With Food Allergy Awareness Week coming up soon, it’s got us thinking about how we cater for different dietary requirements at our events.
Food allergies affect one in three percent of the population; and allergic reactions can be very mild or very severe. Reactions happen when the immune system reacts abnormally to a particular food, which for most people would not be harmful at all.
Food at events
Whether you’re serving a three course meal at your event, or just a selection of canapes, this applies to you. Communication between your attendees and your venue or caterer is key. The more information you have, the more you can accommodate the needs and requirements of both parties.
So how do we cater for different dietary requirements at our events? There are five main areas we need to look at:
1. Making the right decisions
2. Seeking the advice of the venue or caterer
3. Gathering requirements
5. Contingency plans
Making the right decisions
Food is a big part of any event, we can’t avoid it! However, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of matching food to a theme, or wanting to give attendees plenty of choice. While food is there to have fun with, you shouldn’t forget that at least a few of your guests will come with dietary requirements outside of your chosen menu, which you’ll need to accommodate.
With this in mind, it’s not a bad idea to go for simple, popular options that are easy to adjust. For instance, a salmon dish that can be made dairy free by changing the sauce. Consider this at any menu tastings you attend. Choosing more complicated food could mean those with dietary requirements are served a completely different, and perhaps less impressive, menu to everyone else.
On the subject of decisions, it’s a good idea to talk things through with your venue or caterer. Ask them what the percentage of dietary changes was the last time their clients used this particular menu, and how they will cater for the different needs you may present them with; from gluten free, to dairy free or vegan.
One of the most important things for you to do is gather the dietary information from your attendees. The best time to do this is on the event RSVP. Make it easy for attendees to be very clear about their requirements, so leave plenty of space for them to tell you what you need to know.
Don’t forget to chase up any outstanding responses in good time of the event, and follow up any that are unclear. Your venue or caterer will be very grateful for plenty of notice!
Once you’ve gathered your guests’ requirements and spoken to your venue or caterer about what menus you are going to go ahead with, it’s time to make sure everything is in place on event day!
It’s a good idea to print place cards and put them where your guests with dietary requirements are sitting, for the benefit of catering staff. You should already have a table plan with these clearly marked, but the place cards will just help to make sure there are no mistakes on the day; especially if the serving staff have not been involved in the planning process.
If you are serving a buffet, make sure all options are clearly labelled to show what allergens they include and clearly label your gluten free, lactose free, vegetarian and vegan options. You want to offer a variety of foods to cater for all needs.
However much you ask guests about their dietary requirements beforehand, you’ll always get a few surprises on the day when someone hands back a dish because they can’t eat it! This is why it is important to ensure your venue or caterer has spare dishes and some alternative options available. You don’t want anyone going hungry!