There is a major benefit to running an allergy- or celiac-friendly shop: customer loyalty. “The establishments that are catering to guests with dietary restrictions are drawing steady business from an underserved market—comprised of not only the 15 million Americans and with food allergies, but also their family members as well,” according to Seth Makowsky, Founder and CEO of Makowsky Restaurant Group, “Customers are rejoicing in finally having a place that understand and meet their needs.”
Remember for your customers with food allergies, not knowing what’s in their food can be a matter of life or death.
Your front of the house is one of your most valuable assets. In fact, they are often the only people who actually talk to your customers—which means they’re one of your few chances to make a great impression. It’s important for employees to understand everything on your menu inside and out. They should not only be able to brag about which of your ingredients are locally sourced or organic, but which items contain gluten, dairy, soy, etc. If your staff is knowledgeable and confident about what’s in your food, you’ll have a much better chance of increasing your sales to customers who have allergies or dietary restrictions.
There are big challenges to making the restaurant business food allergy- or celiac friendly
- training staff that has high turnover
- checking supplier food stocks that can change without notice
- hidden ingredients–allergenic ingredients may not be an obvious part of a menu item; for examples: some condiments contain wheat
- chefs that balk at changing their menus or custom orders
- separating the food preparation chain to isolate allergy triggers
The following video, show how one Maryland establishment is delighting customers with providing options to those with food allergies and intolerances:
Food Allergan AwarenessTraining
Right now the approach to food allergen training in restaurants is haphazard at best. It is a patchwork of responses that range from accommodating allergies to refusing service. Resulting in plenty of misinformation and even skepticism. All in all, it’s a pretty scary situation for diners with a potentially fatal medical condition.
Leading the way in food allergy legislation is Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Both states have passed bills mandating food allergy awareness programs in restaurants. Both states require restaurants to display posters about food allergies, as well as designate employees to undergo allergen training.
Similar movements are popping up in other states such as Michigan, New York, and Florida. At this time, there isn’t a national referendum in the works. However, mandated restaurant training for food allergy awareness is inevitable with the growing number of people who have a food allergy. Restaurants and chains that recognized this need will be ahead of the curve and thereby gain customer loyalty.
Top Ten Food Allergy Friendly Restaurants
AllergyEats, an online guide of over 750,000 restaurants, ranks their top 10. These ratings are based on feedback from their website and app users. “These chains have demonstrated a superior willingness and ability to accommodate guests with food allergies, and we congratulate them for earning a place on this esteemed, well-respected list,” Paul Antico, founder and CEO of AllergyEats, said in a statement. “The establishments on our list have proven themselves to have best-in-class food allergy procedures and protocols, training, and knowledge, receiving high overall ratings and positive feedback from food-allergic diners that have comfortably eaten at their restaurants.”
Large chains (50 or more restaurants):
Chipotle Mexican Grill (4.41 rating) doesn’t use eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts or tree nuts in their menu items. The only gluten to be found is in the flour tortillas. Check out their allergens breakdown for more information.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (4.39 rating) has many peanut-containing items, but will print out a personalized menu for any customer reporting an allergy from their system call The Matrix.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (4.39 rating) has an extensive allergy-friendly menu listed on its website and updates it monthly. In store, allergic diners will be referred to a manager who will help them to choose a meal. The manager will inform the kitchen staff, who will in turn use different utensils to prevent cross-contamination.
Outback Steakhouse’s (4.32 rating) website has a list of allergy dos and don’ts that indicate which menu items to avoid if you have milk or nut allergies and which items that can be customized easily.
Mellow Mushroom (4.29 rating) uses a matrix system to break down dishes by allergens. They are also extremely cautious during preparation. They offer gluten-, egg- and soy- free options, and denote all allergens present in their dishes. They also train employees to prevent cross-contamination. Mellow Mushroom announces on their site that their chefs change aprons, wash hands, use sanitized cooking utensils, and make sure that the pizzas are all placed on sheet pans so they will not transfer allergens.
Small chains (49 or less restaurants):
Maggiano’s Little Italy (4.74 rating) When a guest tells the waitstaff about an allergy or other special food need, a chef is summoned to the table to take the order. The chef will help guide the diner through the menu to make a safe choice. In the kitchen, that meal is prepared on a separate, sanitized table, away from potential allergens. (And no peanut products are used in any dishes.)
Burtons Grill (4.69 rating)
Legal Sea Foods (4.64 rating) caters to those with food sensitivities by putting new employees through rigorous training. Its general manager and chef speak to any customer reporting allergies and has the GM deliver each allergy-free dish. Since it’s a seafood establishment – warning bells ring everywhere for those with shellfish allergies. They have a stringent food prep separation of allergy-triggering.
Joe’s American Bar & Grill (4.63 rating) the manager will come and explain what menu items they can cater to your needs.
Not Your Average Joe’s (4.63 rating) a majority of their food options are allergy-friendly, but they still make sure to note any allergy concerns.
Food Allergies By the Numbers
Americans have a food allergy
Comprise of 8 Most Common Food Allergies
1 in every 13 children
(under 18 years of age) is has a food allergy
Estimated emergency visits per year due to food allergies
a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department
TAKE ALL FOOD ALLERGY
Refer the allergy to the chef, manager or person in charge.
Call at the first sign of reaction!
For more information, http://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats