Are you currently dieting? Have any food allergies? Require special preparation for certain foods? Do you need Kosher, Glatt Kosher, or Halal meals? Are you a pescatarian, or perhaps just a picky eater?
If you’ve registered to attend anything recently that includes a group meal function you’ve probably seen a question on the response form asking if you have any dietary concerns. This is because it is now a serious offense to ignore some of these requests. So serious, in fact, that people with specific food allergies are protected by law under the American’s With Disabilities Act, aka the ADA.
What’s that, you’re saying? You thought that ADA stuff only applied to persons with actual physical disabilities?
Wrong, my wheelchair-wheeling friends!
Some food allergies can be lethal, and anytime you use the words ‘lethal’ and ‘food’ in the same sentence, well, let’s just not go there, okay? Anyway, this revelation has affected all kinds of activities in the hospitality industry from airline flights ( how many times have we already heard, “we’ll be serving no peanuts today as we have a passenger on board with a severe peanut allergy”) to menu selection and food preparation. And for those of us on the planning end for meetings and events, it seems there is no end to the dietary restrictions of our attendees.
Case in point. During a recent program I managed for about 275 people, I received over ninety, as 90 (!), responses with special food requests! Granted, many of them fall under the same category such as vegetarian, gluten-free, Celiac, and Kosher. But even I was surprised at the detailed responses received from some in this group. Here’s just a sample:
I eat no fatty foods, only high protein; please avoid mangos – I really don’t like them; also, no pineapples, please; low fiber; high fiber; I only eat shrimp and lobster for my protein; allergic to tree nuts; tomatoes make me ill; no meat, all fish; no seafood; diary free; vegan; Halal; only finned fish; nothing spicy; I don’t like blue cheese; mushrooms are icky; please make sure all potato chips are freshly made.
So, what do we do? For starters, we work very closely with our catering representatives and chefs to make sure everything is clearly labeled with all ingredients. We provide extensive buffets with plenty of variety, being careful not to place the pecan pie next to nut free brownies for fear of cross-contamination. Many times we provide special meal tickets so attendees with the most critical needs can be identified by waiters and correctly served their specially-ordered meals, often delivered with white glove service. Another trick is to leave high-caloric sauces on the side so they are used as options. So yes, there are plenty of things we meeting planners are doing to accommodate special requests. After all, we’re the ones that in effect ‘opened the oven door’ and started asking the question on our registration forms.
And I want to be clear that I am in no way poking fun at people with legitimate food allergies – no way, no how! I have nothing but respect and sympathy for anyone that has to live a life without shrimp cocktail, peanut butter, or cheese dropped on just about anything. In fact, I really appreciate the education I’m currently receiving as it’s making me a better planner, not to mention more appreciative of my own healthy choices.
Oh, and because I like to share, here are a couple of new-to-me special diets that I’m guessing might also be new-to-you:
Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian: eats plant food plus eggs and milk products
Fruitarian: similar to vegan but eats only foods that don’t kill the plant (e.g. apples-yes, carrots-no)