Event & Meeting Professionals: Accommodating People with Food Allergies

Food allergy planning for events

Case Study… Think About It!

Imagine this: You are planning an evening gala at a hotel. You selected a location that has an impeccable reputation for service and accommodating people’s every need. You took extra care in your selection because you needed to accommodate 10 attendees with special dietary needs – several of them were high profile clients. The chef at this hotel was world renowned and was readily available to discuss and plan for service. Prior to the event you met with the chef to explain the menu and address the concerns of several key meals. It was explained that one of the guests was
highly allergic to egg and dairy. The chef said he would personally oversee the egg- and dairy-free meal. As stated, the chef personally cooked and delivered the egg- and dairy-free meal. The chef assured the guest that the meal was allergy free and had met her egg- and dairy-free requirements. The guest thanked the chef profusely and never doubted for a second that there would be a problem with it.

The guest took several bites of the meal and started to have an allergic reaction. Within minutes the guest was experiencing anaphylactic shock – her throat was closing and she was having difficulty breathing. Fortunately, someone knew about her allergies and Epi-pen and was able to obtain it and administer a shot. Unfortunately, she had left her Epi-pen in her coat at the coat check, which wasted valuable time nearly resulting in her death. The woman survived, but was taken to an area hospital for further treatment and observation. The quick action of a friend and the organized effort by staff to call EMS prevented a tragic incident from occurring. It was later determined that the chef had used a utensil that had trace elements of egg from another dish.Some things to consider:

  • Did the chef commit to something he did not fully understand? What should the chef have done differently?
  • Are most chefs and cooks fully aware of the sensitivities allergic people have to food? What can be done to change this?
  • How do you prevent this from happening? What type of questions should you ask?
  • What kind of policies and procedures should have been in place to accommodate guests with food allergy concerns?
  • Should you train staff to respond to allergic reactions? How do you train them?
  • Can you deny a person service based on food allergies? Why or why not?
  • What should the allergic person have done differently?
  • Did the chef open himself and the location up to liability as a result of his actions? Why or why not?
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Brian D. Avery has over twenty five years of experience in the events, tourism and attractions industry. His background is comprised of three areas of expertise: risk and safety management, event design and execution, and education. Brian routinely is asked to speak on the topic of event and attraction safety and provide expert testimony.
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