I consider myself quite fortunate. None of my kids, my husband, nor I have food allergies. However, two of my nieces have severe food allergies, so taking them to a restaurant can be a daunting trip. One niece is allergic to seafood, while the other is allergic to nuts and require an Epi-Pen if they come in contact with these foods. Their parents are diligent in analyzing the menu to ensure that their children’s food does not contain these items, nor do they come in contact with seafood or nuts in the preparation process.
While parents of kids with allergies are very cautious of how and what they serve at home, taking their allergy prone children to a restaurant can be a nerve-wracking process. In essence, these parents and anyone with a food allergy are placing their trust in your kitchen’s hands.
While many restaurants hesitate and even refuse to serve allergic diners, being a restaurant that can accommodate 4% of the population that suffers from food allergies, will put you ahead of your competition. Here are a few things that your establishment can do to ensure there is no cross-contamination or mistakes in these situations.
- Put a statement like this on your menu: “Please inform your server if a person in your party has an allergy before placing your order.” It’s unlikely that a customer with a shrimp allergy will forget to ask what kind of seafood is in the Seafood Alfredo, but if they do, this friendly note will remind them to ask first.
- Download a Chef Card from FAAN’s Website that servers can hand to customers with an allergy. This card tells a chef exactly what they allergic to and any types of foods that may include the allergen. An added tip is to print the card on a brightly colored paper like Lime Green or Hot Pink so that chefs can immediately recognize them regardless of how busy the kitchen becomes.
- Each shift managers should be trained in food allergy awareness who can inspect a dish while it is being prepared for a customer with food allergies.
- Compile a menu reference book with a complete breakdown of each item on your menu and what it contains. While this may be a bit time consuming, customers as well as your waitstaff will appreciate how easy it is to know what ingredients are being used to prepare each dish.
- Correctly label all ingredients and bins to reduce cross-contamination and other food preparation mistakes.
- Allow chefs and food preparation employees to take their time when preparing an allergy-free meal. If they feel rushed to have the dish prepared just as quickly as more standard dishes, they may accidentally cause cross contamination.
- Encourage your chef to step out of the kitchen and speak with the customer personally to make sure they understand the restrictions.
- Have a “Safe Menu” with several foods that do not contain any of the eight major food allergies. Consider including an appetizer, 2-3 side dishes and entrees and at least one dessert.
- Educate your servers that if a customer is experiencing anaphylaxis reaction they should call 911 immediately. Do not allow them to stand up as this may trigger a more fatal reaction.
- Have an allergy-free bin of food preparation items, such as knives, pans, and cutting boards that are never used to prepare the 8 most common food allergies:
4. Tree Nuts (almonds, cashews, and walnuts)
6. Shellfish (crab, lobster and shrimp)
- Take that a step further and also use separate plates and utensils.
- There’s an app for that! Thanks to the plethora of technological advancements, it’s never been easier to identify ingredients that are not allergy-friendly. Download an app or two to open your eyes and mind to what parents of children with food allergies have to deal with. I love the Bon’App which has an app for Apple and Google Products.
- Be honest with your customers. If you do not think that you can 100% accommodate their food allergy, let them know in a sincere and respectful way.
- Register your restaurant with AllergyEats– the premiere website for customers looking for allergy-friendly restaurants.
Being aware of food allergies and accommodating is not an easy task, but keep in mind that when customers find an allergy-friendly restaurant they are extremely loyal and will spread the word to their network of family and friends who suffer from a food allergy.
For more information on how to make your restaurant an allergy-friendly place to eat, check out the Food Allergy and Anaphalaxis Network’s “Welcoming Guests With Food Allergies Guide.”