Managing Food Allergies at Your Restaurant
Here’s a striking statistic: According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies, including almost 6 million children younger than 18 years old. There are eight foods responsible for 90% of all allergic responses: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Even a trace amount of an allergen in a dish can cause a reaction ranging from mild to deadly.
If you’re thinking food allergies are on the rise, you’re not wrong. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that food allergies in children increased 50% from 2007-2011. As a restaurant owner, how do you ensure you’re equipped to accommodate those with food allergies? Let’s dive in.
- Cooking with common food allergens (remember the “Big Eight” we talked about above?) is undoubtedly a mainstay of your restaurant’s menu, but properly serving guests with allergies is a two-way street. The patron with allergies needs to be transparent with you about their restrictions, and you and your staff need to be transparent with the patron on your ability to meet their dietary needs. A simple way for you to make sure you’re being as clear as possible is to have an ingredient list available for every dish.
- Keep your staff trained on the food you’re serving; there should always be someone on hand who can speak to your dish’s ingredients and how they are prepared, in the event a guest needs special accommodations. ServSafe, a program designed for food handlers, offers training and certifications for food allergens that you might want to consider for your staff.
- Space might be tight in your kitchen, but in order to properly prepare dishes for guests with food allergies, it’s important to dedicate a separate area for making their meals—and definitely ensure you’re cleaning and sanitizing every work surface and piece of equipment.
- Recycled fryer oil can be a recipe for disaster. Never use the same fryer or oil for French fries that you’re also using for breaded items, fish, or foods with nuts in them.
- Store common food allergens in a completely separate part of the kitchen.
- Did you know hand lotions contain allergens too, such as peanuts, wheat, and soy? It’s best to them out of your kitchen for this reason.
- Implement color-coded allergy tools in your kitchens to mitigate the risk of cross-contact (which is different from cross-contamination). Fun Fact: Purple is the universal color for allergen-free kitchen utensils. Stock up, if you haven’t already. And to make things easier on your servers, serve allergen-free meals on different shaped or colored plates for easy identification.
- Instruct your staff to ask a coworker if they’re unsure whether a dish contains an allergen. They can look at the ingredient list on the package, or even offer to bring the label over to the customer. But one thing is for sure: Playing the guessing game with food allergies is never a wise idea.
While it may seem like there are a lot of rules around making accommodations for guests with food allergies, know that these customers are looking for establishments that are going to be able to handle their restrictions and offer a worry-free dining-out experience. So to build a loyal customer base, it’s important to think about how you can best serve these patrons. For more great advice, news, and tips on everything restaurant related, be sure to check the ARF Financial blog each week—we’re always cooking up something new.
Need a bigger restaurant space to increase your food prep area? Looking for additional equipment to better serve customers with allergies? Want to invest in certifications for your staff? Then maybe a loan from ARF Financial is right for you! Visit us online for a quick, no-cost quote. We offer approvals in as little as 48 hours, and our expert loan consultants have decades of experience in the restaurant financing industry. Come see for yourself why we’re the #1 lender for restaurateurs!