As food allergies and specialized diets become more common, accommodating a group’s widespread needs is an increasingly difficult challenge. How can you satisfy the various food sensitivities and dietary preferences and keep costs to a minimum? Here are 7 tips for staying within your budget while still keeping your guests safe and happy.

1. Be Proactive

It is safe to assume that there will be special dietary needs amongst your group. Don’t wait for your guests to inform you of allergies and preferences, but be proactive in gathering this information. When attendees register for the event, include a section for dietary needs. By collecting this information ahead of time, you can work with your venue to customize menus that best meet the needs of your group.

2. Consider Special Meals

If a guest listed food allergies on the intake form, contact them to ascertain the severity of the allergy. For airborne allergies, be sure not to include the allergen at all in your menu. While a buffet may work for the majority of your group, some guests with more severe allergies may need to have their meal served separately to avoid contamination.

3. Do Your Homework

Regardless of the measures you take to ensure dietary restrictions are accommodated, problems can still arise if your venue has not properly sanitized their space. Make sure to ask venues and caterers regarding their sanitation process, especially if air-borne food allergies are a factor. Did the previous event serve the problem ingredient? How will they sanitize in-between preparing meals that contain ingredients some are allergic to? Be sure to also inquire regarding any ingredients that may have been processed in a contaminated environment.

4. Create Signature Meals

You’ve heard of signature cocktails so why not create signature meals for your event? Work with your venue to build menus around dietary restrictions. If there are certain foods multiple guests cannot have, consider eliminating those foods or offering them on the side. Instead of having your main dish center around dairy or gluten, opt for dishes that are not reliant on these ingredients and are easily customized, such as Mexican, Asian or Mediterranean Cuisine.

5. Use Ingredient Cards

If you are using a buffet format use cards to list all ingredients. If it becomes too clunky to add all the ingredients in the description, include a footnote that indicates if the dish contains dairy, meat, nuts, or gluten. You should also have a full list of ingredients available upon request. This will give your attendees peace of mind and help them navigate the dishes they should pass on.

6. Cut Processed Foods and Common Allergens

Likewise, for seated meals, include a full list of ingredients on your menu. This doesn’t mean menus need to contain an ugly bullet list of ingredients. By keeping ingredients simple and cutting back on processed foods, you can write out elegant descriptions of meals that are still detailed. However, if it becomes too awkward to include every ingredient, add the full ingredient list to the back of the menu.

7. List Nutritional Information

In addition to listing all ingredients, provide your guests with nutritional information. Even attendees who don’t have dietary restrictions will appreciate the opportunity to monitor the food they eat. Let your guests know that this information is available upon request or consider adding it to the back of the menu.

Remember that food speaks volumes to your guests about the quality of your company. No matter how breathtaking your event is, if guests are struggling to find food that meets their needs they will leave feeling dissatisfied. By listening to your guests’ needs, working with your venue, and carefully labeling food, you will not only cut down on costs but also ensure that your guests feel cared for.

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