By Schnäggli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Planning for Special Meal Requests

Recently, I attended a networking luncheon where special meal requests were submitted to the show management in advance. When I registered, there was a question about food allergies. I answered that question with my list of allergies. There was no further communication leading up to the event. Upon arrival to the luncheon, there were menu options, one of which was gluten free. The waitress took our orders.


Can you guess what happened next? Right, the gluten free menu preference was a favorite option of most participants. Since the culinary staff did not plan for the additional requests for the gluten free menu option, there were problems. Shortly after taking our orders, the waitress returns to our table. She advises that there were no more gluten free meals. Therefore, I spoke to a manager to see what he can help. He returned and advised that the Chef was preparing additional gluten free meals. The wait would be a short wait. In addition, he offered his apologies for their mistake.

Remedy Mistakes

Three mistakes that were made here that are easily remedied:

  • First of all, printed menus gave attendees menu options and the culinary staff was unable to accommodate the volume of options selected.
  • In addition, there was no communications between the show staff and the attendee acknowledging the special meal request.
  • Finally, there was no way for the wait staff to know which attendees made a special meal request in advance.

Steps to Avoid Mistakes

Try these four steps in your planning with the culinary staff:

  • Give the culinary staff ample time to accommodate special meal requests. The Chef can tell you what deadlines he faces and how you can help to meet those deadlines.
  • Make note on your calendar a date to review the special meal requests. You can then make contact with the Catering Manager to review.
  • The Catering Manager needs to confirm that they can accommodate each request. In addition, the CM can advise if there are any specific instructions for the attendee.
  • NOTE: There are catering managers who will take it upon themselves to contact the attendees personally. The CM will discuss the attendees requests and assure him/her that the culinary staff will plan accordingly.

Help Your Attendees When Planning for Special Meal Requests

Six simple steps that you can implement for your attendees:

  • First, include questions in your registration about food allergies or special meal requests. The attendee can list medical directives in the event of an allergic reaction onsite. In addition, the attendee can list who to contact in the event of an emergency.
  • Touch base with each attendee who submits a special request. You can confirm what has been planned on their behalf. You will not leave them guessing and assuming that their request was heard.
  • Share any instructions with the attendee that they should follow onsite.
  • When the attendee checks in, acknowledge the special meal request and see if the attendee has any questions. Otherwise, confirm directions right away.
  • Depending on the severity of the allergy, you may want to introduce the attendee to the catering personnel. With the advance planning, the catering personnel will be familiar with the attendee and easily confirm the arrangements made on their behalf.
  • Finally, during each function, make it the responsibility of a show staff person to touch base with the attendee and confirm that all is well. If a problem exists, it is easier to remedy at that time. In addition, to not have to deal with the backlash after the event is even better.

In conclusion, if you think that this discussion just adds to your “TO DO” list, it does not. It is not difficult when all participants communicate. The winning combination: you, the culinary staff and the attendee.

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