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In the last 20 years, food allergies and sensitivities in the United States have increased by 50%. That’s a staggering figure, and is simply something you can’t afford to ignore if you want to stay ahead. Great restaurant management involves catering the experience of your restaurant to as many demographics as possible. If you crunch the numbers, a large percentage of your customers are going to have certain food allergies.

This isn’t a passing trend – this is the new landscape of the restaurant industry. You need to jump onboard now to guarantee staying power in a market where every new eatery that opens features bolder and better entrees centered around veganism, gluten allergies, and the like. Beyond increasing your potential customer-base, catering to food allergies is the safest and most logical way to conduct business. People with peanut allergies shouldn’t be terrified of entering your establishment. Here are the best practices to cater to food allergies.
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A Safety Net

First things first – guests with food allergies don’t WANT food allergies. It is a condition they have to live with that causes a great deal of anxiety and worry. Putting them at ease as soon as they walk into the door is crucial. Train your staff to be accommodating and understanding. Educate your hostess to know what to say if someone asks, “are any of your pastas gluten-free?” Remember the silver lining: guests with food allergies are the most loyal guests you can possibly have. If you provide a variety of options for someone with food allergies, they’ll want to come back as they’ve had a positive experience. Remember, your job is to serve, not to judge. A waiter or waitress that gets agitated and vocally dismissive of relevant allergy questions cannot be tolerated. Your restaurant management style should cultivate a safe environment for guests with food allergies.

Create a Code

When avoiding the “big eight” food allergies (which are peanuts, wheat, milk, shellfish, fish, eggs, tree nuts, and soybeans) your staff cannot afford to be sloppy. These are dangerous, instantaneous reactions in many cases. Do you want a lawsuit on your hands because your chef didn’t switch gloves between the peanut casserole and the salad? I didn’t think so. Work with a health and allergy professional to create a rigorous code for staff, cooks, and all employees to avoid any potential mistakes when preparing and serving food for patrons with food allergies. Make allergy awareness a required aspect of training. It may seem tedious and costly, but again creating a safe environment for these guests is paramount for their health. It also boosts your sales when they keep coming back. A satisfied diner with food allergies will make your restaurant a staple in their schedule.

Expect a Boom

When you modify your menu and your restaurant to cater to food allergies and sensitivities, you will undoubtedly experience a high surge in new and returning customers. Think about this logically – in a large group of friends, who will ultimately be choosing where everyone eats? The answer is always the friend with food allergies. As a “safe haven” you provide a place they can guarantee and good experience and meal. Unlike other customers, they can’t simply eat next door if they get tired of your restaurant.

Make Your Menu a Breeze to Read

This may seem obvious, but is curiously overlooked more than one would think. Restaurant management competence revolves around filling your customers needs before they anticipate them – organize and label your menu with clear indicators and sections for food allergies and sensitivities. Offering a gluten-free menu or section is a wonderful start, and including indicators for food allergies and vegan dishes also helps alleviate the pressure on the patron and the waiter or waitress. With clear divisions on the menu your wait staff won’t be routinely put on the spot with detailed questions about the make up of the entrees. And it makes things incredibly easier for the customer – for many of them, ordering the wrong menu item or forgetting to ask one question is a matter of life or death, so cater to their needs.

Innovate your staff, menu, food options, and atmosphere in these ways and you’ll watch your typical restaurant transform into a vibrant hub for guests with food allergies, who will guarantee regular business for years to come.