Dietary restrictions have recently taken center stage when it comes to planning meetings. With so many food allergies and sensitives, from dairy to gluten and kosher to vegan, it can be challenging for a meeting planner to make sure that everyone is getting food that adheres to their lifestyle. Deb Armstrong, Director of Operations at Meeting Alliance, gives some insight into the dietary challenges she’s seen on-site at meetings, and the best way to handle these situations.
Recently we’re seen the number of special dietary requests increasing to about 18% of the total meeting attendance. This includes everything from unique food allergies, such as an avocado allergy, to numerous people who have simply made lifestyle changes in their dietary requirements. And of course there’s always the current diet fad. One of the biggest challenges when planning events is how to meet everyone’s needs and do so within a reasonable budget. While some hotels have updated their banquet menus to reflect today’s ever changing F/B trends, many others have not, which then forces the planner to design a more custom menu, which usually results in incremental costs. I love to challenge the culinary experts at the various hotels to come up with creative menus that work for all attendees and within a designated budget amount. You can tell a lot about the hotel banquet team by how they respond to such requests. It’s so frustrating when you ask for suggestions and all you receive back from them are the standard menu items. When the team is truly passionate about what they do, the options they present can be incredible. I had a group in Mexico and there were a number of people who had indicated they were gluten free. We spoke with the chef ahead of time and all of the menus he created for the conference were gluten free. The great thing was that the people who were not gluten free didn’t even notice a difference in the selection of items! The key is to ask to have a meeting with the chef during a pre-planning site visit and follow up with a conference call. Great chefs always love a challenge!