At Shaw Centre, we take the true meaning of the word hospitality very seriously. We want every guest to feel welcome, and try to meet every special request with a smile, followed by a yes. This is particularly true when it comes to accommodating dietary requests, when saying no is simply not an option for us. Just as an invitation to dine at someone’s home is an invitation to be cared for and treated like family, so too is the way we welcome people into our home and prepare food for them.
Every day we receive special requests that require our kitchen to be flexible and creative. Today’s dietary requirements include myriad possibilities such as gluten-free, low sodium, lactose-free, sugar-free, nut-free, vegetarian, vegan, kosher, low carb, low fat, paleo, shellfish allergies and so much more. Special dietary requests are now much more common than in the past, probably because we are more health conscious than ever and the media constantly creates hype around new diets or the latest superfood fad.
While some of the special requests we receive are the result of legitimate life-threatening allergies and religious beliefs, in recent years, there has been an explosion of dietary preferences as well. Not knowing whether the request is based on a preference, an allergy or a religious belief, our culinary team takes every request very seriously, responding with both sensitivity and attention to detail.
Delivering meals that are both delicious and satisfy everyone’s dietary needs has become a complex part of our planning process at Shaw Centre. We discuss with each event planner and client how to handle attendees’ allergies, diets, preferences and restrictions. This information is collected on a proactive basis and shared with the kitchen well in advance of each event so there are no last minute surprises, especially with kosher and halal meals, which we cannot prepare in-house.
Another key reason for our proactive approach is that frequently our kitchen is providing meals for multiple simultaneous events at the Centre and if they receive a last minute request they may not be able to prepare a special meal quickly enough for the guest to be served at the same time as everyone else. Being prepared ahead of time means a more positive experience for every guest. Another important aspect of managing dietary preferences is to vary the special menus regularly. Because some guests come to the Centre several times per year, our chef wants to be sure they are not served the same meal each time.
To add to our preparedness, our kitchen team will typically prepare additional special meals above and beyond what has been ordered by the client. Our chef pays attention to industry trends and educates himself about the different diets guests may be following, then prepares a selection of some of the most popular options, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free, salt-free and onion-free, just in case a guest arrives and has not previously submitted a special meal request. We do not charge the client for these ‘just in case’ meals if not served; we prepare them solely to enhance the customer experience and to make sure we are able to quickly accommodate any last minute requests.
To me, one of the hallmarks of great hospitality – and it’s something we practice in every aspect of our operations at Shaw Centre – is ensuring that guests never feel the need to apologize when they make a special request.