Accommodating Restaurant Guests with Food Allergies

It is reported that there are currently 15 million people in the United States with food allergies. When these people choose to dine out, they trust much of their health and safety to the eating establishment that they choose. The consequences of serving the wrong thing to an allergic patron can be devastating, causing anything from minor swelling to anaphylactic shock and even death.

Restaurant management can help avoid this by taking certain measures to ensure that patrons are aware of allergens on the menu and food preparers are aware of the patron’s allergies.

Communicate Carefully

In order to keep from serving something dangerous to an allergic patron, the kitchen staff must know of the allergy. Servers should encourage patrons to notify them of any members of the party that have a food allergy. Post a sign for guests to see as they walk in the restaurant, or display the request prominently on the menu asking guests to please let their server know if they have a food allergy before ordering.

Many guests with allergies neglect to do this if they are not asked because they rely upon the menu to tell them what each item contains. However, it is much safer for the server to know about the allergy up front, since often the allergen may not be listed in the menu descriptions.

Also, servers should be trained to remember which menu items contain common allergens like eggs, shellfish, or nuts. Waitstaff should always be up to date on the menu anyway, but it can be especially helpful if they can tell a guest which items contain peanuts or peanut products as they order, or point out which salad dressings contain dairy.

Naturally, it would be nearly impossible for every server to remember every ingredient of every dish on the menu, so servers should still notify the kitchen of the allergy so that the chef can make sure that the guest’s dish does not contain anything that could cause an allergic reaction.

Servers can also learn to recognize when it is appropriate to ask a patron if they have a food allergy. A guest who asks many questions about a certain ingredient in different dishes may have an allergy that the kitchen staff should know about. Encourage waitstaff to be tactful in asking for this kind of information, perhaps asking it as a general query to the whole table rather than an irritated response to a guest with a lot of questions.

Assembling Options

Managers may also consider putting together an allergy menu as a way to prevent allergic reactions, and to accurately offer allergic guests many pleasing options. This menu would contain all menu items with each and every ingredient listed beside them including all spices, cooking oils, and garnishes.

For items that contain pre-made ingredients, the labels for them should be photocopied and included in the list next to the menu item. Common allergens could be highlighted for quick identification. Servers should take the allergic guest’s order, consult the allergy menu and the chef, and hopefully present the guest with options that are both safe and delicious.

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