How Do You Deal with Food Allergies at Your Restaurant?

By: Jackie Sabol

4 Minute Read

Dec 01, 2017

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Restaurant Food Allergies

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When we think about the people in our society whose duty it is to protect us from harm, the obvious professions that come to mind are most likely firefighters, ER doctors and nurses, and EMTs. They ensure our health and safety, needs that must be met in order to live a happy and peaceful life.

But, have you ever considered that the chefs at your favorite restaurants also make their guests' safety and health their top priority?

As we sit down for dinner in a restaurant with friends, family, or colleagues, we often take for granted how much effort goes into preparing meals that adhere to food safety guidelines, including the accommodation of a myriad of allergies and dietary restrictions that afflict patrons. We also take for granted how important these accommodations are to those who suffer from allergies; because of the diligence of both FOH and BOH staff, we are able to enjoy the pleasure of going out on the town to eat a fantastic work of culinary art, meet loved ones for a quick lunch to catch up, and order that pizza on Friday night after a work week that has left us too exhausted to cook.

Can you imagine how things would change for these folks if restaurants did not make such health accommodations? Going out to eat for those suffering from serious allergies would be risking a trip to the ER, or worse.

In case you’re not convinced on the importance of this issue, here are some facts that might put things into perspective, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education):

  • It is estimated that up to 15 million people suffer from potentially fatal food allergies; one in every 13 children are afflicted.
  • The economic impact of children’s allergies costs us around $25 billion per year. Yes, BILLION.
  • 90% of food reactions are caused by eight foods: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Nearly all restaurants in existence today use at least one or two of these ingredients in their dishes.

Anyone who suffers or knows someone who suffers from a real food allergy understands how quickly things can take a turn for the worst if the proper precautions are not taken during a meal at a restaurant. On top of this, LegalMatch states that if an allergic reaction occurs within your restaurant, you may be held liable for any expenses or injuries that come along as a result.

3 Ways to Accomodate Allergies At Your Restaurant

Accommodating allergies can be complicated, but with some education, creativity, and teamwork, your restaurant can avoid an emergency situation, and the legal repurcussions that could accompany it. Here are a few ways you can minimize problematic allergic reactions, while enhancing your guests’ experience:

1. Require all staff members to become allergen-trained through ServSafe.

This training will ensure everyone on your team is on the same page when it comes to communication, as well as preventing and dealing with emergencies brought on by allergic reactions. If an emergency does arise, the guests nearby are bound to notice. They’ll be able to see whether or not your staff are equipped to handle these types of situations. With the proper training, staff will keep the afflicted guest safe, and you’ll win some return business when those observing see how well the situation was handled.

2. Have allergen-specific menus for all or some of the eight ingredients mentioned above to offer to guests who need accommodation.

Not only do you cut back on time spent running back and forth to the kitchen to ask about how menu items can accommodate a specific allergy, but on the other side of the coin, guests suffering from allergies don't have to become an amateur sleuth to find out which menu items are acceptable. With a menu specifically catered to them, they can know they are free to choose from any items on these menus. We go out to eat to have fun, not to get anxious over meal choices!

3. Communication is key . Train your servers to know which menu items can accommodate allergies, and make sure they are getting the allergy alert to the kitchen.

Some restaurant POS systems, like Toast, offers an “item detail” function, pulling up important details and notes about specific dishes, including allergies they can accommodate. Having something like this available to your servers will allow them to make educated recommendations without spending valuable time running back and forth to the kitchen. (Please note: This is not a substitute for letting the kitchen know who has an allergy! Avoiding cross-contamination is as crucial as offering the right menu items.)

How does your restaurant deal with food allergies?

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