Catering to Special Diets: A Q&A for Meeting Planners
From gluten-free to keto, today’s meeting planners have to accommodate a growing number of attendees with restricted diets. Sarah Just, Director of Sales at Turning Stone Resort Casino, offers her tips for creating meals everyone can enjoy.
As many as 32 million Americans today have food allergies and more than one in three report they follow a special diet or eating pattern. And as the ranks of restricted eaters continue to rise, meeting planners face a growing challenge: how to address their attendees’ individual dietary needs while planning meals that appeal to everyone. For answers, we turned to Sarah Just, director of sales at Turning Stone Resort Casino.
Q. How early in the planning process should meeting planners reach out to attendees for any dietary needs/restrictions?
A. The earlier the better. This will allow the chef to craft the best possible menu, whether it be for an evening reception or a quick station lunch. My tip: Include a questionnaire about dietary needs as a mandatory part of registering for your event. To ensure a quality response, have registrants check boxes—gluten-free, dairy-free, keto, vegan, nut-free, etc.—rather than provide open-ended answers. It can be hard to keep up with current diet trends, so ask the catering services manager what special requests they have been fielding recently and make sure to include those in your questionnaire.
Q. What questions should meeting planners ask the catering team to ensure they can meet a group’s dietary needs?
A. Find out who is in charge of your food. Feel free to ask about the chef, his or her background and culinary style. Are items made from scratch? What journey has your food taken to get to the plate? Chefs who can tell you what the ingredients are and their origin will have an easier time accommodating special diets. At Turning Stone, our banquet chef is involved at every step, from sourcing to presentation of the final plate.
Q. Is it possible to accommodate guests with various food restrictions without having to create separate menus?
A. Absolutely! Especially if you’re hosting a meeting or conference with attendance in the hundreds or thousands, it makes sense to create one menu that accommodates common food restrictions right off the bat. Turning Stone banquet menus can all be easily adjusted to be gluten-free, dairy-free and more. That said, we recently hosted a group that chose to provide a separate buffet for its guests with dietary restrictions and the response was very positive. Rather than feel singled out, the guests on special diets appreciated the extra consideration given to their needs.
Q. Are buffets the easiest option for groups with special dietary needs?
A. Buffets are an excellent choice for groups with food-restrictive guests. Include at least one or two main items that are safe for their consumption or consider making the whole buffet diet-friendly. Small bites and staffed food stations are another great way to go—they encourage guests to mingle and give them something to talk about.
Whether you choose buffet-style or a plated meal, confirm with the catering services manager that all servers, like those at Turning Stone, are well-trained and can review with guests the major allergens and ingredients in all foods being served.
Q. How can groups make it easy for guests with food restrictions to navigate their choices?
A. Labeling all food items on buffet tent cards or on printed menus will help your attendees see at a glance which foods are safe for them and which they should avoid. Have your catering services manager review the menu with the chef to make sure all food items are accurately labeled with any potential allergens—gluten, dairy, nuts, etc.—before going to print. You can also mark attendees’ name badges with their individual food restrictions so servers can steer them toward safe choices.
At Turning Stone, all buffets and stations are clearly labeled with what each dish contains, putting food-sensitive guests at ease so they can concentrate on the purpose of your event.
Need more ideas? Turning Stone Resort Casino is always ready with smart solutions to your meeting challenges. Email our meeting specialists at GroupSalesSupport@turningstone.com or call 315.361.7910, and be sure to follow us @TURNINGSTONE.
Book a meeting by 6/1/2020, consumed by 4/1/2021 to receive up to a 12% discount*