Dear everyone who owns a business and offers options for those who have food allergies.....
Or Dear Marriott Hotel that made what was supposed to be an amazing experience a pretty stressful one!
Last weekend I attended a once in a lifetime event at an Atalanta Marriott Hotel. I booked this even 8 months in advance, took time away from my small business, booked a flight, transportation, and your hotel.
I responded to an RSVP that asked if I had any dietary restrictions, which I do. I have Celiac Disease. Now, I know that Gluten Free is some what of a new "fun" fad for some. But most people don't choose to avoid gluten, that crap is outstanding!
I am extremely sensitive to cross contamination, as a bit of a back story. For me touching a piece of bread and then touching my food to eat is enough to make me extremely ill. Crazy right? So this means I'm super crazy about eating out, I double and triple ask to ensure my food is Gluten Free and safe. It's scary. Now, to get a tad bit more personal than I'd like my allergy won't cause my throat to swell or breathing to become restricted, no immediate death will ensue. However, think to the worst flu you've ever had, the kind where you can't leave the bathroom and want to just sleep in your bed all day. THAT'S how my reaction is and I'd take my throat swelling over explosive bathroom-itis any day.
I arrive at the welcome event in the Hotel's ballroom after traveling for 6 hours with little to eat ready to devour some food! I walk in and guess what....it's a pasta bar. (for those of you that still are slow to this whole thing pasta = wheat = sad me) So I spend a few moments chatting with people and then get to work locating someone who can assist me. I found a matradee and asked if there were any Gluten Free meals as I had responded to the RSVP with a severe allergy to gluten. He says, "no, there is pasta." Oh, ok cool. So I find someone else. The next person is much more helpful and says he will get right on it with the kitchen. Over an hour later I flag someone down carrying a covered dish and they tell me this is for someone else, but there is more coming. I'm seriously ready to eat my hand. Then my food comes and the welcome event is nearing the end as I legit woof it down like a rabid animal. A small roasted chicken thigh with asparagus. Honestly not enough to parch my hunger. As soon as the event was over we treked to the closest steak house we could find which was super amazing when it came to my allergy, even the chef came out and spoke with me. The food was amazing.
The next morning we go down for the welcome. After they had a snack and aside from some nuts there was nothing I could eat. So tea and nuts it was. I tried to look on the bright side, maybe I'd loose weight while I was here! Then Lunch came and there was not one thing I could safely eat. Everything was mixed on a buffet style table and that screams cross contamination. I found one of the event coordinators and spoke with them about the issue. They informed me they had submitted the requirements and that there were 75 people with food allergies. I found two other people with a gluten sensitivity but no one had Celiac like myself. I was ensured the next several meals/snacks I would have food to eat without having to track people down and waste time finding food over enjoying my break and making to to my next classes with enough time to get a decent seat. Not to mention, when I finally did get something to eat I had to eat so fast to make it to my next class I would have to go to my room in between the next class to get tums from the indigestion. Good times so far right....
So in between all of this stress of where I was going to find my next meal...as if I was not accounted for or forgotten about....there was epic awesomeness. So it made me forget some about the stress of finding food. Then the next day came. I woke up sick. Not with a cold.....but sick from eating (hence the indigestion I had I attributed to the stuffing my face as fast as I could). So I spend Day 2 of my classes in and out of my bathroom. Unable to even go to class. I went down for about 20 minutes and had to go back up to my room where I was stuck for almost 2 hours. I missed 2 classes and 30 minutes of my 3rd and decided to go down and find some tea and pray it would help calm my stomach. I didn't eat much the rest of the day and began to feel much better by that night. The worst had been behind me. But there was nothing to eat between events near the hotel on Sunday (Chik-fil-a was close and they are awesome!) So I ordered room service. Woke up the next morning sick again. Same exact thing, I was stuck in my room, I went down for a few and then was running back and forth to the ladies room since we had to turn our keys in. Then at the last snack/lunch there was STILL nothing for me to eat. They brought me a plate of gf bread and at this point being sick all morning I was starving so I tried to pick untouched lunch meat and stalked the cheese tray to grab the first pieces. But who knows what they touched before placing the cheese/meat. Immediately this made me sick. I had to leave my last scheduled class to use the bathroom repeatedly and honestly was so exhausted I couldn't fathom going back to listen to the class so I sat on one of the community couches in a ball. When the last class let out and everyone was headed to the exit speech I went up to get my luggage and headed back down. I must have looked like death because several people stopped me asking if I was ok. I surely felt like it. Then the Event Creator stopped me. She asked if I was ok, and I broke down into tears. I was not. I had been through the ringer all weekend. I felt like my experience was not like others who don't have food issues. I felt like a lot of my brain power went to worrying about what I was going to eat next and if it would make me sick. I felt like a second class citizen. I felt like because they don't understand my disease they don't think it's a big deal. The food at these types of things is supposed to be the second fun part. Eating. I was literally petrified to eat when I did and then mortified I was forgotten when I had nothing. The hotel staff was consulted as I spoke with several manager/supervisors in red coats to ensure I would have something the next time I came down. Nothing ever changed.
The hotel event manager asked how she could make it better. I told her to educate her staff and never allow another person who comes to this have this happen to them. She offered me points for either their hotel or an airline I use. She offered my 500,000 points for JetBlue and to comp all the room service to our room (which was all gluten free).
My experience is tainted. I want to say I loved this event, but I can't. I can tell you I love aspects of it. But overall the hotel dropped the ball. And they are still dropping the ball.
I was told one thing and I have gotten none of it. They didn't comp the room service, charged my friends card when they told us they were refunding it, and now I'm being told that she can only give me 1,500 points. This event cost me several thousand dollars and it also caused me to be sick and miss speakers and demos I will never be able to see again. It caused my immune system to be compromised which allowed me to get sick with a head cold which caused me to reschedule clients and not be able to edit my sessions and do work that needed to be done. This is not just someone complaining that the food wasn't good, or they messed up one day. This has massive wave effects on my health and my business. I'm still so upset about it and I don't know that I will ever stay at a Marriott ever again after being treated so poorly. The event staff did what they could and I don't blame the event itself. It hurts my head and my heart that those of us with food allergies are not taken serious or pushed off to the side. I WANT to be like everyone else, but I am not. It's not by choice that's for damn sure and even if it was I would hope my request would be taken seriously. I hope that with this maybe your company can implement some type of educational training to ensure that no one who stays at your hotels ever feels this way again or gets sick like I did.
No one deserves to be treated like this.