If you’ve been seeing more allergy-sensitive menus and hearing more people talk about their food allergies these days, it’s not just an imagined trend. As many as 220-250 million people worldwide may suffer from food sensitivity. Restaurants are adapting to these rising numbers of people who have a tougher time dining out. Here’s how restaurants are dealing with increased allergies in their guests.
The biggest hurdles to making the restaurant business food friendly, according to an ABC News report, has been training staff with high turnover and checking food supplier sources. Some chefs also balked at changing their menus, dealing with custom orders and separating the food preparation chain to isolate allergy triggers.
But with increasing awareness comes increasing accommodations.
Rising Trend in Allergies
The World Allergy Organization reported a global increase in allergies, including food ones, in a 2011-2012 study. The most common food allergens in children are peanuts, milk and shellfish, said a 2009-2010 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology study. But there’s also a rising awareness of gluten intolerance and celiac disease as well as a corresponding call for more restaurant dishes free from wheat, barley and rye.
Online Communities to Deal with Increased Allergies
Websites like AllergyEats, apps like Find Me Gluten Free and organizations such as the Gluten Intolerance Group are guiding diners towards restaurants that have allergy-friendly menus or options. Restaurants should make sure that they give out as much information as possible about their menus, and ingredients regarding allergies, and consider contacting these sites and apps directly if they want to reach out to those with food sensitivities.
Restaurants are increasingly making sure that they code their menus with gluten, peanut, shellfish and other allergen warnings.
How Quiznos is Dealing with Increased Allergies
Your website is also a great place to list allergy-averse and allergy-friendly items with longer descriptions. Quiznos has created an “Interactive Allergy Menu” on its site that lets a user choose what ingredients they don’t want to eat and then shows what menu items are safe.
Making the Move to Go Allergy-Friendly
When restaurants decide to be allergy-friendly, commitment is paramount. That doesn’t mean pledging a ton of money but it does mean putting in the time to set up a proper food preparation chain, train staff and check food supplies. Gluten in particular can be hidden in ingredients you wouldn’t normally think of, like condiments. And cross-contamination can mean severe problems for guests.
A good example of how to do it right is Legal Sea Foods, which caters to those with food sensitivities by putting new employees through rigorous training. It has a general manager and the chef speak to any customer reporting allergies and has the general manager deliver each allergy-free dish.
Since it’s a seafood establishment – warning bells ring everywhere for those with shellfish allergies – Legal Sea Foods has a stringent food prep separation of allergy-triggering ingredients and many other safety checks in place. And it wins praise from AllergyEats for all of that effort.
Top Rated Allergy-Friendly Restaurants
AllergyEats also lists its top rated allergy-friendly restaurants by size and said that overall, the restaurants who came out on top for being sensitive to food allergies were Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Outback Steakhouse, Chipotle Mexican Grill, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, and Not Your Average Joe’s.
The latter restaurant says that 10 percent of the chain’s business comes from return guests who have food allergies. Not Your Average Joe’s makes sure to note any allergy concerns, including gluten allergies on its menu, even though the majority of the food options there are allergy-friendly.
Red Robin has an extensive allergy-friendly menu listed on its site and updates it monthly. P.F. Chang’s – with its many peanut-containing
items – prints out a personalized menu for any customer reporting an allergy based on a “matrix” system.
The Benefits of Dealing with Increased Allergies
Being allergy-friendly is not just a good guest relations move. It can also make excellent business sense by winning over loyal return customers who have finally found a place that understands their food allergy sensitivities.
With close to 5 percent of the population having a food allergy, these diners keep coming back when they find a restaurant who takes their allergies seriously. Plus they bring friends and spread the word. That could lead to 15-20 percent more business.
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