Whether you’re planning a wedding, a corporate dining event or a dining event for friends and family, its never as simple as picking up the phone and making a reservation. Do you know if any of your guests have a food allergy? Do you know if any of your guests are lactose or gluten intolerant? Do you know if any of your guests are vegetarians? Do you know if your guests have religious dietary restrictions?
When your dining event is small and you know who will be attending, the answers to these questions are easily determined. When you’re planning an event for a large group and/or you don’t know who will actually be attending your event, the answers to these questions will be unknown.
So how do you plan an event when your guests needs are unknown? Is the venue where you’re holding your event able to make menu changes on the fly to accommodate the dietary constraints of your guests? If so, then your job is much easier. The same holds true if your venue is a restaurant and they offer the option of letting your guests choose from their a la carte menu, or you’re planning a buffet with many options.
In many cases the venue will provide a coursed menu for your guests. This is especially true if you are planning a mid-sized or large event, or you’re planning a dinner or luncheon for which attendees will be pre-paying for their meal. You want a venue that will allow you to offer multiple options for each course so that all of your diners will find something they can eat.
While you can’t possibly know all the food allergies your guests may have; here are the most common food allergies to consider when designing your event menu:
- nuts from trees (including hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts)
- peanuts (groundnuts)
- shellfish (including shrimps, mussels, and crab)
If there are vegetarian options on the venue’s menu be sure to incorporate them into your event menu. If there aren’t any, ask if the chef can create something special for your event. A vegetarian entree will likely accommodate not only vegetarians, but those who prefer not to eat meat, those who have fish allergies, as well as other dietary restrictions. Then depending on how many other choices you can add to your menu, select dishes that each highlight a different protein – fish, meat, poultry. Here in Boston where shell fish is plentiful on restaurant menus, I usually leave it off an event menu unless I can get a vegetarian entree or a non-shell fish option as well. This takes care of those who are allergic and prefer not to eat meat.
When designing your menu you also want to discuss food allergies with the venue’s event planner. While you may not be selecting items for your menu that contain common allergens, you should talk to the venue event planner about possible cross contamination issues during preparation.