“I’m sorry, I don’t eat x, y, or z.”
These might be dreaded words your staff don’t want to hear, but handling food intolerances, allergies and dietary preferences are an inevitable part of running a hospitality venue. In fact, recent studies and surveys from Roy Morgan and The Medical Journal of Australia show about 12 and 25 per cent of Australians are vegetarian or avoid gluten respectively. Diners are constantly seeking the venues that accommodate their meat-free, gluten free or any other diet.
Knowing a diner’s sensitivity towards bread, cheese, meat or mushrooms can be the difference between a perfect meal and a trip to the hospital. In order to preserve a good reputation, it’s critical that your venue is receptive to different culinary needs.
More than that, managing dietary requirements can be an opportunity to stand out from your competitors. If a large group booking involves two people with celiac disease, three vegans and one person allergic to seafood, they’re likely to book the venue that is capable of satisfying everyone. Catering to their needs may be the deciding factor that brings large bookings through your door, again and again.
Here’s a few tips that might help your venue manage dietary requirements.
- Spell out the (absence of) ingredients: Listing every ingredient on the menu may be impractical. But, clearly stating which dishes are vegan, vegetarian, vegan/vegetarian optional, gluten/dairy/nut/egg free (etc) is easy to do and useful for everyone. Diners will gravitate towards hospitality venues with options in line with their dietary requirements. A clear menu also eliminates the need to ask staff whether a dish includes certain ingredients, therefore saving everyone’s time. Consider updating your menu with keys and symbols: a v next to vegetarian dishes, v* next to vegan dishes, LF next to lactose free dishes and so on – spell out what each symbol means at the bottom of the menu.
- Be clear about substitutes: A dish might involve five ingredients and – because of dietary requirements – a diner may want to remove or change four of them. Substitutes can be unreasonable or unfeasible, so clarity is everything. If your venue chooses not to do them, state that on your website, online booking services, menus and so on. But, if your venue is open to substitutes, make sure your chefs are expertly trained in the art of the swap. A veggie instead of beef burger can be life-affirming or soul-destroying depending on how it’s done, and a bad substitute can be more disappointing than none at all.
- Check again, and have protocols in place: If a diner mentions their allergy or intolerance and – along the way – something goes wrong; the consequences for them, and your venue can be severe. Consider having staff write orders down, and ask every table in advance whether they have any dietary requirements. At back-of-house, cleaning and preparation is critical, as traces of nuts in a nut-free dish could spell disaster. Having step-by-step checklists printed out in visible and relevant areas will help to minimize confusion and prevent mistakes.
- Patience, kindness and respect: Dietary requirements can be a sensitive topic. They can create more work for kitchen staff who have to deviate from the menu, and a frosty response may create tension for the diner. Even with the best of intentions, certain requests might be impossible to fulfil. On top of having a clear menu, top-notch substitutes, a checklist and all other mechanisms, a considerate and kind response to, “I can’t eat dairy” – and a sincere effort to accommodate requests where possible – is everything. It might be the difference between a good/bad experience, and a departing/returning diner.
Managing dietary requirements is about inclusivity, and it can only be beneficial if your venue is suitable for as many people as possible.
Disclaimer: This guide is general in nature and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Before acting on any information, you should consider whether this is right for your business.