If more diners are asking about the ingredients in your menu items, it may be a matter of health over taste or preference. According to the Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, about one in 50 adults have a food allergy. What’s more, as many as 17% of Australians suffers from a food intolerance. Catering to such a large group opens up an important opportunity to gain new customers and increase your revenue.
Here’s how to start creating allergy-sensitive menus at your restaurant.
Know common allergens
Allergies and intolerances are two different conditions. A food allergy is something that affects the immune system. If someone ingests an item that they’re allergic to – even in a tiny amount – it can trigger a physical reaction, such as hives or swollen airways. Some allergies may cause a potentially fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. Food intolerance is a less serious condition. If someone eats a food that their gut is sensitive to, they can experience uncomfortable digestive symptoms or other symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue. While unpleasant, it isn’t life-threatening.
To serve their customers better, restaurant owners and managers should become familiar with common allergens. According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, the ten most common allergens are:
- Tree Nuts
- Seasame Seeds
Create allergy-friendly menus
Start by reviewing your recipes, making a note of each common allergen. Don’t overlook packaged ingredients or seasonings, which could include multiple allergens. If the packaging doesn’t contain allergen warnings, contact the manufacturer or your wholesaler for the information.
Next, clearly convey allergen information on each of your menu items. You can use colourful symbols or pictures, a legend (such as ‘D’ for dairy or ‘G’ for gluten) or words (such as ‘contains eggs’) on dishes that contain the allergen.
If an item contains an allergen, determine and note whether it could be modified. For example, you may be able to remove the offending ingredient or substitute something else, such as gluten-free breadcrumbs for traditional breadcrumbs.
Nothing is more frustrating for a patron than going to a restaurant with friends and not being able to eat anything on the menu. Make sure you have menu items that diners with allergies can eat. Encourage your chef to create gluten-free or dairy-free items. Or brainstorm ways to modify your menu items to accommodate customers’ needs.
Then make it easy for diners by calling out menu items that would be good for certain diets, such as ‘GF’ next to each dish that is gluten free or an ‘NF’ next to each dish that is nut free. You can also create a separate menu for common allergy requests, such as having a gluten-free or dairy-free menu.
Train your staff
In addition to creating an allergy-friendly menu, train your front and back-of-house staff on how to serve customers with food allergies.
Your wait staff is on the front lines. As the face of your business, they will be the ones directly communicating with diners who are concerned about allergens. Give your wait team a detailed list of menu item ingredients so they can provide accurate information and encourage them to ask diners about allergies before taking orders. Provide them with information on common allergens so they can answer questions from diners and direct them to the best menu options. Make sure they know never to guess at an answer. If turnover makes it difficult to ensure an adequately trained staff, designate an experienced employee to handle all allergen questions.
Your kitchen staff plays a key role in keeping diners safe. Create a way for servers to let cooks know that a guest has an allergy. For example, enable your point-of-sale (POS) system to call out allergens at the top of the ticket. The Square Kitchen Display System (KDS) lets you customise your ticket layout so you can make sure allergens are marked in the way that fits your flow of service best. The Square Dashboard is also a great tool to analyse how allergen-friendly dishes are selling and to determine which menu changes you might need to make.
In the kitchen, you might also establish allergy-friendly cooking protocol, such as having your cooks use freshly cleaned pans and utensils. You could dedicate certain grills or fryers to specific allergen-free items. Or you could avoid cross-contamination by storing allergen-friendly ingredients separately from other ingredients or by using freshly cut garnishes.
Plan for allergic reactions
Unless you dedicate your restaurant to a specific allergy, such as gluten-free or dairy-free, it will be virtually impossible to create a restaurant environment that is 100% allergen free. Alert diners by including a disclaimer on your menu that lists the ingredients used in your kitchen. For example, ‘Food in this restaurant is prepared in a kitchen that produces menu items that contain milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and tree nuts.’ Or, ‘If you have a food allergy or a special dietary requirement, please inform a member of our staff.’
Train your staff on what to do when a diner has a reaction. Some common reactions include the sudden onset of hives (swelling of the face, tongue, lips and throat), vomiting and/or diarrhea and difficulty breathing.
It’s important that your restaurant acknowledges and caters to diners’ needs. By creating an establishment that helps all diners feel welcome and safe, you demonstrate that you care about your customers. While it takes extra steps to identify allergens, having an allergy-aware restaurant can help you build a loyal and safe customer following.
This article is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal, financial or tax advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.