One of the biggest changes planners have had to deal with in recent years is the increase in special-meal requests. Most of these requests are legitimate because of food allergies or the need for kosher preparation, but sometimes they come from an attendee’s desire to stay on a diet.
Dieting while traveling can be challenging, but so can the effort to please everyone. How do planners deal? Carefully, thoughtfully and seriously, because lives can depend on it.
These tips from experienced planners can help you navigate:
- Pay attention to the wording on your registration forms. This is where it all begins, so make sure you leave adequate space for this effort. Wording can be “are you allergic to” with a blank space to fill in, or you can be detailed and list the most common allergens for attendees to check off. However you present this option, make sure to include “other/details” as a category 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, some planners go as far as confirming with the attendee exactly what their meals will consist of once the chef has weighed in. This is an extra, time-consuming step, but it assures accuracy that can be lifesaving.
- Communicate your system for special dietary needs to everyone on 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? As a planner, you have a right to reasonably expect that a person with severe allergies will carry their own, but because you are a thorough planner, you should find out whether your hotel, facility or local EMT services will provide this lifesaving drug. State laws vary about who can stock it, but if your guest list includes multiple people with extreme allergies, go that extra mile and find the nearest source.
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 labeled, and include the ingredients in each dish rather than the general heading of “vegetarian” or other broad categories.
Continue the conversation. Please use the comment box below to share your own strategies, tips and stories.