By offering allergy-friendly options, restaurants can better streamline operations, reduce risk for allergen exposure, and make more money.
The “Food Allergy, Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act of 2021” (FASTER Act) signed by President Biden in April of this year, added sesame to the list of major food allergens which are required to be denoted in food labeling. This is a huge win for the food allergy community, which as of 2021, comprises “an estimated one in 10 adults and one in 13 children in the United States.” Unfortunately, this law doesn’t carry over into the restaurant arena which means that most of the 85 million Americans impacted by food allergies continue to fend for themselves as they try to decipher which allergens are contained in menu items when dining out. Since 40 percent of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one of the allergens within the top nine, guests impacted by food allergies are looking to rule out not just one allergen from your menu items, but potentially two, three, or four different allergens.
Taking your son out for a donut on a Saturday morning may seem like a simple thing to anyone else, but with the reality of my son’s egg allergy, it’s something I never thought would happen. Thanks to Bloom Bake Shop (Madison, Wisconsin), a neighborhood bakery which makes “allergy-friendly” part of its business model, individuals with dietary restrictions like ours are also able to enjoy some of the sweeter things that life has to offer.
The allergy-friendly concept is also a sweet deal for Bloom though, who attributes 30 percent of its sales to its vegan and gluten-free bakery items. Owner Annemarie Maitri who has a child of her own with food allergies not only understood the importance of allergy-friendly options but also the sheer sales potential it meant when she opened her business in 2010.
According to Heather Landex, Food Safety and Allergy Specialist and author of INCLUSIVE: THE NEW EXCLUSIVE: How the FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY Can STOP Leaving MONEY on the Table (ISBN: 9788797276303):
“A clean vegan option solves many problems. If you please a vegan, you please a lot of other people.”
Executive chef, Dominic Teague at one of London’s top restaurants picked up on this idea back in 2015 after noticing a “massive uptake in guests who wanted gluten and dairy free dishes.” According to Evening Standard, Chef Teague decided to alter his à la carte lunch and dinner menus to help alleviate the level of stress caused by the sheer amount of special orders his kitchen was receiving. Indigo restaurant in Covent Garden’s One Aldwych hotel was “the first in the city to have their entire lunch and dinner offerings free from gluten and dairy.”
The kicker? Nobody even noticed. The chef shared that although the restaurant’s regulars gave “great comments about the menu” they didn’t mention anything “about it being gluten or dairy free.” Dietary needs expert, Tracy Stuckrath recently had a chance to interview the chef about the experience and how it led to a boost in employee satisfaction, and a 39 percent increase in the restaurant’s first quarter sales.
Altering menu items with more allergy-friendly ingredients is just one way to cut down on front and back-of-house stress levels: Using an eggless mayonnaise such as Vegenaise not just as a spread on a sandwich but in dressings and aioli's as well; or cooking oil’s which don’t contain peanut or sesame (two of the nine allergens which cause a majority of allergic reactions). By reducing the number of orders that require special accommodations you not only bolster employee morale but are more inclusive of individuals with dietary restrictions; and, decrease your risk for accidental allergen exposure; and that alone, should be reason enough for consideration.
According to a study based on data from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the world’s largest private funder of food allergy research, “restaurants are still the second most common location for food allergy reactions.” Published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology: In Practice, the study examined survey responses from 1,248 adults with food allergy and from the parents of 1,579 food-allergic children in the U.S. One of its key finding’s states:
“Only 13.7 percent of reactions took place when customers informed restaurant staff about their allergies and menu language informed customers about allergens. While reaction risk was not eliminated by both steps, the danger was clearly diminished by two-way communication between the customer and the restaurant.
As both a marketer and food allergy parent, Katie Moreno has been navigating her way through the chaos and confusion of food allergies for the past seven years. She believes restaurants have the potential to convert people impacted by food allergies from one-time visitors into some of their most loyal customers, but restaurants need to win them over first. She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin. Find more stories from Katie on Medium: https://medium.com/@katielynnmoreno