Throwing a Food Festival that’s Inclusive to Dietary Needs

There has never been a more exciting time to be a foodie. Food festivals are more popular than ever since they give people the opportunity to try the best of the local cuisine in their area or to sample tasty new flavors that they’ve never experienced before. 

These festivals, no matter if they are on a small or grand scale, usually bring in masses of people looking to eat, drink, and be merry. Because of this, lots of careful planning goes into making the event a success.

One thing that needs to be considered carefully is the diversity of dietary needs or restrictions. It’s more common today than in the past for people to have dietary needs outside of allergies and intolerances. Here are some things to consider when organizing your next food-focused event.

Common Dietary Restrictions

Whether people follow certain diets for religious, health, or ethical reasons, it’s important to be aware of common dietary restrictions when you create an event based on food. Taking the right safety precautions when planning can help to avoid any situations that could pose a health risk to patrons later on.

Vegetarian and Vegan

Those who follow a vegetarian diet avoid foods that contain meat, poultry, and fish. Many still eat other foods that come from animal products, including honey, dairy, and eggs.

Vegans, on the other hand, avoid eating any animal products and eat only plant-based foods. People may follow vegetarian or vegan diets for a number of reasons, whether ethical or health-related.

Knowing this, you should find vendors that have veggie-friendly options, including some dishes with plant-based protein. Good options include foods that have beans, nuts, or seeds, and of course fruits and vegetables.

Lactose Intolerant and Dairy-Free

Lactose is an enzyme, or sugar, in milk that some people cannot digest properly. Lactose intolerance can cause people who consume cow’s milk or some dairy products to have gas, bloating, or even diarrhea.

Not all dairy products are the same, so people may be able to handle some foods better than others. Fermented dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, might be easier to digest due to the bacteria that ferment them. Hard cheeses and butter are also easier to digest than straight milk.

People who are on a dairy-free diet may follow it due to an allergy to milk, not just an intolerance. This means that they could have an allergic reaction to casein or whey, two proteins that are found in cow’s milk.

Lactose intolerance or dairy allergies can cause uncomfortable side effects. As a safety precaution, it’s important to have options that don’t have any milk in them or instead contain milk substitutes made from nuts or seeds.


Photo by Victoria Shes on Unsplash

Celiac disease is a genetic disorder that can cause damage to the small intestine if you eat gluten. Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, rye, and barley, or foods like bread, pasta, and pastries. When someone with Celiac disease eats gluten, it causes the immune system to react.

Other people may have gluten sensitivity, meaning they don’t have Celiac disease but may still not feel well after eating foods with gluten in them. This includes symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea, however, the symptoms are not caused by an immune reaction.

People with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease cannot eat a lot of common foods, so alternatives with gluten-free grains should be provided. Some examples are rice, quinoa, potatoes, and beans.


The keto diet is a popular lifestyle that aims for high-fat, low-carb meals. Most who follow a keto diet do so to lose weight and burn fat. The keto diet is quite restrictive since all carbs are off the table, including fruits, starchy veggies, grains, and beans.

If you want to keep the keto crowd in mind when planning your event, make sure there are options that include proteins, dairy, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables.

Religious Restrictions

Followers of many different global religions may have special religious dietary restrictions. Certain groups have restrictions on food groups like meat, dairy, shellfish, and bread. These festival-goers need to be kept in mind to ensure that there are alternatives readily available for them to chow down on.

Soft Food Diet

People with some disabilities or certain health conditions might follow a soft food diet. This means that chewing and swallowing can be difficult. While at a food festival, all food lovers want to be included, so try to incorporate vendors that have items like soups, smoothies, ice cream, or other dishes that are easy to swallow.

Ask vendors to keep straws on hand for people that request them for this very reason.

Other Common Food Allergies

Other food allergies or intolerances to be mindful of include:

Communication with Staff

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

A lot of careful attention to detail goes into planning a food festival. This includes clear communication with people like vendors and food handlers who will be preparing and serving food during the event.

Choosing a Venue

When deciding where to hold your food festival, you can research venues that already are already familiar with accommodating dietary needs. 

You should also take into consideration if you want an indoor or outdoor event. An outdoor venue might be easier when it comes to cooking since fumes don’t get trapped inside a contained space, eliminating the further risk of allergens or food contamination.

Handling Food

One thing to keep in mind is food handler training. Many states have laws that require workers who come in contact with food to complete a safety training course. Even if it’s not required by your state, having food festival staff complete this certification could be a great idea when it comes to safety precautions.

Not only does this training cover topics like hygiene and preventing food-borne illness, but also how to prevent cross-contamination of foods. There are three different kinds of cross-contamination:

  • Food-to-food
  • Equipment-to-food
  • People-to-food 

The main purpose of avoiding cross-contamination is to avoid dangerous bacteria landing on food, but it’s also important when it comes to allergies or special diets.

For instance, if food equipment like tongs or spatulas are coming into contact with meat, you don’t want those same items to be used to serve up a veggie burger to a vegan or vegetarian.

Being mindful of the way that food is handled and served can help to prevent possible allergens from spreading. Also, it can give those who are on special diets or who have restrictions peace of mind knowing that their food hasn’t touched something that it shouldn’t.

Communicating with the Public

At restaurants, people generally have many options on clearly marked menus when it comes to choosing what to eat. Food festivals usually have less selection, since each stall typically only serves a few of their most popular dishes.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology says that people with food allergies or intolerances are a captive audience when they eat at events and social functions. This means that they don’t have control over the menu as they would at home. Eaters in these situations can’t leave if they don’t find something to their liking as they might if they were in a restaurant.

Vendors or food handlers at your festival should be prepared to answer questions about what’s in the food that they’re serving and if it follows specific dietary guidelines, in case there aren’t signs or menus marked with this information.

Know Who You’re Serving

Photo by Nataniel Susantoputra on Unsplash

During the planning stage, it’s important to think about who your target audience is. If you know that you’re catering to the masses and not a specific target group, it’s that much more important to collaborate with a variety of vendors that can provide an array of different foods that include all diets.

As you plan, think about things like:

  • Age
  • Economic factors
  • Geographical base
  • Stage of life

Are you attracting families? Hard-core foodies? People on a budget? Having a clear vision from the beginning will help you to select the vendors and food that you want at your festival.

Once you’ve decided who’s coming, let help you promote your festival from start to finish. Take advantage of digital campaigns to spread the word, or create your event’s pages to easily track and monitor its progress. You’ve already put in the hard work, so let do the rest.

Offering a plethora of options to food lovers will ensure that your event is a success. You don’t want anyone to have to skip out because the menu and choices are limited or don’t include their dietary needs.

Diversity in food and menu options or alternatives to traditional products may carry additional costs. For example, a gluten-free beer might be a bit more pricy than a bottle of your average draft. Keep this in mind as you budget for your food festival so that you don’t end up going over the figure that you initially had in mind.

Be Prepared

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

Lastly, it never hurts to be too prepared. When it comes to food and safety precautions, make sure that the staff on site is trained to recognize signs of food allergy and anaphylaxis.

Your staff should have some first aid training, or there should be medical professionals on-site if by chance a festival-goer has a bad reaction to something they ate.

Keep in mind that dietary needs can be really personal. Why not ask vendors to make signs or labels with keys to show which dishes contain certain ingredients? Or have some vendors that specialize in certain diets, like vegan or health food?

You want to make guests feel comfortable and have a great time. A great experience can lead to even better reviews for your event, ensuring that foodies keep coming back for more.

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