5 Keys to Being a Dietary Restriction Rockstar

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By Nicole Becker
Sales & Marketing Manager at Kings Rosemont, IL
As an event planner in any sort of capacity, two very scary, but very important words are “Dietary Restrictions”. No one wants to be responsible for making someone ill, and as a host, you want to accommodate for everyone’s dietary preferences and needs to maximize their experience.  Today, 1 in 32 Americans has a food allergy with even more having strict preferences or life choices that affect the foods they will eat.  Can you really please everyone, though? In the age of vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, keto enthusiasts, dairy intolerance, gluten sensitivity and every allergy under the sun (including the sun), dietary restrictions are here to stay. So how do you make everyone happy and… not hungry?
Here are a few suggestions based on my experience working with hundreds of event hosts who, like you, may have started nervous, but ended their events with happy (and full) guests!
1. Poll your audience
The biggest first step is simple: ask your guests. This gives you the starting block and it’s not at all rude to ask.  In fact, most will think it’s kind of you to attempt to accommodate their restriction or life choice.  If you don’t ask and stick to your assumptions, you’re more than likely to miss out on someone who is experimenting with the latest diet craze or that recently discovered sensitivity that Dr. Oz brought to their attention.  Start and keep an organized list of all requirements. Don’t worry about your guests feeling singled out or different with custom options. I myself have many food and drink allergies and can attest that there is nothing worse than eating something you thought was safe and come to find out later it wasn’t. 
2. Communicate with your venue
Now the big question if you have a laundry list of restrictions and allergies, what do you do with it? Keeping it simple is the easiest way to avoid problems. Talk to your caterer or event planner about whether they are able to accommodate everything and ask for suggestions.  They know their menu best! Be sure to differentiate between allergies and dietary restrictions as these mean two totally different things to them. If there are only a few special restrictions they will usually suggest those people order right off the menu. It’s the safest option, especially in buffet situations.  If you explore their website, some venues use a communication tool such as this form to help prepare in advance.
3. If in doubt, seek outside help
Keep in mind that bringing in your own food for certain, more strict restrictions (such as Kosher diets) is not always out of the question. You just need to ask and make sure the restaurant is okay with this, and what their procedure is to bring in outside food, as each restaurant will have their own policies.  Many restaurants will have experience with the restriction and may even be able to recommend outside solutions (such as a preferred Kosher caterer).
4. Give your guests the control
Another option is putting your guests to work!  A build-your-own salad station where everything is separate is always a great idea. A culinary choose-your-own-adventure is a welcome sight for those with severe allergies or picky preferences.  Pure proteins, vegetables and a starch are safest when it comes to plated options, but always make sure there are substitutions available just in case.
5. Don’t sweat the fancy stuff
This is something your guest must deal with every day of their lives. Trust me they will not be offended if you bring them a plain grilled chicken, steamed vegetables and a plain baked potato.  This is probably a meal they are comfortable and happy with.   Somewhere deep inside they’ll be grateful they won’t be getting sick tonight.  When in doubt, keep it simple!
In the end, these five keys can help take the stress out of event planning around dietary restrictions. Your guests will appreciate the efforts and avoid the constant worry of getting sick if they attend an event. This will allow them to focus on the real objective of the event, having fun!
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