Just a decade or so ago, caterers were adapting to vegan and vegetarian diets as they became more and more popular. Now, as people grow more knowledgeable and concerned with nutrition, other dietary needs are challenging caterers to innovate with ingredients, get crafty with flavors, and experiment with new cuisines.
In our 2016 ICA survey of member caterers, a number of unique dietary needs were reported. This isn't surprising, as 100% of caterers reported that they accommodated one or more dietary need. We reached out to one pioneering catering company and spoke with them about how they rise to the challenge of dietary needs.
Chef-driven, creative cuisine
Chef John Mazetti with The Wild Thyme Company in San Diego said that the company’s approach to accommodating dietary needs is all about customization. "We are a chef-driven company," Mazetti said, "so we are always selling customized menus." They don't have a set menu with dishes for specific needs; instead, Mazetti shared that they try to "stay away from unnecessarily adding common allergens to the food we serve to everyone."
“People with special dietary needs are a highly vocal minority, which means that word-of-mouth is a particularly powerful tool."
Innovate, don't isolate
"People with dietary restrictions are very often treated like pariahs and are extremely grateful when we can avoid singling them out," Mazetti said. "Whenever possible, I prefer to replace a few ingredients and serve everyone the same dish." Only as "a last resort" will his team create a separate dish. This effort ensures that the guest will feel that their dietary need was not only taken seriously, but was also no big deal for a qualified caterer.
Allergies related to gluten are just one of the many that caterers must accommodate.
The power of word-of-mouth
This leads to the next point—people with special dietary needs are a "highly vocal minority," said Mazetti, which means that word-of-mouth is a particularly "powerful tool." Mazetti added, "If you take good care of them, they always remember you and will tell all of their friends.... Remember that word-of-mouth can be a powerful tool to grow your business." By creating flavorful dishes without major allergens, trying to make those with dietary needs feel welcome and normalizing their diet, you'll gain a powerful and loyal ally who will spread word of your good service.
The Wild Thyme Company is a proud member of the ICA. To learn more about the ICA, visit http://internationalcaterers.org/.