Operators must try harder to accommodate diners with allergies


Operators must try harder to accommodate diners with allergies

Operators must try harder to accommodate diners with allergies

I believe one of the hospitality industry’s most pressing issues right now is how to effectively deal with food allergies.

Somewhat understandably, recent events have caused operators to take a risk-averse approach to managing allergies, but that’s not a policy that should be adopted in the long term.

What message does it give to guests with allergies if you simply limit their options because you’re uneasy about being able to cater to them?

That safety-first mindset is likely to be an immediate response to findings such as those from BBC Watchdog Live, which last year found that some of the UK’s biggest restaurant and coffee shop chains were dishing out incorrect allergy advice.

By law, cafes, restaurants and takeaways should be able to give customers clear information about which dishes contain allergens.

A missed opportunity

While the focus is rightly on guest safety right now, there’s something to be said about the missed opportunity of scaling back options and just saying “better safe than sorry”.

An estimated two million people in the UK are said to have a diagnosed food allergy, with a further 600,000 living with coeliac disease, as per Government figures.

By failing to accommodate people with allergies, operators are potentially losing out on some sizeable and valuable custom.

Confidence and choice

The vegetarian and veganism movements have transformed menus across the country: options are more extensive than ever. In the same way, diners with allergies also deserve to be able to eat out with as much confidence and choice as any other guest. And that’s not just speaking as someone who has a food allergy himself (wheat).

Things have definitely got better on both fronts. I know that if I go out for something to eat in Bath, there are certain restaurants which will provide alternatives without me even having to ask.

For example, there’s a pizza restaurant called Dough that offers several varieties of pizza bases – from nut-free to gluten-free. All bases are made by hand and in the same way, only with different ingredients, so when it’s delivered to your table, it looks and tastes just as good as anything else on the menu.

But the disparity from one restaurant to the next is huge. Some operators still make you feel like it’s something they could do without having to think about. It doesn’t make for a great guest experience.

To ensure all guests are given the confidence and choice when they dine out, we need to take away the fear.

Ways to improve

For guests, that might mean providing them with menus which list all the ingredients for each dish. Supermarkets have been providing this information for years, as have eateries across the pond in America, so why not restaurants here in the UK?

It’s much more reassuring for diners to see in black and white whether they can safely eat a dish than it is to hear it from a server, no matter how informed you’ve ensured your team are.

For restaurants, they might want to consider creating an ‘allergens-free’ kitchen, which, in practice, means dedicating an area to it so that nothing can ‘spill over’.

The first place to start, however, is to assess how well you currently accommodate diners with allergies. Much of this boils down to the training; ensuring you clearly communicate with your staff and that they’re confident when dealing with someone with an allergy, both at booking stage and when they’re seated in the restaurant.

It can be easy to forget that allergies can potentially be life-threatening. So staff need to be aware, and those with allergies need the reassurance that they’re in safe hands.

Using HGEM’s Guest Feedback service, you can use tailored questioning to gain insights from diners on how well you currently deal with allergies, with a view to improving guests’ choice and confidence in you as a responsible operator.

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