people eating with lactose intolerance

Navigating Restaurants and Gatherings with Lactose Intolerance: A Guide to Social Eating


Written by: CDHF

Updated: January 18th, 2024

Lactose intolerance can sometimes make eating at restaurants or social gatherings a rather challenging experience. When someone has intolerance, the body lacks sufficient lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose (the sugar found in common dairy products) such as milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, pudding, cream soups & sauces. This intolerance can result in symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal discomfort right after consuming dairy products. 1

The fear of unintentionally consuming foods containing lactose may cause anxiety for some, especially when dining out or attending social events. However, armed with the right knowledge and strategies, individuals with lactose intolerance can still enjoy delicious meals and partake in social gatherings without compromising their well-being! In this article, we’ll explore strategies for safely enjoying dining experiences while managing lactose intolerance.

Dining Out with Lactose Intolerance

Research Restaurants in Advance

Before heading to grab a bite, take a moment to research restaurants in your area and search up their menu offerings before-hand. Many establishments provide their menus online, making it easier for individuals to identify lactose-free options in advance. Be on the look-out for dishes that are naturally lactose-free or can be easily modified to suit your dietary needs.

Call in Advance

If possible, phone ahead and talk to the restaurant manager or chef/kitchen manager to clarify any questions and concerns. Try to phone at a quiet time for the restaurant so that staff can talk to you without distractions.

Use an Online Booking Portal

When booking reservations online, many restaurants have booking portals such as OpenTable that allow you to add customized notes and special requests to your reservation. With this, you can inform staff in advance and note down any allergies or dietary restrictions along with your reservation.

Communicate with Restaurant Staff

When arriving at a restaurant, it is important to communicate clearly with staff about your dietary needs and restrictions. The chefs and staff are there to help and are usually more than willing to accommodate special requests and needs or make substitutions to ensure a lactose-free meal and comfortable, positive dining experience. 2

talking to waitress at restaurants about lactose intolerance

Focus on Naturally Lactose-Free Choices

When dining out, opt for dishes that are naturally low in lactose or lactose-free, such as grilled meats, fish, and vegetables. Cuisines like Asian or Mediterranean often offer flavorful options that are dairy-free or easily adaptable.3 When ordering, selecting menu items that are baked, grilled, dry-sautéed, broiled, poached, or steamed will yield the healthiest food as well as better odds at a dairy and lactose-free plate.

Customize your Meal

When in doubt, request sauces and dressings on the side, or inquire about lactose and dairy-free options such as almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk.4 Common cream-based sauces, like alfredo, and certain salad dressings may contain dairy, so be sure to check and modify accordingly. Don’t hesitate to ask for substitutions or modifications, such as removing regular cheese and/or replacing it with lactose-free or dairy-free options.

Be Extra Cautious with Desserts

Exercise caution when selecting desserts, as they may pose a risk of cross-contamination and often contain common triggers to lactose intolerant individuals, like milk, cream, butter, pudding and cheese.5

Use a Lactase Supplement

Consider taking a lactase supplement before or during your meal. These supplements can help your body digest lactose more effectively and may allow you to enjoy small amounts of dairy without discomfort. Always speak with your doctor before taking a supplement to ensure its right for you.

Social Events and Gatherings: Unleashing the Fun- minus the dairy!

BYO (Bring Your Own)

If you’re attending a potluck or social event, consider bringing a lactose-free dish that you can enjoy and share with others. This not only guarantees a safe option for you, but also introduces your friends to delicious alternatives they might not have tried before!

Always Communicate with Hosts

Informing hosts about your lactose intolerance in advance can help them plan the menu with your dietary needs in mind. Most hosts appreciate the heads-up and will likely make an effort to accommodate your dietary needs and requirements.

Educate Friends and Family

Take the opportunity to educate your friends and family about lactose intolerance. The more they understand your dietary needs, the more supportive and inclusive they can be when planning meals or events.

Plan Ahead and Fuel up Before-Hand

In social situations where the menu may not have many dairy-free options, consider eating a small meal or snack before heading out. This way, you can still participate well-nourished, without feeling left out or experiencing discomfort and symptoms.

Living with lactose intolerance doesn’t mean sacrificing the joy of eating out at restaurants or attending social gatherings. By taking a proactive approach, communicating effectively, and making informed choices, individuals with lactose intolerance can navigate the social eating landscape and worrisome with confidence. With a bit of planning and awareness, every meal can be a delightful experience, and every social event an opportunity to create lasting memories without compromising your health and well-being.


  1. Lactose Intolerance | Johns Hopkins Medicine
  2. Dining out – Food Allergy Canada
  3. Living with Lactose Intolerance: Tips and Strategies for a Dairy-Free (
  4. Maintaining a Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Lifestyle: Tips and Tricks | casa de sante
  5. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Lactose Intolerance – NIDDK (

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