Shweta Sharma, Experience Designer for The Collective by BCD M&E, shares her views as both an event professional and lifelong vegetarian on what it means to provide food inclusivity at meetings and events.
Being born into a vegetarian family and having spent most of my life in India, I never thought that food would be something I would struggle with. Fast forward to living in the U.S. and attending industry and supplier events all over the world, where I often find myself in a sea of food options yet all I can put on my plate is less than glamorous or bland. And yet I know this doesn’t have to be the case. As a hospitality industry, we owe it to ourselves to change our views and take action to revolutionize our own standards.
What is food inclusivity?
In meetings and events, menu options have long included considerations for dietary restrictions or food allergies. As food becomes more of a star in the show rather than the side act, culinary experiences need to be given the attention they deserve. Food inclusivity when looking at your events' menu is a crucial step in making sure every attendee has the same level of experience.
Why it matters – a business case for food inclusivity.
- Around 40% of event investment is spent on food & beverages, meaning your menu selection and catering services play a huge role in creating a memorable experience for your attendees.
- As an industry that manages, designs and is the foundation of events, we owe it to ourselves and our clients to alter the perspective on culinary options and educate on why having a broad menu is important, highlighting the positive influence it can have on attendees and brand loyalty.
- From a business perspective, a lackluster menu devoid of the necessary food groups can have negative consequences. Poorly chosen menus can result in disgruntled guests, which can lead to a severe plunge in brand loyalty and a reduction in the average ROI.
- Solve for some, extend to all. When you make something inclusive, it does not mean you are catering to 10% of your audience, instead you are creating an option that can be enjoyed by 100% of your attendees. It is this shift in perspective that makes it possible for the entire audience to appreciate what's offered.
- Take sustainability into account. Becoming more sustainable in our practices can go beyond eliminating plastic. Vegetarian and vegan food groups can help reduce carbon emissions, save water, reduce deforestation and pollution of our water sources.
What to think about when it comes to creating menus.
The complete formula for a successful inclusive food menu is: Functional + Inclusive + Desirable. It’s not just about having a vegetarian/vegan option, but also if your vegetarian/vegan attendee is truly getting a remarkable food experience at your event.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to make your F&B more inclusive:
- Prioritize - As a host or planner, you want to ensure everyone at your event feels satisfied and impressed. Avoid creating a menu where the vegetarian option simply subtracts the meat from the main dish, resulting in an unappetizing and underwhelming outcome. Put priority into creating special dishes specifically for vegetarians/vegans that are as delicious and as flavorful as those catering to carnivores.
- Explore diverse cuisines - Food has the power to bring people together. Inclusivity in food means having the opportunity to explore diverse culinary traditions and to appreciate the deep cultural links that food provides. Expand your menu with different cuisines that provide variety and enticing delicacies. Indian cuisine remains one of the world’s most vegetarian-friendly options, Japanese food has many vegan-friendly options, and Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine are amazing choices for those on a gluten-free diet. Explore!
- Choose alternatives – With the growing supply of plant-based alternatives from eggless eggs and meatless meat to dairy-free milk products, there is really no excuse as to why your attendees should be served bland boiled rice and cauliflower. Nowadays any recipe can be easily converted to be vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or even keto.
- Use data – Gaining an understanding of the attendees' demographics can help ensure everyone’s needs are met. Paying attention to individual dietary requirements will make for a smoother event. By taking the time to recognize the preferences of those present, you are providing a much-improved experience.
- Get creative – Inclusive food should be considered a creative challenge. Try to think outside your comfort zone and maybe ask yourself “Could I create a 100% vegetarian event? What would that look like? Can I create a wholesome, delicious experience for attendees with those parameters?" As a lifelong vegetarian, I’m here to assure you that you can!
- Promote sustainability – Incorporating vegan/vegetarian dishes into your menu is an excellent tactic to make your event more eco-friendly. Show your guests the importance of sustainability and involve them in this mission.
Inclusive cuisine is all about embracing a variety of diets and food preferences, making sure that everyone can find something to eat that is tasty and satisfying. Whether it's vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or allergen-free, inclusive food seeks to ensure everyone feels welcome and included. Providing respect and honor to individual attendees, irrespective of dietary needs or preferences, will help you to cultivate a sense of unity at the table.
Originally published Oct 16, 2023 8:27:26 AM
Last updated on Oct 17, 2023 2:15:40 PM