How to deal with Special Dietary Requirements
One of the biggest challenges meeting planners face is how to satisfy the increasing number of people who have special dietary requirements.
Figures by the Food Standards Agency reveal that an estimated 2 million people in UK reported avoiding a food type because of allergy or intolerance.
In addition, 7.5 million people currently living in the UK were born outside of these islands, bringing with them a variety of diets and religions.
Many other people choose to limit their food choices for ethical or other personal reasons—think vegetarians, vegans, or dieters.
How can planners deal with this diversity? Carefully, thoughtfully, and seriously, because lives may depend on it.
These tips from experienced planners can help you navigate the world of special dietary requirements.
- Pay attention to the wording on your registration forms
Specifically ask attendees to list any food allergies or essential dietary requirements. Leave adequate space for a detailed reply.
You might even list the most common allergens or dietary regimens for attendees to simply check off.
Make sure to include the category “Other/Details,” because the more specific you make it, the easier it is to ensure you’re ordering the right food.
- Follow through with particulars on each order, especially where allergies are concerned
For more challenging dietary restrictions, you may choose to show your professionalism and care by confirming with the attendee their meal’s detailed contents. Be sure to consult your caterer or chef in advance.
This is an extra, time-consuming step, but it assures accuracy that can be lifesaving.
- Communicate your system for special dietary requirements to your staff
This includes your own staff, which will help seat people, guests who have ordered something special and the staff that’s serving the food.
Some food allergies are so sensitive that cross contamination with other meals can create problems.
Make sure everyone is attuned to the entire process, from ticketing and seating to the plating and meal service.
- Where is the nearest epinephrine (Epipen)?
As a planner, you have a right to reasonably expect that a person with severe allergies will carry their own Epipen.
It’s tempting to simply select a buffet and enhance the variety of options, but often that’s not enough to satisfy special meal requests.
Make sure everything is labelled, and include the ingredients in each dish rather than the general heading of “vegetarian” or other broad categories.
Your attention to detail with special meal requests will make a huge difference to attendees with special needs—and will earn their lasting gratitude.
Meeting planners can effectively cater for diverse attendee dietary requirements by surveying them beforehand, liaising effectively with catering and meeting room staff, and being ready to handle allergic reactions.
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