There has never been a more exciting time to be a foodie. Food festivals are more popular than ever. They give people the opportunity to try the best of local cuisine and sample tasty new flavors. They offer the chance to invite the community to bond over a common love of food. Therefore, it’s important for a food festival to appeal to a wide group of people.
These festivals, no matter the size, usually bring in masses of people looking to eat, drink, and be merry. And many of those people have dietary restrictions. Planning for the crowds is a challenging task, and a lot of care is needed to make the event a success. At Events.com we do love food, but that doesn’t make us food experts. We certainly recommend having an official dietary advisory team as part of food-related events.
It’s more common today than in the past for people to express dietary preferences outside of allergies and intolerances. When event planning for the diversity of dietary needs, consider the following ideas.
Common Dietary Restrictions
It’s important to be aware of common dietary restrictions when organizing a food-based event. By taking the right safety precautions, you are more likely to avoid any situations that could pose a health risk to festival attendees and thus make your event as welcoming as possible.
Vegetarian, Pescatarian, and Vegan
A vegetarian diet can include fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, honey, and refined sugar — which is processed using bone char from cows. Pescatarians add seafood to the list of acceptable foods, but both groups avoid consuming meat and poultry.
Those who follow a vegan diet consume only foods that do not contain animal byproducts. Some may still consume processed foods, while others take a strictly whole foods, plant-based approach.
Because vegetarians and vegans do not consume most animal products, doing so can actually make them sick. We will discuss cross-contamination more in detail later in this post.
People may follow vegetarian or vegan diets for ethical, religious, or health-related reasons. Given this, you should find vendors who create dishes with plant-based protein, which can be found in beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. You will also want to find vendors who offer organic, whole-food-based options for foodies who prefer them.
Lactose Intolerant, Dairy-free, and Egg-free
Lactose is an enzyme, or sugar, in milk that some people cannot easily digest. Lactose intolerance can cause people who consume animal milk and products made from animal milk to have gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Not all dairy products are exactly the same, so people may be able to handle some foods better than others. Fermented dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, contain bacteria from the fermentation process that can make them easier to digest. Hard cheeses and butter are also easier to digest than straight milk for some.
People who are on a dairy-free diet can be allergic to milk rather than intolerant. This means that they could have a severe allergic reaction to products made from milk, casein, or whey, two proteins that are found in cow’s milk. Always take a dairy-free request seriously.
Eggs can also cause a serious allergic reaction. Thankfully, there are plenty of foods that either do not contain eggs or that can be made with an egg substitute. Applesauce is one common replacement in sweet foods.
Lactose intolerance and allergies to dairy and eggs can cause side effects that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. As a safety precaution, make sure to include food options that utilize non-dairy milk and egg substitutes.
Celiac disease is a genetic disorder that can cause damage to the small intestine when gluten enters the body. Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt — which are made into foods like bread, pasta, and pastries. When someone with Celiac disease eats gluten, it causes the immune system to react negatively.
Other people may have gluten sensitivity, meaning they don’t have Celiac disease but still feel bad after eating foods with gluten in them. Symptoms can include abdominal pain and diarrhea. It’s important to note that these symptoms are not due to an immune reaction.
People with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity cannot eat a lot of common foods, so alternatives with gluten-free grains should be provided. Gluten frequently appears in sauces, dressings, and beer, as well as products like oats and potato chips, which are often processed in the same factories as wheat.
The keto diet is popular right now. It involves the consumption of high-fat, low-carb meals. Most people who follow a keto diet do so to lose weight and burn fat. They avoid all carbs, including fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, and beans.
If you want to keep the keto crowd in mind when planning your event, make sure there are food choices that include proteins, dairy, healthy fats, and non-starchy veggies.
Festival-goers can belong to any religion and follow certain religious dietary restrictions. The faithful might avoid food groups like meat, dairy, shellfish, bread, caffeine, and/or alcohol. Be sure to keep these preferences in mind to ensure that good food is readily available for all.
Soft Food Diet
People might follow a soft food diet because of disabilities or certain health conditions that make chewing and swallowing difficult. At a festival, all food lovers want to feel included. Try to incorporate vendors who have soups, smoothies, ice cream, and other dishes that are easy to swallow. Also, ask vendors to keep straws on hand for easy consumption of these foods.
Other Common Food Allergies
Other food allergies or intolerances to be mindful of include tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy, whitefish, eggs, caffeine, fructose, and FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are short chain carbohydrates), which include dried fruits and wheat and rye bread.
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Communicating with Vendors and Attendees At a Food Festival
Attention to detail is important when planning a food festival. This includes clear communication with anyone who will be preparing and serving food during the event.
Ask vendors if they have gone through food handler training. Many states have laws that require this. If your state does not, you might insist upon the certification for all food festival staff. The training covers proper hygiene and preventing food-borne illnesses and cross-contamination.
There are three different kinds of food cross-contamination — food-to-food, equipment-to-food, and people-to-food. It can happen in so many situations, such as:
- Transfer of bacteria from raw meat and seafood to cooked foods
- Transfer of allergens onto foods that are supposed to be allergen-free
- Transfer of meat particles and juices onto plant-based foods
Ultimately, event attendees with dietary restrictions can enjoy peace of mind knowing that vendors handled all food items correctly.
Communicating Ingredients with the Public
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology uses the term captive audience for situations in which people do not control the menu, such as at social events and festivals. It becomes especially challenging for those with specific dietary needs because they can be stuck with limited food choices. You want to prevent attendees from leaving your festival early because they are hungry for something they can actually eat.
Vendors or food handlers at your festival should be prepared to answer questions about what’s in their food and whether it follows specific dietary guidelines. Consider requiring all booths to clearly display ingredients that can cause dietary issues or allergic reactions. Post a list of vendors on the event website and social media. Include links so prospective festival-goers can research the menus and ask questions of the vendors in advance.
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Food Festival: Know Your Crowd
During the planning stage, it’s important to think about your target audience. If you know you’re catering to the masses, collaborate with a variety of vendors who can provide food items that consider all diets.
Remember to include these demographics in your agenda:
- Economic factors (income)
- Geographical base
- Stage of life (married, family, etc.)
Are you attracting families? Hard-core foodies? People on a budget? Once you’ve decided, be sure to use Events.com as your event management guide. As part of the Events.com event management system, attendees can seamlessly answer various questions when registering such as: “Do you have any food restrictions?” They can either choose “None” or select one of the other following options (see example):
The dashboard on Events.com then allows the organizer to quickly and easily view how many people have chosen each option and thus plan accordingly. Here is an example of a dashboard that shows the number of each type of food item that was sold at one particular event:
Take advantage of our digital campaigns to spread the word and publish your event’s pages to easily monitor progress. Let Events.com help you turn your festival into a well-organized success.
Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash
Food Festival: Be Prepared
Diversity in food and menu options or alternatives to traditional products can be more expensive than the traditional counterparts. For example, a gluten-free beer costs more than a bottle of your average draft. Keep this in mind as you plan for your food festival to avoid going over your budget. You ultimately
do want to make a profit on the event so that you can host others.
Make sure staff and volunteers are trained to recognize signs of allergic reactions and anaphylaxis shock. They should also have first-aid training and be able to get in touch with emergency responders on-site if someone has a bad reaction to a menu item.
You want to make guests feel comfortable and have a great time. An exceptional experience leads to better reviews and ensures that attendees return year after year. Dietary preferences can be very personal and should always be respected if possible. Having vendors who cater to different diets creates a welcoming environment for all types of foodies. The support team at Events.com can offer you valuable tips and resources to help you ensure that you communicate effectively with vendors when planning a food festival and thus give your attendees the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.