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When you think about catering in the workplace, there are all sorts of things that you will need to take into consideration. Not only do you now need to think about creating great tasting food, working within set budgets and adhering to all of the vital hygiene standards, but you also need to take into account an increasing number of dietary restrictions.

More and more people have restrictions on what they can eat, whether it is because of lifestyle choices or due to allergies and intolerances. This means that all caterers need to factor this into the food that they create in order to ensure everyone is kept safe and healthy and do not feel as though they are an afterthought.

Dietary restrictions

In the past, you might have met the odd person with an allergy to nuts or shellfish, but we are now more aware of allergies and intolerances that can be the cause of health problems. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 30 people in every 100 have some sort of food intolerance or allergy.

In addition to this, there are a number of people who make choices about their lifestyle that can restrict their diets. For example, the latest statistics suggest that there are around 3.4 million vegetarians and 1.4 million vegans in the UK, meaning that approximately 14% of adults in the UK are following a meat free diet in one way or another.

That means that when catering, you have a lot of different requirements to think about in order to put together a menu that is inclusive of everybody.

Vegetarian diets

Anyone with a vegetarian diet abstains from eating meat or fish of any sort. As this tends to be a major source of protein, vegetarian dishes need to find more creative ways to integrate a protein source. This could include tofu, beans, pulses, eggs, dairy and soy to name just a few alternatives.

Vegan diets

Vegan diets should not be confused with vegetarianism, as whilst both avoid eating meat, vegans also avoid any other animal products such as dairy, eggs and honey. It is therefore important to look at alternatives for many of these, such as replacing dairy with nut or soy based milk products.

There are also many specially made vegan alternatives to things such as cheese or bacon that you may want to try.


People can have allergies to a variety of food stuffs from shellfish to nuts and even certain fruits. These can range from giving the sufferer an upset stomach to skin rashes, breathing difficulties and in some cases anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. It is therefore important to be extremely careful if you are catering for anyone who has these allergies.

Not only do you need to create dishes that do not include these ingredients, you also need to make sure that nothing is contaminated by them, so utensils must not have touched them and the foods that you are using must not have come into contact with them.


Food intolerances tend to be less serious than allergies but can still make the sufferer feel unwell.

The most common intolerances can be to gluten which is found in bread, cakes, pasta and noodles and lactose which is found in most dairy products. This means that you need to find dishes that do not use these ingredients or come up with some suitable alternatives to them.


When catering for a workplace communication is key. Try to do as much research as you can to find out whether any of the people you are catering for have any special dietary requirements so that you can plan in advance and come up with something suitable.

Make sure that word is sent out asking about these requirements, and if necessary give a deadline for responses so that you are not left trying to work your way around any last minute requests.

Inclusive mindset

As these special dietary requirements are becoming more commonplace, it is important not to see them as a hindrance or inconvenience.

Try to build your catering options around them so that you are always ahead of any requests and meet most of the requirements that might be put forward quickly and easily. Many dishes that work with these requirements are loved by everybody, whether they have intolerances, allergies or ethical concerns, so you can make them a part of any menu.


Anyone who has a dietary restriction will take it very seriously for obvious reasons, and you should too. It is important that everyone you serve is aware of what they are eating so that they don’t accidentally consume something that they shouldn’t. As this could result in very serious illness, you need to ensure that your food is clearly labelled to make everyone aware of what each dish contains. This allows them to make informed choices and can help to keep everybody safe.

Expect the unexpected

No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who fails to let you know about a special requirement or restriction, so try and make sure that you have a back up plan.

If you are unable to create something new, look at areas where you can give bigger portions to compensate for something that you might have had to remove. It can also help to have a few things in reserve, such as a dairy free sorbet or some cauliflower steaks that you can use as substitutes at the last minute if you need to.

With dietary restrictions on the rise, they should now be seen as the rule and not the exception to it, so try and plan every menu or event with this in mind and the process will soon become a lot easier. Those with restrictions will often find navigating food hard enough, so by showing a little compassion and understanding, you can ensure that everyone has a good time and gets to enjoy a taste sensation of their own.

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Not only are our products of high-quality, but we also ensure we follow strict guidelines to ensure you receive food and drink that meets legal requirements so you can rest assured the produce you’re supplying your workforce is safe – and delicious! Browse our full range of office buffet delivery options and wholesale vending supplies at Workplace Refreshments.