When questions become expectations

I attend a number of conferences every year.  Most conferences have a registration website, group rates at the hosting hotel, sessions to register for and events to attend.  Conferences ask that you pick and choose amongst you sessions and events in advance, so that they can make arrangements to handle the attendance.  In the last year or so, conferences have started asking other questions in order to better serve their attendees.  But the problem is, while they've added the questions to their process, they are not listening or planning sufficiently to deal with the response.  And it tarnishes their brand.

Specifically, many conferences are adding a question about dietary concerns or other allergies. This is seems like a really good idea.  You wouldn't want, as a conference organizer, someone to get violently ill or be unable to participate in an activity because of an allergy.  As a conscientious organizer you ask about attendees concerns as they register.  The problem is that on the whole, organizers tend not to be willing or able to address the wide variety of concerns that they receive.   When an attendee registers to attend an extra course, they expect there to be a spot for them.  When they register for a event, they plan on a spot on the bus. When they indicate an allergy, they should be able to expect that regardless of when or where in the conference that allergy could be encountered, organizers would have arranged for alternatives to be available.  Nine times out of ten, they're not.Take for example my specific circumstance: a gluten free diet.  I have been asked and have answered the question of my diet concerns at 3 separate conferences in the last year.  My experience has varied between absolutely no acknowledgement of my request, to acknowledging the issue at one dinner but ignoring all other meals, to having a list of people with an allergy but somehow never getting my name on that list.  This is akin to registering me for a course and not offering it, me registering for 12 courses and only getting to attend one, or me registering for 12 courses and having to join the 1/2 hour waiting list at the door of every course. This would cause outrage at every level if it were to occur with courses, but seems normal course for the question of allergies.What this comes down to is expectations.  I expect that if you are going to ask me to choose an option or indicate a preference that you have the means and the capacity to meet that request. If I've indicated an allergy and you can't accommodate, let me know so I can adjust my expectation or go out of your way to ensure the process is place to accommodate.  While I whine about conferences, this is true of any enterprise or business.  If you aren't prepared to bend over backwards for your customers to provide an acceptable response to a question you specifically ask, don't ask.  Don't implicitly make a promise that you can't deliver and put yourself in the position of disappointing a customer.  Disappointment will destroy that relationship faster than you will ever believe.