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catering for special dietary requirements and restrictions - white tabletop with yellow pepper, knife and fork, red onion, tomatoes and wooden spoon  sprinkled across it

How to Cater for B&B Guest's Dietary Requirements & Restrictions

breakfast running a bed and breakfast specialdiets Jan 25, 2021

As a bed and breakfast owner it’s important to accommodate guests with special dietary needs. These could include dietary requirements and restrictions such as gluten free, dairy free, vegan, nut free, low carb…

There are an increasing number of guests asking for a specific diet to be catered for when they come and stay at a B&B. This may be due to food allergies, which are becoming more common. Or it could be because of personal or religious beliefs, medical reasons to follow a specific diet or pregnancy.

It's an important part of running a bed and breakfast to understand what you might be asked for by guests and to be clear on what the special dietary requirements actually involve.

Note that this blog post is for information only and is not intended to replace the food hygiene training that all individuals handling food in a B&B should undertake. It covers businesses in the UK.

Why is it important to understand and cater for special dietary needs

You are responsible for ensuring the food you provide to guests is safe to eat and of the quality they expect. This means you should be aware of food that will potentially cause problems.

Note that it’s a legal requirement in the UK that B&B owners ( and anyone buying or handling food at the B&B ) are trained in food hygiene before they start serving food to paying guests.

If you’re in England, these guidelines from VisitBritain will help you understand more about your legal requirements

In Northern Ireland, you’ll find advice here https://tourismni.com/startup-advice/

In Wales and Scotland check with your local authority if the legislation varies from that in the England guidelines

Legal requirements aside, being able to adapt your breakfast menu and offering guests with special dietary needs food they will enjoy eating, will likely turn guests into repeat guests and mean that they recommend you to others.

How to find out about your guest’s requirements

Finding out before guests stay if they have any special dietary requirements is very important and will ensure you don’t have any surprises involving 7am emergency trips to the supermarket.

Don’t assume that guests will volunteer the information to you before their stay. They may be used to staying in larger accommodation, which are more likely to have the foods the guest needs always in stock, and assume you do the same.

They may just forget to tell you! I once spent an evening driving round the county looking for goat's milk, as a guest had thought she'd told me she needed it on the online booking form - she hadn't!

This can be a problem with repeat guests, as they may assume you've got records from a previous stay or that you've just remembered about their dietary requirements.

If you’re able to do so, then add the question to your online booking form. If you don’t already do this, then make sure you send a confirmation email asking this question.

I’d suggest you ask guests if they have any special dietary requirements including food allergies or intolerances:

  • If they phone you to book
  • For online bookings, have a special requirements field on your booking form
  • When you email them confirmation, ask the question in the email
  • Have a field on your guest registration form when they arrive
  • Make sure your menu asks them to let you know of any allergies or food intolerances / preferences

This may seem like overkill but it's better to be say than sorry and people's circumstances can change between making their booking and staying with you.

Some guests booked with me making it very clear they were both vegetarian on the booking form. In this situation, I devise a completely vegetarian menu with a few extra specials.

When they delivered the menu to me later that evening, there was a handwritten note asking if we had no sausage, bacon or black pudding. They'd decided between booking and staying that they were going to eat meat again.

Get clarity on what guests need or want to eat on a specific diet

If a guest does tell you they have a specific dietary requirement,  it’s really worthwhile finding out what that means for them. It could save you an awful lot of time, effort and money!

When my first vegan guest booked,  I disappeared into a Pinterest rabbit hole designing an elaborate menu. I realised I was probably overdoing it. So I dropped them an email saying I didn’t want them to go hungry and was there anything they particularly enjoyed for breakfast? And what dairy substitutes would they like me to get in.

He responded with “I only ever eat beans on toast for breakfast. Don’t worry about dairy subs, I drink my coffee black and if you could get some peanut butter in that would be great”

Another vegan guest told me it could be embarrassing when a B&B tries too hard. She said she dreaded being faced with an elaborate vegan breakfast, when all she wanted was tomatoes on toast.

When guests ask for gluten free I always double check whether cross contamination is an issue. With a coeliac diet you need to be really careful to avoid even a small amount of gluten getting into the food.

So you may be making a gluten free cake for them, but is there a risk of flour having got into your caster sugar when you made your last cake? For this reason I always use brand new unopened packs of ingredients when I’m making gluten free. I’m also careful to ensure all the utensils are scrupulously clean.

I always check if they’d like me to get gluten free bread in and which type. Buying both white and brown GF- just in case-makes for an expensive breakfast. Though it does freeze well.

You’ll also need a way of toasting the bread so that it doesn’t get contaminated. I use the toastie bags from Lakeland. Just be sure that you use this exclusively for toasting gluten free bread.

Understanding the need for dietary requirements and restrictions

Food Allergies

Food allergies are when the body’s immune system reacts in an unusual way to a food. There 14 major food allergens and you can find out more about them here on the UK Food standards agency website

Symptoms can include itching and swelling around the  mouth, tongue, lips face, throat etc.

Severe allergic reaction - anaphylaxis can cause breathing difficulties and can be life threatening.

Rachel Jones of A470 Training, recommends that you do the FREE online Food Standards Agency allergen training in addition to the food safety course.

Food Intolerances

Food intolerances tend to come on more slowly than allergies, several hours after eating. They can have unpleasant physical reactions, but they are not life threatening

Coeliac Disease

Coeliac Disease is not an allergy, but an Autoimmune disease causing the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues when you eat foods containing gluten. 

Vegetarian Diet

People following a vegetarian diet do not eat meat, chicken, shellfish and fish or animal by products such as lard. Most vegetarians will eat dairy and eggs

Vegan Diet

People following a vegan diet will only eat plant based foods, no meat, chicken, fish, shellfish or animal by products such as lard. They will also not eat eggs or dairy and products derived from animals such as honey.

Medical requirements 

It may be necessary for people to follow a specific diet because they have a medical condition and/or are taking certain medication.

Religious beliefs

Guests may need to avoid certain foods because of their religion.

Pregnancy

It's recommended that pregnant women avoid certain foods altogether, and others are cooked in a certain way - e.g. they may ask for eggs to be well cooked

For a more detailed read the catering company Nisbets have written this useful blog post.

Do you have to cater to specific diets?

At a basic level, you are responsible for ensuring that the food your customers eat is safe and the quality is what they expect and to comply with all of the food hygiene legislation in your own specific country.

But do you have to go the extra mile to get special food in?

According to my friend Rachel Jones of A470 Training,

“There’s  no legal obligation to provide special diets, just to provide honest and accurate allergen information so guests can make their own informed choice. 

But with food sensitivities on the increase, why wouldn't you? It's not as difficult as it used to be and you risk alienating a large chunk of your market if you don't.

 And people with food sensitivities are very loyal once you've wowed them, they know they're in safe hands and don't need to worry - and you can't put a price on that. You know all this, of course!”

A470 Training specialise in food hygiene, health and safety and licensing qualifications for hospitality businesses, voluntary and community groups, care sector workers, and many other small businesses. You can find more details on their website here

In my experience, guests really do appreciate it if you go that extra mile. Many of my guests with special dietary requirements have gone on to become repeat guests. They are also likely to recommend you to other people with the same requirements.

For more little extras that your guests will love check out this blog post

For example, several of my repeat vegan guests have posted about my bed and breakfast in Vegan Facebook groups, resulting in my bookings.

Getting organised in advance

Make sure you’re organised to cater to specific diets in advance, so that you’re not running around at the last minute when a booking comes in.

If you’ve identified that you need any specific equipment, such as the toastie bags for those who are gluten free, make sure you have these ready.

I wouldn’t recommend buying a lot of special food in “just in case”. But it makes sense to have some emergency stand by products such as vegan sausages & gluten free bread in the freezer, a UHT non dairy milk in the food cupboard. Gluten free flour and baking powder ready for baking.

Devise some menus for specific dietary requirements and put together a list of favourite recipes. I’d recommend Pinterest or Trello for this.

If you use social media, then find accounts that specialise in specific diets and follow them for recipes, advice and tips.

In Summary

  • Make sure you know your legal requirements around serving food to paying guests
  • Take the appropriate training and register as required with your local authority
  • Identify where you need to ask guests what their dietary requirements and how you will clarify, then store that information
  • Identify what extra special equipment or storage facilities you might need
  • Create menus and save recipes
  • Find useful diet specific social media accounts to follow

Find 5 of my favourite vegetarian recipes, easily adapted to be vegan and gluten free, here 

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