“Food allergies affect as many as three to four percent of adults.” Government of Canada, Healthy Canadians.

Food plays a central role in meetings, association conferences and events, and it is extremely important that event planner address food allergies safely and professionally.

The first step to ensure that all allergies, intolerances, or food preferences are addressed is to collect the information from EVERYONE who will be partaking in meals at your event: delegates, exhibitors, sponsors, speakers, entertainers, and staff. Collecting this information can be as easy as adding a section in your registration form: Please indicate if you have any special dietary requirements and describe.

Here are some of the next steps that can be taken to ensure your delegates’ needs are attended to:

Follow up with all attendees who have indicated that they had a special requirement. Send an email to these people, to show that you are well aware of their requirements and that they are being addressed. Let them know that this information will be shared with the venue/catering company who is preparing the food. Although you are planning to do everything you can to accommodate their special requirements, it is important to remind delegates to always inform banquet staff, or whoever is serving them, of their allergies. Mistakes do happen, and in order for this to be avoided (especially in the case of severe allergies), constant reminders to all who are involved are necessary.

Share the conference/event menus with delegates in advance. By sending them the menus, this will help them better prepare. Also, if they have any concerns, these can be discussed in advance of the event.

Label your menus and identify meal items on buffets. Let people know what you are serving. If you are hosting a sit down dinner, set a menu at each table. If you are serving food on a buffet, make sure that every food item is identified. You can also use coding to identify which food items contain which allergens or which items meet specific dietary needs. Here is an example of coding that can be used:

ALLERGENS (contains)
M Milk
TN Tree Nuts
F Fish
SF Shellfish
W Wheat
PO Pork
V Vegan
Veg Vegetarian
GF Gluten-free
LF Low Fat

Communicate with the venue/caterer. Share your list of dietary requirements with the hotel well in advance of the association event, and provide updated lists as the event gets closer. This gives them ample time to prepare. It is important to send a list of requirements with attendee names because this will allow the venue/caterer to cross reference the requests they receive with the list you provided. As an event planner, the more information you can provide the better. Find out from the venue how they want attendees to proceed at the event to ensure that they receive their special meal (should they speak to banquet staff, will they be given a special card at registration, etc.). If you are hosting a sit down meal with assigned seating, let the venue/caterer know exactly where people with requirements will be seated.

In the end, it is the responsibility of the guest to respond to planners’ requests to alert them of their allergy needs and to communicate with on-site staff prior to eating the food that is served. But, if you take all these steps, attendees will appreciate the efforts you have made to accommodate their needs. Click here to read about Creating the Menu for Your Event.