Beef Up Your Knowledge of Dietary Requests

Pulling off an upbeat, congenial event dinner ranks right up there with skydiving and zip-lining on a good night, being entirely dependent on the unforeseeable, one-time planetary alignment of guests, catering and event staff.

Special dietary needs increasingly throw a curveball to unprepared event planners, for one very valid reason: nothing disrupts a celebratory dinner quite like the unexpected arrival of an ambulance crew, whose lifesaving floor show often unfolds right there on the floor!

Researchers estimate that the number of Americans with food allergies has ballooned to 15 million, helping to spawn a global market in food allergy products that’s now estimated at $26.5 billion. That’s a heap of potential event crashers for the planner who fails to keep their guests’ special diet needs top of mind.

Here’s how to keep your event dinner from turning into an episode of “Chicago Med.”

Know your special diets

Some are allergy related, others religious/belief based, and still others are consumer preference. Here are a few special diets you should plan to accommodate or work around:

  • Vegans consume nothing derived from animals, including eggs, butter, milk, and honey.
  • Vegetarians shun meat of any kind. Subgroups: ovo-vegetarians will eat eggs, lacto-vegetarians will eat dairy products, and lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat both.
  • Nut allergy reactions can be serious. Sufferers may not be able to eat off the regular menu, especially if it wasn’t prepared in a nut-free kitchen.
  • Gluten/wheat free diets avoid the protein found in wheat that can cause havoc to those with celiac disease and other health conditions.
  • Wheat free excludes all wheat and wheat by-products, though not necessarily gluten. It’s complicated, so best to ask your caterer for solutions.
  • Kosher diets are restricted by Jewish law. Consult your caterer for options.
  • Halal diets are restricted by Islamic law, most notably pork.
  • Paleo diets attempt to recreate a caveman’s choices: heavy on meat, fish, veggies and fruits, with no dairy, grains or processed food.
  • Pescatarians eat fish but no other meats.

Query your guests well ahead of time

Some special diets (vegetarian, paleo, pescatarian) are easily accommodated by most routine event menus, while others (nut allergy, gluten/wheat free, kosher) can require additional planning – and possibly expense – on the front end.

The key? Know beforehand who’s coming and their special dietary needs/preferences, ideally via such direct questions on their registration form as, “Do you have any food allergies or special dietary needs?” and “What is your meal preference?”

Discuss special dietary needs with your venue/caterer

It’s important to get on the same page with your venue/caterer immediately about the special dietary needs you anticipate for your event – as well as those you don’t. Oftentimes, a planned tweak here and there to certain ingredients in a well-thought-out menu can result in all guests having the same dining experience while still accommodating the special diet requests of a few. Addressing those requests early also can build in time to order and prepare cost-effective menu options and alternatives that would prove impossible the night of the event.

Early shared agreement and determination to take special dietary requests seriously will go a long way toward avoiding a “Chicago Med” moment at your event!

Prepare your staff to anticipate and address special dietary requests

Finally, before a single place setting is arranged, brief your staff on the importance of special diets. You might ask if any of them have special diets, and if so, how do they feel when others go out of their way to accommodate them versus ignore them?

Above all, make sure they know who to contact onsite should special dietary requests or questions come up during dinner, and to treat them as the potentially life-saving opportunity they pose for millions of Americans today.

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Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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