How to handle dietary restrictions and food orders with ease
- 3 Min Read
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, there are nearly 15 million people with food allergies in America and over 170 foods that can cause allergic reactions. And as Forbes notes, more than 3.1 million people across the U.S. follow a gluten-free diet alone. The odds are people in your office suffer from some kind of allergy, or at least a dietary restriction. It can be hard to keep track of all that, without going a little crazy. You need creative and efficient methods for ordering food for the team.
To ease your workload for food ordering, there are two things you have to do: precisely track the dietary restrictions for all your employees and identify foods that are restriction-friendly. Here are nine tips to streamline this very process.
1. Keep Track of Food Restrictions
Keeping track of your team’s dietary restrictions may seem like a lot of work, but once you put together a list, it will actually make your life a lot easier when it comes to placing food orders. There a few things to consider when building your list.
2. Gather Employee Information from the Start
Many companies have an entire onboarding packet of forms and surveys for new employees, ranging from home address and cell phone number to t-shirt size, hobbies, and fun-facts. So why not add a section inquiring about dietary restrictions or preferences? Keep this in a master employee list so you don’t have to backtrack during last-minute planning efforts to gather the information. And it shows your newbies that the company cares about ordering the best lunch options. Just remember that individual preferences easily change over time. Send a quick survey to the office attendees each quarter for any updates to keep your list accurate.
3. Distinguish Between Preferences and Dietary Restrictions
There’s a difference between crucial and optional preferences. Yes, you want to make sure everyone gets something good to eat, but accommodating everyone’s latest “diet fad” is overwhelming and too much work. People with serious medical restrictions are very familiar with what they can and can’t eat. Ask them to suggest dishes that are okay for them to eat to eliminate some of the guesswork. It would be nice to offer options for every picky eater, but that should be a lower priority.
4. Maintain a Running List of Caterers
With an ongoing preference tracking sheet, you already have your general list of food restrictions. You can cross-reference this with a list of preferred caterers you’ve already worked with. Add a column to your master list with caterers who best fit each person’s needs. At the start, you should confirm with each caterer that they can support your dietary needs, but as your list grows, it will help narrow down your options when you’re in a pinch
5. Place the Right Food Order
Once you can effectively track your employees’ preferences, you need to place catering orders that fit everyone’s dietary restrictions. It’s not enough to simply order a few extra vegetarian meals. Gluten-free, low-carb, dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian are all categories to consider. But there are ways to make this easier for you.
6. Choose a Customizable Cuisine
One of the best ways to accommodate different preferences is to pick a cuisine that everyone can customize their own needs. Mediterranean cuisine is great because it relies heavily on vegetables and light flavors that are often dairy-free options and vegan. Mexican foods like tacos are crowd-pleasers thanks to the endless variety of toppings and flavors. And Asian dishes are notoriously versatile as well. Of course, a hefty salad bar with individual vegetable, meat, and nut toppings will suit almost everyone and can easily be added to any office order.
7. Go Buffet-style for Larger Events
When an office is brimming with dietary restrictions and preferences, sometimes build-your-own meals work best. Not only that, when you go buffet style, everyone can choose their portion size. This is important if someone has diabetes or otherwise wants to restrict their sugar or carb limits. The size of your event also plays a role in the type of food you serve. Big spreads or sandwich and taco bars serve large meetings best. Plus, it allows for a variety for picky eaters.
8. But Offer Individual Options for Smaller Ones
Boxed lunches work well for smaller meetings. Individual orders support your team members with strict dietary restrictions that may vary from the rest of the group. Of course, no matter the size of your event, if you’re running short on ideas, don’t be afraid to contact the caterer directly. They can always advise on the menu and style for your detailed office order.
9. Set up the Room with Dietary Restrictions in Mind
Lastly, keep in mind the actual setup of the room where you’re serving the food. Set the scene so everyone knows exactly where to get what they need without breaking workflow. Create quick, simple labels that describe the ingredients in each dish prior to the meeting to alert everyone of the dietary differences. Use different platters or tables to hold the vegan and vegetarian dishes or to keep the peanut-free and gluten-free items separate. Your flexibility here will depend on the space, but it will go along way to help people find their own foods.
Chances are, ordering food at work isn’t your only job. You shouldn’t have to spend hours trying to place food orders to accommodate all of the dietary preferences in your office. Following these tips will help you streamline the process. That way everyone can get what they want every time — especially you.
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