Asking attendees for their dietary needs in event registration can help manage F&B costs

Being an event planner with food allergies can be a blessing and a curse.

As a food allergic person, I want to be able to eat safely at events. I’ve come to feel that if I pay to attend an event that includes food, there should be something for me that not only meets my dietary needs, but also tastes good and is worth eating. However, I also don’t want to be a burden or added expense, because feeding me should not be the focus.

As a planner, I understand the intricate details that go into creating and executing an event while ensuring everyone’s needs are met, especially when it comes to planning menus. Sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes, however, it’s heaven when you find that venue, caterer or chef that gets it.

For those with these needs, you may not be aware that there are probably at least 20 steps and/or people between you and the plate that is being served to you at any one meal. Even with that many steps, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

It all starts with asking the right questions upfront. Do you have any dietary needs that we need to help you manage while you’re attending our event and that will make your experience more enjoyable?

Last year, in the process of registering for an event hosted by a local Atlanta organization of which I’m a member, I came upon its “Alternative Meal Options” section. I thought, “Great, they are asking about my dietary needs.” That is until I read the sentence describing the options.

You have no idea how mad I was. I wanted to revoke my membership on the spot. Although I didn’t, I elected not to attend the conference. Instead, I’ve inquired about being on the planning committee, although I’ve not heard from them yet.

Why discriminate against a group of people attending your event just because they need to eat a specific way? Will you give me a discount on the registration fee because you are not feeding me and meals come with the registration? How do you want me to make my own accommodations – call the venue? As a planner, I wouldn’t want to be the one that sends people directly to the chef or catering manager – imagine how many people would be calling individually!

On the flip side is my experience with a more recent convention. I’ve been hearing for years how great the Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) annual Convening Leaders conference is. With state-of-the-art educational formats and networking with thousands of meeting and event industry colleagues, I finally decided to try it out.

And, I have to say; my first experience with the convention—its registration form—was a nice surprise and a good intro to what I hope will be a great experience and live up to what I’ve been hearing.

Why the registration form you ask? They not only asked if attendees have dietary needs, but they directly address the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) needs, dietary restrictions and state they will follow up to discuss specific requirements.

Not only is it professional, it’s personal and detailed.

And just as I was thinking that I had not heard from them (believe me once I saw “PCMA will contact you to discuss specific requirements” I was expecting it), I got a call from PCMA wanting to clarify my needs.

When I provided them with a specially designed card that details my specific dietary needs, I was sent a reply e-mail that addressed me peronsally: We have noted the following on your registration record – Gluten-Free/Allergic to yeast, sugar, vinegar, dairy, buckwheat, pork, mushrooms, cucumbers, soy, molasses, agave, coffee, alcohol. They acknowledge everything I sent them. Love it!

As I continue to develop Thrive! and Event Nutrition, I’m always looking at ways to improve the steps necessary to ensure an attendee’s experience at an event is top-notch, especially when it comes to meeting their dietary needs. PCMA has already set the bar for my expectations and I look forward to seeing the end product!

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