Best Practices for Serving Diners with Allergies

The growing number of U.S. diners with food allergies shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. According to a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased nearly 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

Despite the prevalence of food allergies, few restaurants are prepared to accommodate this emerging consumer segment. In fact, researchers at Auburn University found that more than 40 percent of restaurant management staff members are unable to identify soy and fish among top food allergens.

By teaching your front- and back-of-house staff how to serve diners with food allergies, you can drive revenue, build a loyal customer base and differentiate your restaurant from the competition. Here are a few best practices to help you get started. If you’re hungry for more tips on catering to customers with food allergies, check out our whitepaper, “The Restaurateur’s Guide to Food Allergies & Dietary Restrictions.”

Create a training program

Educating your front-of-house staff is the first step to creating a welcoming environment for diners with food allergies. Not only will a training program bring current staff members up to speed on everything they need to know about keeping diners safe and satisfied, but it will also ensure that new employees are well aware of your restaurant’s procedures.

As you begin building your training program, don’t forget to include a list of allergens found in each menu item along with a detailed process staff members can follow each time they serve diners with dietary restrictions. Last but not least, provide your front-of-house staff with a quick and easy way to ask restaurant management any questions that come up during a dinner service.

Wash hands before cooking

Your back-of-house staff plays an equally important role in preventing contamination of orders placed by customers with allergies. Post signs in your kitchen reminding each chef and kitchen staff member to either wash his or her hands or put on a new pair of gloves before preparing any food. This will help prevent cross-contact between dishes containing common allergens.

Separate major allergens

While more than 160 foods cause allergic reactions, only eight specific foods account for 90 percent of them. Store each of these eight allergens in sealed containers that are clearly labeled. Once these ingredients are ready to be used in a dish, carefully place the container in a designated area to ensure it doesn’t come in contact with any other meals. It may also be a good idea to place a sticker on the container remind staff members to wash their hands or change their gloves after handling a major allergen.

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