As event professionals we are all used to working with clients with dietary requirements as it is now becoming more and more common. Lida De Souza from De Souza Associates is sharing her experience of dealing with unusual dietary requirements.

Why is it important to cater for dietary requirements?
Food sensitivities are on the rise all over the world, with no signs of stabilisation. It all comes down to how someone’s body reacts to the food.
Event organisers need to be familiar with dietary needs and can make adjustments to suit those guests. After all, food plays a central role in meetings, association conferences and events, and it is extremely important that the event planner addresses dietary requirements safely and professionally.
Food is often a critical component (& well remembered!) when it comes to planning corporate events and can often be the biggest challenge.
It is very important that delegates don’t feel alienated or feel like they are missing out because they have a dietary requirement. As well as being very common, certain ones can be potentially dangerous.
Make yourself aware of your clients Dietary requirements.
Dietary concerns should be discussed in advance of the event. The best time to collect any meal specific information is when the delegate registers for the event to allow time for it to be catered for.
It is also a responsibility of the guest to advise event organisers requests to alert them of their dietary needs. It is also advisable to communicate and highlight with the on-site staff.

But what are food allergies?
An allergy is a reaction the body has after eating a specific food. Reactions depend on the severity of the allergy and the amount of the food consumed. You have to be incredibly careful when dealing with food allergies as those with severe allergies can have a life-threatening reaction to a tiny amount of the food.
The top 14 allergens are:- Celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish , lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites.

And what are dietary restrictions?
A dietary restriction limits what a person can eat. While some are spurred by allergies, others are based on social and cultural choices, lifestyle changes, and health crazes.
The most common dietary requirements are:- Vegetarian, Gluten free, Vegan, Nut free, Lactose free, Paleo as well as Kosher and other Religious and cultural needs.

At any event, especially if there is a buffet, it is important to ensure that all the dishes are clearly labelled so the delegates can easily choose their dishes according to their requirements.
Our advice would be to share your list of dietary requirements with the venue well in advance of the event, and provide updated lists as the event gets closer. This gives them ample time to prepare. As an event planner, the more information you can provide the better.
Inevitably there is always the one delegate who has previously failed to advise you of a dietary requirement but hopefully with careful menu planning they will be catered for!

Why not ask guests with dietary requirements to provide feedback on how well they felt catered for. This can assist an event organiser in the future for menus to be more inclusive and appealing to guests with dietary needs.

Guests with dietary needs who feel listened to and well catered for are far more likely to provide positive feedback and tell others!