Today I have mostly been thinking about food. This, in itself is nothing new; for those privileged few that have witnessed my brother and I partaking in our famous Christmas sausage eating contest (the record stands at 16) you’ll know that I can handle a light snack. Today I have, however been concentrating not on how to cover up the meat sweats and more on just how the heck you feed everyone you know at the same time, keep them all happy and cater for all dietary requirements, preferences and not to mention allergies.
Now the reason we’re thinking quite so hard about this is that Dom is one of those awkward guests who can’t have anything on the menu. The problem is not solely that her love for cheese ensures it is a staple part of most of our meals, but more that she is a coeliac – she can’t eat anything containing Wheat or Gluten. For those unfamiliar with this particular issue and the implications of a wheat and gluten free diet let me fill you in. Gluten is in…EVERYTHING!!! (Well, at least it feels that way most of the time!) Gluten is apparently a protein compound found in Wheat, Barley and related grains, but being a useful thickener, binder, flavour enhancer and protein supplement it seems to have made its way into virtually every product on the market (save for the odd loaf of “bread” that can be found on those 3 narrow shelves of the supermarket labelled specialist diets. If you’re struggling to find them ask an attendant to guide you to the most expensive part of the shop and you won’t go far wrong).
So, after years of heading out for a nice meal with friends at a fancy restaurant and finding there’s nothing suitable on the often vast menu (although sometimes I think Dom does just use it as an excuse to get the really expensive prime steak!), we are determined that absolutely everyone’s dietary requirements will be covered. We want all of our guests to have equal and free choice in what they eat and ensure that they won’t have to skip courses or just not eat part of their meal (a recent serving at an event which comprised of Melon followed by dry chicken [obviously without sauce] accompanied by stuffed Melon with a Melon and grape dessert being testament to the fact many caterers are less than adventurous when it comes to finding alternatives).
The problem, I’m told, is that there are simply hundreds of different dietary requirements and catering for all of them is impossible. Or is it? Well, to be fair, you probably can’t cover absolutely every possibility – with the best of intentions if a guest like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory who couldn’t possibly consider eating anything other than Pizza on a Saturday turns up you’re probably fighting a losing battle, but there is an awful lot you can do!
Making your meals Gluten free generally isn’t that difficult for a decent chef. With Coeliac disease being a growing problem and many people choosing voluntarily to follow a Gluten Free diet, these days there are substitutes out there that, under skilled hands, can taste just as good as their gluten counterparts. Also bear in mind that the fact that someone has a Wheat & Gluten intolerance doesn’t necessarily mean they are a Coeliac; Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is another common condition and is often accompanied by lactose intolerance, so dairy based foods may not be a great idea!
Offering a Vegetarian option is a no-brainer but make sure it’s given proper thought. Sometimes vegetarians don’t actually like Nut roasts, or may actually be allergic to nuts (two dietary preferences? Greedy, I know!) so make sure there are options. A vegan diet may be more of a specialty but again should not be that difficult to cater for given you’re working with food professionals.
Allergies are another minefield. Different people are allergic to all kinds of foods and this is an area where you genuinely probably can’t predict what’s going to be a problem. However many of the most common allergies centre around nuts and seafood, so avoiding these may be a good idea!
And then there are those that just have certain preferences. Now, of course you can’t just make everyone their own personalised meal (except perhaps in very small weddings) – the logistics of making sure all of your guests are served at basically the same time and at a reasonable cost means you do have to make certain choices on your guests behalf, but there are certain things you can simply steer clear of from the outset. For example, personally, although I do eat meat, I don’t actually tend to enjoy my food when it’s looking me in the eye before I eat it. I appreciate this makes me a hypocrite but frankly I know the food in front of me comes from an animal, having to chop its head off before I eat it does little to add to my enjoyment of the experience as a whole.
Also the fact that someone does eat meat doesn’t necessarily mean that they ONLY eat meat. Allowing your non-vegetarian friends the choice of having the vegetarian dish if they so wish is no bad thing – occasionally the veggie option is just more appealing but is often ruled out and you find yourself served with a dish that may contain meat but sadly contains nothing else that you actually like.
Anyway, the point is to think about all of your guests when planning the meal. No-one likes to feel like the odd one out, and for that person who is sitting at the seat with the little flag on it still waiting to be served their “special” meal while everyone else tucks into theirs is far from enjoyable, particularly when what turns up is an inferior version of everyone else’s. Most caterers effectively want everyone to have exactly the same meal – it makes the logistics easier and they don’t have to buy extra, specialist ingredients, so many will try to cut corners when it comes to other dietary requirements. Make it clear from the outset that you want everyone’s dinner to be treated with the same level of thought and care to ensure everyone gets equal enjoyment from it. If they really care about what they do they’ll go out of their way to help, and in my experience the best ones actually get excited about the challenges of creating tasty specialist dishes!
I know it may be hard to cater for everyone, but going the extra mile to look after all of your guests really does mean a lot to them, and on your wedding day everyone deserves a great time and a slap-up meal! If you’re unsure who you’re catering for then put it on your invites or simply ask! Your guests aren’t going to be offended if you ask them for their preferences and it can only help your caterer to be prepared.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have some Gluten Free Wedding cake to sample…
Today is going to be a good day!