Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act can feel like a daunting task for meeting planners on a tight budget–and an even greater challenge ever since “eating” was included as a “major life activity” in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

This article highlights relatively easy, inexpensive ways to make your meeting accommodating for attendees with disabilities. I recommend bookmarking it for future events.

Along those lines, I thought I’d share a handful of low- or no-cost ways to accommodate attendees with special dietary needs.

  1. Plan meals well in advance. If you can give the catering kitchen an accurate picture of the number and type of special meals when the group meals are selected, the venue often won’t charge extra.
  2. Emphasize that only people with dietary needs, not preferences, will be accommodated. Of course, this includes people who follow religious (e.g., kosher, halal, etc…) and ethical (e.g., vegetarianism, veganism, etc…) diets, but not people who simply don’t like certain foods.
  3. Require that on-site special requests get approval from event staff. This way, you won’t get a surprise in the bill after entire tables of attendees asked for the kosher meal because they didn’t like what they were served.
  4. Plan one meal that takes into account all dietary needs. I’ve seen creative chefs make a killer gluten-free, top-eight-allergen-free, vegan meal that satisfied everyone’s needs – and taste buds.
  5. Try a well-labeled buffet. Sometimes buffets are more expensive than plated meals, and sometimes they’re less. It can’t hurt to ask. Of course, make sure to label each item with as much detail as possible. At the very least, mention any top-eight allergens, meats, and gluten. Attendees will also appreciate a complete ingredients list for each item (but only if the recipes contain few ingredients).

I’ve heard countless horror stories from meeting planners whose expenses have gone through the roof because of special requests. With some careful forethought and communication, these extra costs can be eliminated – as well as the severe financial risks of ignoring your attendees’ government-protected special needs.