How to Deal with Common Food Allergies in a Restaurant

peanut-allergies-instawaresRunning and maintaining a successful restaurant requires the hard work and determination of an entire staff of talented people.  When an unexpected scenario occurs that interrupts the normal routine of the staff’s workflow, even the greatest restaurants can stumble. Food allergies present challenges for many restaurants, as the needs of certain guests can severely impact the productivity of the entire kitchen. A well-educated staff and a proper plan of action can help to ensure that your restaurant can confidently serve any customer that walks through the door.

 Why Are Food Allergies so Important?
Food allergies affect roughly five percent of the population, totaling over 12 million Americans. While five percent of the population may not seem incredibly significant, it is important to understand that the majority of food allergy sufferers are children under the age of 13. By not accommodating these young customers, your restaurant is potentially losing the business of the parents, grandparents, and siblings of these children.

Food allergies are serious and should not be confused with food intolerance. A particularly severe reaction to food allergies, known as anaphylaxis, can be fatal. Even a trace amount of a particular food item can trigger an allergic reaction, so your staff must be fully educated and trained to prevent cross-contamination. Simply removing the offending food item from the completed dish before serving it is NOT a solution. Between 1996 and 2006, over half of the reported food allergy deaths in the United States were caused by improper food preparation and a lack of awareness in restaurants.

 The Most Common Food Allergies
The eight most common food allergies account for over 90 percent of all food allergy cases. These food allergies are: Dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. Seafood allergies alone affect nearly seven million Americans, while over three million Americans are allergic to peanuts. One in seventeen children under the age of 3 are affected by at least one of these common food allergies

 Creating a Plan of Action
The ability to properly and efficiently accommodate customers with food allergies requires the education of your staff, a designated leader, possible alternatives, and information that can be easily accessed.

Education – Your entire staff should be aware of the importance of food allergies. The ingredients of every dish should be known by the kitchen staff, and the wait staff should know how to relay food allergy information from the customer to the designated leader.

Designated Leader –
A fully-informed member of management or an exceptionally experienced server should be appointed as the designated food allergy leader. This employee will be responsible for handling every step of the customer’s dining experience. After extracting the allergy information from the customer, this leader will then assist the customer in selecting an appropriate dish. The food allergy leader will then relay the information directly to the kitchen. The leader will then ensure that the kitchen staff avoids cross-contamination and will inspect the dish before it is served to the customer.

Alternatives –
Rather than exclude entire meals from customers with food allergies, it is possible to develop an alternative way to prepare the same dish using different ingredients. Talk with your head chef to determine which ingredients can be substituted to ensure that your customers always have a full menu to choose from. For additional ideas, check out this selection of food alternatives from The Culinary Institute of America.

Information –
Customers that suffer from food allergies will often research a restaurant beforehand, so your website should offer a complete list of ingredients and possible alternatives. This list of ingredients should also be made available to customers upon request inside the restaurant, and the actual menu should inform customers of potential food allergies associated with certain dishes. A restaurant that makes this information easily accessible will be more appealing to families and individuals with food allergy concerns.

More Detailed Discussion
The issue of food allergies requires a much more in-depth and comprehensive approach than a single blog article can achieve. Before implementing a food allergy plan in your restaurant, you should read and fully understand this detailed guide from The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.