Learning to properly serve customers with food allergies can not only save your restaurant a lawsuit, it can save a customer’s life. Assured prevention of an allergic reaction can only be accomplished by protecting the client from any contact, even indirect, with the offending food. This does not mean that you have to become a dairy-free restaurant or offer a fully gluten free restaurant menu, but some precautions are vital. Keeping up-to-date ingredient lists, fastidiously washing all restaurant equipment used on or near allergic customers’ orders, and appointing a team leader to deal with allergy questions are just some of the steps any responsible food service professional should take.
Allergy-Friendly Menu Options
Ensure the availability of safe dishes for allergic customers by educating yourself about common food allergies and intolerances. Ninety percent of food allergies are attributed to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, wheat, soy, and egg. Common food intolerances that often cause allergy-like symptoms include lactose intolerance and Celiac disease. Place a notice on your door or menu requesting that guests inform you of any food allergy or sensitivity that they may have. Prepare an absolutely complete list of all of the ingredients in every dish that you serve. Make the list available to any customer who requests it or even mentions requiring special consideration due to allergies. Be specific in the descriptions on your menu – you can make dishes sound more appetizing to non-allergic customers even as you subtly alert allergic consumers to possible hazards. You can mark allergy-friendly menu choices with asterisks indicating, for example, “gluten free” or “dairy free.” Salad bars present a high risk for allergic customers due to the extreme probability of cross-contamination. Guests with allergies should be discouraged from ordering such options. Latex allergy is another source of concern, so have your staff use non-latex gloves.
Create an Allergy-Free Environment
Appoint a team leader for each shift who you should thoroughly train in proper handling of allergic customer situations. This person should ensure that non-latex gloves or at least especially meticulously washed hands are used to prepare any allergy-friendly order. If your restaurant has enough demand for allergy-friendly dishes or a particularly frequent visitor with allergies, you can use a separate French fry cutter and fryer (oils used for frying often contain allergens and provoke reactions) and special knives for allergic guests’ orders. Otherwise, just ensure that any equipment that comes in contact – even briefly – with such an order has been scrubbed with soap and hot water. Special attentiveness is necessary in regard to oils, garnishes, and proximity of other dishes. Always serve an allergic consumer separately instead of placing the special order on a tray with other orders. Also make sure that the guest’s table has been well-cleaned.
It is of utmost importance that your employees know the seriousness of maintaining the integrity of allergy-friendly dishes. They should know that in case of even the slightest error on a special order, the entire order must be thrown away and started from scratch. Reassure them that there will be no repercussions whatsoever for admitting such an error no matter how inconvenient or costly the consequences. Emphasize that not owning up to the mistake and serving the dish as-is is what will result in disciplinary action.
Finally, if a reaction does occur in your restaurant, never wait to gauge the severity of the reaction. Call your local emergency number immediately and keep the guest in a sitting position as standing during an allergic attack can increase the risk of more severe illness and even death from anaphylactic shock. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network provides a wealth of information for industry professionals here. Educate your staff and yourself to ensure your customers’ safety and your business’s reputation.