate to them without ever hurting their feelings." Even if you aren't a fan of the food in front of you, put your relationship with the host first and steer clear of harsh, discourteous wording. Meier suggests staying away from phrases like "I didn't like it" or "It wasn't for me." Use a gentler approach: "You could simply say 'No thank you for now, maybe later' or 'I'm so full but thank you anyway,'" she says.
Give a Compliment
Next time you're at a dinner party with dishes you can't (or don't want to) eat, look for the silver lining. If you can't eat the main course, maybe there is a side dish you'll enjoy. Finding something you do like is a great way to outweigh the awkward walk-of-shame you make at the end of dinner to scrape your full plate into the trash can. "You can say 'Oh thank you, I already have potatoes and carrots, and I can't eat more at the moment, but everything looks delicious,'" Meier says. "So you are saying no in a gentle enough way as well as still complimenting their meal and pointing out that you are enjoying some of the other food prepared," Meier says.
Even if you take measures to avoid saying "no thank you"—like alerting your host of allergies ahead of time or bringing your own dish—there might still be times it's necessary. When passing on a dish your host worked hard to prepare, approach the situation in a gentle way, lacing your no with compliments to negate hurt feelings and false offenses. Usually, you can always find something to applaud, whether it be a side dish you enjoyed, a dessert you're saving room for, or even a table setting you like. If you can't eat what's on the menu, just make sure the efforts of your host are acknowledged and appreciated.