For planners and venues, there seems to be an explosion of special diets at meetings and events. Are these special dietary needs medical or personal preference? Either way, it doesn’t matter. As hospitality professionals we need to know how to manage special meal requests, whether these are legitimate allergies or just a specific diet the guest is following. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and Paleolithic – some of these dietary lifestyles are becoming more popularized with promises of weight loss, while others practice it because of a food intolerance. However, special requests aren’t new for hoteliers like the Ritz-Carlton, a hotel brand that has been graciously catering to special requests for years.
How should a venue or planner approach specific dietary requests:
- Educate your staff on the importance of understanding food allergies – To help guests who have dietary restrictions feel assured and comfortable, the hotel and outside event staff must first be educated on food allergies and intolerances. If there are 100 guests at a gala who have requested a gluten-free meal, every guest should be given the same treatment. No guest should be questioned on whether it’s an actual allergy or a preference. Directors should institute proper training and education on preparing meals for guests with food allergies.
- Accommodate, but don’t ostracize – The next step after understanding allergies and accommodating the guests’ requests is to make them feel comfortable. By anticipating that they’ll ask, “Is this gluten-free?” or “Is this diary-free?” your servers can greet the guest with reassurance and eliminate their unease. Train your staff to approach the table and let the guest he or she is receiving the proper entrée that meets their dietary restrictions. However, what should not be done is, “Who had the gluten free dish?” while waiting for the guest to slowly "own up" to their request. Nothing is worse than ostracizing the guest for their special meal; bringing attention to dietary needs always stirs curious questions and they may not feel comfortable talking about it to others..
- Provide guests with the comforts of ‘feeling at home’ – Who made up menu rules? In regards to rules that are minor anyway, they can and should be “broken” or banned. Rules like “Only children under 12 can order off the kids’ menu” or “Substitutions for sides are not allowed” are creating walls between your guests and the venue. If a guest wants to order off the children’s menu because that makes them feel like they’re at home while they’re away, then you should. Trainer and Meetings Focus Forum Moderator, Joan Eisenstodt once gave the example where she ordered a grilled cheese off the children’s menu at a hotel restaurant and added a tomato slice; the server happily took her order and Joan felt great because the server understood she wanted the comforts of home while on business travel, without even questioning whether it was possible.
At The National Conference Center, we host several monthly events that
have a whopping total of 10% vegetarian and 5% gluten-free meals. This
number is increasing; now our Executive Chef, Craig Mason is preparing
vegetarian meals that are gluten-free to accommodate both groups who may
have not indicated their needs in the registration process. The fact is… individual dietary restrictions are a current issue and menu restrictions need to forgotten. Traveling with a dietary restriction can be difficult so cater to your guests’ needs by finding out what special meals are required and making those arrangements well in advance. Read “Traveling with Dietary Restrictions” to learn more tips about how to travel with special dietary needs, in all aspects of the traveling process.
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