As experienced by many well-meaning organizations, DEI efforts don’t always turn out the way we expect them to. In fact, a 2023 report from WebMD uncovered that 72% of respondents want to work for a company that values DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). However, 62% of them believe their company isn’t taking the necessary steps to promote it in the workplace. Organizations that value these efforts need to find practical and actionable ways to bridge that gap.
In our experience, diversity, equity, and inclusion looks more like an equation: Diversity + Equity + Inclusion = Belonging. The end goal of our efforts is to make everyone feel like they belong. For organizations with dining facilities, sharing a collective meal is one of the greatest ways to create and foster a sense of belonging. We like to say, “Everyone has a seat at the table.” In fact, it’s one of our core values.
Today we’d like to share what it means to bring DEI&B efforts to a dining environment, and some actionable ways to implement it within one.
What “Inclusive” Means in Dining
Many are surprised to hear what “inclusivity” means in the context of dining. It isn’t something people commonly think about when sitting down for a meal. Those who enter a dining establishment and see their favorite foods all around—foods they can safely eat—likely feel very included. But when creating a space where everyone has a seat at the table, inclusivity efforts have to go a step further.
Food supports personal identity. If we asked a group of 20 people what “comfort food” means to them, it’s likely we’d receive 20 different answers. Beef stew. Macaroni and cheese. Kimchi. Katsudon. Borscht. The food we grew up with becomes an integral part of who we are, as well as where our families come from or the experiences they had. Building on our histories, food can be directly tied to spiritual ideologies, personal preferences, and health-related necessities.
Offering allergen-conscious foods is one of the most critical ways dining facilities can be inclusive. For individuals with food allergies eating in an uncontrolled environment can feel absolutely nerve-wracking. According to FARE, “More than 90 percent of food allergy clinics in the FARE Clinical Network treat patients and parents who have anxiety related to food allergy.”
If eating a seemingly-simple sandwich could cause a severe medical emergency, it may be easier to avoid the sandwich entirely. But it shouldn’t have to be that way.
By labeling each dish with the allergens it contains and making the chef available to speak with diners about how the food is prepared, diners with food allergies can make informed decisions about the food they eat.
Additionally, at many of our accounts, we have a food area called “The Zone,” which serves food free from the top nine allergens as declared by the FDA. Creative Dining staff are specially trained in preventing cross-contamination so that diners can feel confident when choosing a meal.
Prioritizing Plant-based Meals
There are plenty of reasons diners choose plant-based meals, from personal preference to health and anything in between. Whether diners are vegan, vegetarian, or simply want to try a meatless meal, offering a variety of delicious, healthy options is a great way to be inclusive of diner needs.
We deploy principles from Menus of Change—which integrates nutrition, public health, and environmental health—which emphasizes the idea of “meat on the side” for meals. That means our diners can experience their traditional comfort foods, but also have the option to explore nutrient-dense, plant-forward options. We label vegan and vegetarian menu options to make them easily identifiable.
The intention is not at all to push people away from meat entirely. But we want to offer the same variety to those who don’t eat meat as to those that do. In fact, we’re committed to offering 50% plant-based options by 2025.
Honoring Religious Practices
Nearly all major world religions include dietary restrictions as part of their religious practices, from everyday meals to observances for special holidays and celebrations. Inclusive dining takes dietary restrictions like these into account when planning meals, specific to the diners they’re serving. One of the ways we can respect those special dietary requirements or restrictions is by properly labeling food items—like halal, kosher, or meat-free dishes—and providing plenty of variety in menuing.
Actionable Steps Toward Equity
Even organizations that already prioritize DEI could benefit from taking a second glance at how they could expand their efforts into their dining facility. By taking unique dietary needs into consideration, it’s possible to create a more collaborative culture where everyone feels welcome, heard and respected. It also provides an opportunity for diverse diners to learn more about each other and their differences.
If you’re ready to partner with experts on how to bring your DEI efforts into your dining facility, reach out to us. Jay Sharkey, our corporate culinary trainer, would be happy to work with you to perform a menu audit. He’s eager and ready to review your menuing and offer suggestions that will exceed the needs and expectations of all your diners.