The good, the bad, and the very, very ugly of hotel conference food

So here’s the thing. You’re the catering manager at a large hotel where many events are held. Someone comes to you requesting a booking for an all day event – morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and cocktail food.  You say “sure we can do that, how many people?” and then you proceed to produce food that a gluten free person, or a vegetarian, cannot eat. Let me give you two specific examples – from two of the best known hotels for conferences.

First up, the Langham Hotel in Auckland. Here’s the menu:

Morning tea – croissants with ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Lunch – salmon and rice risotto, chicken kebabs and rice, lettuce, some roast beef with cream cheese filling, shepherd’s pie, a pasta salad thing and a large selection of open sandwiches, wraps and buns. Desserts – chocolate cake and or a lemon tart.

Afternoon tea – can’t remember, but it wasn’t gluten free!

Cocktail party – a variety of things which looked nice but had flour in them. Only hors d’oeuvre that didn’t have gluten was a shrimp cocktail thing. Sadly, am more allergic to shrimps than gluten!

So full marks for lunch, plenty to eat and a good thing too as I was starving! The rest of the day, absolutely crappy. And no notes against any of the food to say whether it was gluten free, vegetarian, etc.

Next, two days later, Intercontinental Hotel in Wellington. Here’s their menu:

Morning tea – little pies and bagels. There may have been vegetarian bagels, I didn’t look closely!

Lunch – the only things which were gluten free were the potato salad and the hot chips. I ate a small piece of battered fish because just having potato for lunch seemed odd somehow! Dessert -a selecton of cakes and cheesecakes, none gluten free.

Afternoon tea – biscuits. None gluten free.

Cocktail party – OK, I have to say that they excelled here. There was sushi, little rice risotto balls, rare roast beef wrapped around artichokes. There were a couple of gluten filled things, but more without. Special mention should also be made of the fruit bowl they had out in the morning and the fruit platter at lunchtime. Again, nothing labeled.

Now, come on big hotels! You cater for people all the time. You should be making sure that your menus, as a standard item, have gluten free and vegetarian offerings on them! You shouldn’t even need to check this with the conference organizers, you should just do it. And you should label. A simple GF on the food tag would suffice!

And in case you’re thinking that you need to cook “special” food for gluten free people, well think again! The Langham managed very well at lunchtime with standard food. Here are some suggestions for things you could do very easily without having to import a whole lot of gluten free ingredients.


  • Rice paper wraps filled with the same thing you fill the tortilla type wraps with
  • Lettuce or spinach leaf wraps
  • Hash browns or corn and hash browns
  • Mini quiches or frittata
  • Mini baked potatoes
  • Pasta salads using gluten free pasta
  • Salad and cold meat platters
  • Hummus with gluten free crackers or vegetables


  • Muffins
  • Friands
  • Afghans
  • Cheesecake with gluten free biscuit base

How about you try it hotels? Be a bit more considerate and make it easy for conference organizers to make good choices. Don’t just offer us hot chips – they’re not healthy and we get very sick of them!

Given how many gluten free people there are around today (I talked to three others today at the conference!) it’s time hotels and caterers came to the party and provided GOOD gluten free options for us!


One thought on “The good, the bad, and the very, very ugly of hotel conference food

  1. I worry about things like quiches and such – I think we often assume they are GF when they are not. I know my quiche recipe has some flour in it. It really would just be easier if things were labeled. Do restaurants in NZ do this? There are some in the US that do – an upscale Chinese chain called P.F. Chang’s actually has an entire GF menu…

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