From business luncheons to board meetings, to extravagant meals at holiday parties, a lot of office culture revolves around food. And for good reason. Sharing a meal brings people closer together and fosters a sense of team that you just can’t find while eating a sandwich at your desk during your lunch hour.
But dietary restrictions, food allergies, and even certain religious practices can dictate what you can (and can’t) serve at these functions. Accommodating several different sets of needs is often difficult. If it feels like you’re running in circles trying to cater to everyone, there are some best practices you can follow to make your job a bit easier.
Ask About Food Sensitivities and/or Dietary Restrictions on the Event Invitation
Whether you’re sending invites for a holiday party or conference, or just an invite through Facebook or your office intranet, be sure to ask about food sensitivities or dietary restrictions. This proactive approach not only makes people feel included, it also gives them a voice.
If your guest list remains similar for each event, it may be advantageous for you to keep a database of people’s allergies, sensitivities, or restrictions for future use. Then, if you’re planning something last minute, such as ordering dinner for the office during an unexpected late-night work session, you’ll have the information you need at your fingertips. As you try different cuisines, also note which sensitivities they cater to. Cross-reference your lists to find the right food that will satisfy everyone.
Provide the Menu Ahead of Time if Possible
People with food sensitivities understand how important it is to avoid certain foods. So they’re generally hyper-vigilant about dishes and ingredients. If possible, provide the menu in advance. This gives everyone the chance to proactively ask for accommodations or make other arrangements, like eating before the event or bringing their own meal.
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When half your office doesn’t eat gluten and the other half doesn’t eat meat, it can be frustrating to plan events that center around food. Don’t allow this frustration to turn into negativity. Grumbling, gossiping, or venting about how hard it is to cater to everyone won’t change anything. And if the wrong person overhears you, they may feel offended.
People with allergies or dietary restrictions already know it’s a pain. They live with it daily. So negative comments about how hard it is to accommodate only serve to make people feel worse about something they can’t control.
Communicate with Your Caterers
When planning a catered event (even if it’s just a sandwich platter from a local deli), it’s important that your caterers have access to your information. If someone has a severe shellfish allergy, for instance, they need to know this. Even if shellfish isn’t on the menu, there’s potential for cross-contamination somewhere in the preparation.
Ask your caterer to clearly label all foods and identify potential allergens. It’s often difficult to tell just by looking at a food what it may contain. Labels allow people to see for themselves rather than having to be the one constantly asking, “does this contain gluten or soy or eggs?”
Food sensitivities, allergies, and dietary restrictions aren’t a fad. For some, it’s a mild inconvenience. For others, it can be a matter of life and death, as the Mayo Clinic notes. While you won’t always be able to accommodate everyone, trying your best is important. You want people to feel well, both during and after your event. A fantastic luncheon isn’t worth it if several of your attendees get sick. And you need people alert and engaged during the business portion of your event. Not only that, people like to feel included. Catering to their dietary restrictions allows them to feel like an important, respected member of the team.
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