The word “restaurant” itself derives from the French word restaurer (“to restore,” “to revive”) and it literally means “that which restores.” Well, I speak from personal experience when I say, I’m not feeling very restored lately. If you are one of the 85 million Americans impacted by food allergies, you can empathize.
I have had countless conversations with restaurant managers and owners over the years about the lack of ingredient transparency in menus and how this makes it difficult for “people like us” to eat in their restaurants. I have also made some concerning discoveries along the way.
On one such occasion, our server brought us a warm basket of bread while we waited for our food to come. A nice gesture indeed, but as parents to an egg-allergic child, we inquired as to whether the bread had egg in it. She didn’t know. So, she went to go ask her manager who came back to our table to also tell us that he also, didn’t know. Apparently, “the distributor just delivers the bread in a clear plastic bag, and it doesn’t list any ingredients.” Is it just me, or is there something fundamentally wrong with the fact that a restaurant cannot tell us what is in the food they are serving us?
According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the world’s largest private funder of food allergy research, 11 percent of people aged 18 or older (more than 26 million adults) have a food allergy diagnosis and the statistics among children are not far behind. Results from a 2015- 2016 survey of more than 38,000 children indicate that 5.6 million children (nearly 8 percent) have food allergies. That’s one in 13 children.
Suffice it to say, the food allergy epidemic is no longer personal — entire families are affected by the diagnosis of just one family member. Mother of four, Brianna Strey (Maple Grove, Minn.) does her best to navigate her youngest child’s egg, milk, peanut, tree nut and pea plant protein allergies. Her 2-year-old may be the only one with the allergies, but her circumstances are what’s driving the decisions for her family of six. According to FARE:
More than 15 percent of parents surveyed during food allergy appointments report that they do not go to restaurants.
Based on how the food allergy epidemic is trending, is having entire families just stay home for all meals a sustainable plan for the survival of our local food and restaurant establishments?
According to a study based on data from FARE, “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 findings’ 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