Customers with food allergies take a great risk to eat food prepared by someone other than themselves, as they may suffer potentially severe consequences from coming into contact with a triggering allergen. When a diner with a food allergy chooses your restaurant, you’ll want to ensure that they won’t have to think twice about their safety. Creating a safe, allergen-friendly environment within your restaurant will mean a satisfactory experience from customers and success for you.
Do Your Research
Having a thorough understanding of the various food allergies that customers may potentially have and which foods contain these allergens is important. As a restaurant owner or manager, you should take it upon yourself to become familiar with common allergens so that you can later pass on this knowledge to your staff for a well-informed, allergen-friendly restaurant environment. Likewise, ensure that you and your kitchen staff hold the necessary food safety certifications so that your guests are in good hands.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, these are some common food allergens that you should read up on:
An allergen-friendly environment is one in which customers feel they can trust the restaurant and its staff. For this to happen, there needs to clear, consistent communication between various parties.
On the Menu
Customers need to be able to trust your restaurant. Your menu should very clearly convey which foods contain certain allergens. Whether you use colorful symbols to indicate that a food contains eggs, dairy, gluten, or nuts, or whether you create entire sections dedicated to gluten-free or dairy-free dishes, make sure customers will not be confused.
If a dish contains an allergen, it also helps to note on the menu whether or not that dish can be modified to accommodate those with allergies. Most of the time, certain ingredients can be swapped out to accommodate allergies, but if a dish cannot be modified, be sure to clearly print that on the menu.
Between Staff and Customers
Make sure that your staff is thoroughly trained to make your restaurant as allergen-friendly as possible. Waitstaff should have in-depth knowledge of the menu and menu item ingredients to ensure that if customers have allergy-related questions, they can receive accurate answers. Likewise, ensure that servers are trained to ask all customers about potential allergies when taking orders.
Between Waitstaff and Kitchen Staff
While it’s likely that your restaurant’s kitchen staff is adequately trained in creating allergen-friendly dishes, it still helps to ensure that all communication is as clear as possible. Create a system that allows servers to easily and efficiently let the cooks know that there is a guest with an allergy, and have the kitchen prepare these dishes using separate cookware.
Lastly, while you train all of your staff to be extensively knowledgeable about food allergens, make sure that they also feel safe asking questions when they aren’t one hundred percent sure about a dish or ingredient. Don’t create an environment wherein staff feels that they can’t take a step away from a table to double-check with the kitchen or confirm with management about an ingredient. This will help them continue to become comfortable with the menu ingredients and prevent potentially harmful incidents.
Even if communication is crystal clear, disaster can happen if dishes aren’t properly handled. From the stove to the customer’s place-setting, there’s plenty of room for allergens to accidentally find their way into an allergy-prone diner’s dish. Take precautions to ensure that a nut-free dishes stay nut-free, and that your customers are in safe hands.
Back of House
Again, kitchen staff are likely well-versed in safe food handling. However, it never hurts to reiterate the importance of safely handling food to create an allergen-friendly environment. Ensure that cooks use separate pans or utensils to cook dishes for guests with allergies, or, if this isn’t possible, confirm that your dishes are washed and sanitized thoroughly. Keep allergen-friendly ingredients, such as gluten-free breadcrumbs or nut-free oils, sealed and separately stored from other ingredients.
Front of House
Even after the food is safely prepared, it can still become contaminated upon serving. An allergen-friendly restaurant should have separate sets of silverware, glassware, and plateware for dishes that are made without specific ingredients to avoid any chance of cross-contamination. Likewise, servers should know to handle these dishes with care, carrying them separately from the rest of the other dishes.
Go the Extra Mile to Make Customers Feel Safe
Making your restaurant into an allergen-friendly environment means reaching a new, wider market of customers and earning a reputation for being accommodating and inclusive. Although there are some extra steps to take to create a truly allergen-friendly, safe environment for customers, it all pays off in the end. Make your place one that customers can trust.