Accommodating members and guests with special dietary needs comes down to open communication between both sides of the house.
The rapidly expanding—and sometimes exhausting—number of dietary requests made by members and guests during banquets and events is not likely to slow down any time soon. So what do club chefs say is the most important ingredient for dealing safely—and gracefully—with exceptions?
“Good communication is a must,” says Brandon McCarthy, Executive Chef of Tippecanoe Lake Country Club (TLCC) in Leesburg, Ind. “Without clear communication, you can set yourself up for some serious failures.”
TLCC does about $1 million in annual F&B, with a 70/30 split between a la carte and banquet. McCarthy and his team start the banquet process with pre-written menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, both plated and buffet-style. The club also has a dedicated golf outing menu.
Based on initial interactions, McCarthy is usually able to gather enough information from members to cater to any special dietary needs.
“I like to speak directly with the member or guest to get the exact information I need,” he says.
Most often, modifiers are based around allergies such as gluten, soy, fish or nut. Vegetarian requests are also fairly customary. McCarthy handles these requests by offering straightforward presentations—for example, gluten is never part of something like a scallop dish where you normally wouldn’t find it.
“I find it is also smart to have some menu items that can be served meatless and still be a complete and fulfilling dish,” says McCarthy. “We offer a butternut squash ravioli topped with pork belly, which can easily be made into a vegetarian item.”
No matter the modifier, TLCC’s goal is to satisfy every member and guest at the table.
“Adapt and do the best that you can with what you have,” McCarthy advises. “It’s also extremely important to know when to say ‘no.’ Refusing a request is a better option than sending someone to the hospital.”
TLCC is also careful to make sure its front-of-house staff treats members’ special dietary needs respectfully.
“It’s important to us that the same care and consideration is taken when we’re serving a member or guest with a special dietary need as for others [who don’t have them],” McCarthy says. “Every person who dines with us deserves a meal that’s satisfying and fulfilling. As long as we are aware of their needs, we will always find a way to accommodate them.”