Close your eyes.
Imagine the most elegant event that you’ve ever attended (or planned). The ballroom is opulently decorated with lush fabrics, rich colors and lighting that highlighted what the organizer wanted you to focus on. The background music creates an ambiance of festivity, warmth and excitement.
Now imagine the food. Sumptuous buffets are overflowing with food. Creamy, decadent soups fill the room with a delightful aroma of spices. Fresh-from-the-garden salads are tossed with the creamiest of cheese and toasted nuts. Succulent lamp chops marinated and grilled, are tender, juicy, and flavorful. Rare roast beef sliced paper-thin is served with freshly baked rolls. Salmon poached to perfection sits in a buttery caper sauce. Aged and fresh cheeses that melt on your tongue are served with sweet blue grapes, fresh baked crackers and nuts.
The desserts. Oh, the desserts.
Can you see the room? Gorgeous. Can you taste the foods? Delicious. Can you see it? Can you taste it? The $250 you paid to attend this event was worth every penny.
Now imagine you’re a gluten-free vegetarian with an allergy to milk and nuts.
What will you eat? The buffets are not labeled. Registration did not ask if you had any dietary restrictions. And, the wait staff does not know the ingredients in the food nor how it was prepared.
Attending an event for some is a requirement, others a source of inspiration, others a crucial business opportunity, and others an indulgent affair like the event above. For those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions, attending events like this – or any other type – is a game of chance, a tale of survival.
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We ask ourselves, should we eat all of this delicious food and deal with the repercussions — getting sick immediately, later that night or all next week or dying — or, do we just drink the night away and starve until morning? Why did we pay $250 to attend this event?
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Meeting planners spend an incredible amount of time on food when planning an event: thinking about it, ordering for it, conserving it, and serving it. Event participants with dietary restrictions do the same. But for them, it's a hunger game. Will they be able to eat or will they get sick or die if they do?
Hunger is created. Not by events themselves, but by the old rules of the meeting planning game – order the same meal, everyone will eat it.
Hunger is caused by a lack of understanding of individual needs, limited access to healthy, safe food and those preparing it, technology not being used to inquire about participant needs, discrimination and budgets that will not take risks for providing safe, healthy menu items.
These rules of the game are the outcomes of the way we have always planned events or the lack of empathy for those with needs. The rules are all stacked against our food restricted attendees and the most hungry.
As event professionals, our role is to bring people together. We are committed to providing environments where everyone is treated with the same respect, dignity and courtesy. That same deference should be given feeding participants. Religious and cultural holidays, food allergies, lifestyle preferences and medically necessary diets should all be considered and appreciated.
We can leave our participants hungry. Tell them to stay home. Or, better yet, we can thank them for having chosen to spend their money and time attending our events and feed them.
Find out how to manage those allergies and dietary restrictions at Convening Leaders in Boston. Stuckrath will lead F&B TV: The Dietary Throwdown on Tuesday, January 14. Click here to register.
About the Author:
Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC, founder and chief connecting officer of Thrive! Meetings & Events is an event planner and consultant who is one of just 275 people in the world to hold a designation as a Certified Special Events Professional. She is also one of the 12 million people in the United States suffering from food allergies.