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Waiter serving three plates of food Photo by Minna Rossi / iStock / Getty Images

You First: Tips for Serving Special Meals at Events

With special dishes for special diets in high demand at events, PCMA offers tips for smart service.

Vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free—the list of diet demands from guests can be long. With more than half of all guests at some events requesting meals tailored to a special diet, it’s crucial for caterers and hosts to handle the service of special meals gracefully to make sure all guests feel welcome. PCMA offers tips:

Anyone who has ever ordered a special meal at an event and then waited what felt like hours for it to arrive—while their polite tablemates sat with plates of food getting cold—knows how painfully awkward the whole thing feels. It’s a situation that event organizers can help avoid.

Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, who specializes in teaching the meetings industry to better address dietary needs, suggests that at seated food events, those with special meal requests—whether it’s gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, halal, or kosher—should always be served first rather than last. Then servers can hustle out the rest of the food, which requires less person-by-person precision.

Lynne Wellish, CMP—a speaker, trainer, and consultant for the hospitality industry—offers the same advice. “To have the odd meal out and get it first is less embarrassing,” she said. “It makes you feel less uncomfortable and less noticed.”

The groundwork should start well before everyone sits down to eat … PCMA

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