Monday, April 8, 2013

Planning Allergy-Friendly F&B

Dietary restrictions have taken on a whole new level of importance in meeting planning. Whereas accommodating dietary needs used to mean the simple addition of a vegetarian option, increased awareness of food allergies and lifestyle choices have opened up a realm of possibilities- from gluten-intolerance to vegan to a peanut allergy.

While some of these allergies are mild, many can lead to severe illness and life-threatening reactions. Meeting planners are in fact required by law to make accommodations under these circumstances. With such a diverse range of needs from attendees, several steps can be taken before and during a meeting to ensure that everyone is well-cared for throughout a program.

Before the meeting:

  • When planning the menu, be proactive in asking which dishes cause more or less issues with food allergies. Many hotels and catering companies are designing dishes that can accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions, such as dishes that are not only vegetarian but also free of common food allergy triggers.
  • Ask attendees about any dietary restrictions well in advance through registration or other correspondence. When sending out query cards, try to include inclusive but specific restrictions so you know exactly what to prepare for.
  • Schedule buffets with customizable options as frequently as possible. Ask your catering staff to place allergy cards with all buffet ingredients.
During your meeting:

  • Eliminate allergens from the start. If you have a significant population that has a food allergy or intolerance, work with the chef to make substitutions or menu changes to the standard menu. Chefs are used to accommodating different requests, and will be able to make these changes while still creating a delightful dish.
  • Set aside special meals when you can. It’s not uncommon that after a week full of banquets and buffets, a slew of non-vegetarians opt for the veggie burger if they have a choice. If you haven’t  made enough of a dish to accommodate all the attendees, consider making a separate plate or an entirely separate buffet available, and explain the set-up to attendees.
  • Be discreet. If you prepare correctly, the kitchen should be able to bring out a special meal without a fuss. Take extra care to make sure it comes out at the same time as the rest of the table, and you can even keep it relatively close to the standard meals. When attendees are accommodated seamlessly, it makes them feel valued- and that is always our goal!

Thanks to our friends at M&C magazine for inspiring this article!

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