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Tending to Attendees with Food Allergies

How do we help guests with food allergies feel welcome?

By: Natalie Antonov, Michelle Wu
Tags: food allergies, dietary, hospitality

Tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, dairy, egg, shellfish—the list can go on for days. With allergies growing in prevalence, it’s safe to say that event planners need to take extra precautions when it comes to a client’s special requirements.

There are different types of reactions that can occur from allergies, ranging from mild to severe: from rashes, hives, stomach bloating, nausea, to vomiting, diarrhea, throat swelling, and anaphylactic shock. Best to be prepared so your event can run smoothly.

Here are some questions we commonly face from other event planners:


Only one person has an allergy, does the whole menu need to be changed?

Once you identify someone with a food allergy or other special dietary restrictions, it doesn’t mean you have to run to the grocery store and start building nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free sandwiches. Have an in-depth discussion with the venue/caterer about different meal options that you can choose that omits the allergens. Go the extra mile for your clients and request that food labels highlighting key allergens be placed with the dishes served. Your client will greatly appreciate it.


What are common allergies that I may encounter with my clients?

Nut

The most common allergy and can be the most severe. Even if only one person in the party is allergic to nuts, it may be best to completely omit those options from the snack list. There has been a case where I’ve grabbed a chocolate malt (or what I thought was one) and started chewing on it, only to realize there was a little hazelnut lurking inside… with no labels near the bowl informing guests of the ingredients. Making the menu nut-free will protect the venue, the client, and you.

Dairy

Lactose intolerance and a dairy allergy sound similar; however, how they affect your body is completely different. When you’re lactose intolerant, your digestive system doesn’t produce lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose). This undigested lactose moves to your colon, causing the upset tummy. A dairy allergy on the other hand, is more serious. It is quite common in children but can occur in adults.

Some symptoms that occur with a dairy allergy are:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing (wheezing)

Gluten Sensitivity

This is commonly known as celiac disease. When a client is sensitive to gluten they need to avoid products with wheat as well. Gluten can be found in products such as bread and pasta, but hide in other ingredients as well. Statistics say 1 in 100 people are gluten intolerant, and thankfully catering companies are familiar with arranging a menu that excludes this ingredient.

Wheat

Common wheat allergy triggering foods include bread, pasta, cereals, and couscous. Some symptoms that may occur after ingesting wheat can range from mild reactions, hives or throat irritation, to more severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis.

For an extensive list of foods that have wheat hidden in its ingredients, visit the Food Allergy Research & Education website for more information.


What are other precautions I should take as an event planner?

  1. Inform the catering staff, or event staff that are working directly with F&B of the specific allergy so that meals can be prepared in advance. If possible, avoid informing the staff of the allergy requests the day of or night before so they have time to accommodate the menu changes.

  2. Double check with the staff to confirm all food allergens and possible cross-contamination in the food selections.

  3. Offer a variety of simple allergy free meal options so that guests can choose from a wide variety—a hungry guest is never a happy guest!

  4. Label, label, label. Go the extra mile to make sure food labels have (at the very least) the common allergies listed underneath.


Sources

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team

EpiPen

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