Allergens 101: Do You Really Know What Your Restaurant Is Serving?

Managing people’s dietary requirements is a fundamental part of today’s hospitality industry. It’s a constant balancing act – you need to offer enough choices to please diverse palettes and accommodate dietary restrictions, while also protecting your business bottom line.

Strategies to reign in the costs and time required to accommodate such requests varies almost as widely as the requests themselves. Many restaurants offer a selection of dishes that are free of the most common allergens, or that can be easily modified for a restricted diet. Some kitchens allow substitutions upon request or for select items, and sometimes for a modest fee.

Yet it’s increasingly common for restaurateurs to choose instead to institute a strict no-substitution policy on specific dishes or even their whole menu. Others have gone a step further and only offer only a single menu each shift or day, created and served at the chef’s discretion. In both cases, such policies control unpredictable costs that can eat away at your profits and puts the work back on the customer to manage their allergies or diet restrictions.


But whether your restaurant is accommodating special diet requests or not, you and your staff still need a precise way of keeping track of what ingredients are being served in every dish. With allergens in particular, accurate recording and reporting of all ingredients used to prepare each menu item is a smart way to serve your customers and keep them safe. And in some cases, it’s a legal requirement.

For example, since 2014, all food businesses in the European Union are legislated to give clear and accurate information about the allergens  present in every product served to customers. Specifically, the regulation mandates that food businesses like restaurants are able to tell customers which dishes contain any of 14 specific allergens, such as shellfish, soya beans, milk and celery.

The rationale for such legislation is protecting customers with serious food allergies from unknowingly consuming potentially life-threatening ingredients, something all restaurants should strive to do whether it’s a legal requirement or not.

The good news is that this level of reporting doesn’t have to be hard, or even time consuming, to be accurate.

Here’s a practical example. Let’s say your menu offers a chicken korma dish, and one of your serving staff is asked by a customer if there are nuts in the dish.

While your servers might know there aren’t nuts added to the dish, they might not know that the cooking oil used that day to prepare the chicken or sauce was made from a blend of several ingredients, including nuts, peanuts or soya. Likewise, even junior kitchen staff might not know about the oil ingredients, if they aren’t the ones involved in purchasing or creating recipes.


Relying on your staff to be able to know such specifics about each dish leaves a lot of room for mistakes and miscommunication that can potentially threaten your customers’ safety.

A simple solution is a digital system that identifies, records and communicates every ingredient in every dish on your menu. Modern restaurant inventory management software is this tool, and using it to manage your approach to reporting on allergens can save your business time and money while ensuring great service for your customers.

Good restaurant software includes features that calculate nutrition and allergens on every menu item, pulling information from regulatory health bodies like Canadian and American national nutritional databases.

Moreover, with the right software you can enter information directly from the nutrition labels of all your prep products and inventory, and most importantly, instantly create a report of all the allergens in any menu item on the fly.

Your front-of-house staff can run these reports upon request at serving station computers or mobile devices, or a daily, updated printout for your whole menu can be left front-of-house each day.

Either way, this is a modern, easy and 100-percent accurate way to combine excellent customer service with safety in your establishment – one of the many benefits restaurant management software offers to save you money and run a successful business in today’s restaurant landscape.