Vegan, Gluten Free, Paleo, Nut Allergy… it seems everyone has a special dietary requirement these days! As the eventprof you must be knowledgeable and prepared to meet the special dietary needs of your attendees.
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It seems more and more often our attendees are speaking up about their dietary needs and restrictions. Food allergies are becoming increasingly common, guests are becoming more health conscious and standing strong in their religious or personal beliefs on how food should be prepared.
This can become a major headache for eventprofs trying to plan a menu for a large group of attendees. The good news is that most venues are prepared for these dietary requests and they can be accommodating as long as they have some advance warning. As the planner you should be prepared for the diets you might encounter and the steps you need to take to ensure your guests are happy! A little preparation and education will serve you well when planning your next menu.
How do you know if your attendees have special dietary needs?
Doing your research on the front end will help you to avoid any major surprises. If you will be serving any preset meals at your event be sure to ask your attendees if they have any dietary requirements or allow them to choose their dish. By giving people options you can provide a variety of selections and ensure that most guests can be accommodated.
The best time to collect any meal specific information is when the guest initially registers for the event. Include a section on your registration form that covers anything and everything you would need to collect regarding meal preference. Questions like, what is your meal preference for a specific dinner, do you have any food allergies, special dietary requirements, etc, are all topics you could look to cover on the front end. Keep the questions clear and to the point and don't ask anything unnecessary.
Who should pay?
Depending on the needs of your client this can be a tough question to answer. If the attendee’s request is fairly reasonable and affordable, in most cases the host of the event should foot the bill.
On occasion, attendees or even presenters can be very specific with their food and beverage choices and in some extreme circumstances they should be asked to foot the bill or absorb some sort of fee for their additional request. Examples of this would be asking you to bring in an expensive or rare ingredient that isn’t already a part of your menu. I recently read about a planner that had to have the chef make an extra late night shopping trip just to fill the extravagant needs of a client. These are situations where you might include an upcharge on the meal.
How accommodating should you be?
When you are hosting an event the customer service you provide will have a significant impact on your attendees. Long after the food is served and the party favors are forgotten, your guests will always remember how your event made them feel.
If you do a stellar job and go above and beyond to make them feel welcomed, they will surely remember and share this with others. The same goes for any negative experience that a guest has and most of the time they share the details of bad experiences much more freely.
This being the case, you should always do your best to be as accommodating as possible. If your guest has a last minute dietary request see what you can do to try and fit their needs. Work with your caterer or venue and find something that works for your guest and remains within your budget. You may not be able to get them exactly what they request, but most of the time making an effort and trying your best will go a long way with your attendees.
What should you discuss with your venue?
Before your event is even scheduled you should be sure to have an in depth meal planning conversation with your venue. You want to be aware of how the food will be served, buffet, plated, stations, etc.
You should also know the type of meal options your attendees will have. Will the food be labeled with ingredients? Will they be able to choose their dishes or if plated will the staff be knowledgeable on the food being served?
Sometimes we see dietary choices as a personal option but most of the time they are very important and should be taken seriously. Dietary restrictions should not be taken lightly everyone should know that they can pose a safety hazard if someone is served the wrong ingredient.