Gluten can be a real differentiator when it comes to Italian because of the bread, pasta, and pizza. Some restaurants offer gluten-free pizza and pasta and also understand that those foods cannot be prepared or served using the same equipment or dishes.
“People will say that peanut and tree nut allergy sufferers will have the easiest time at an Italian restaurant, [but] being careful with bread, pesto and desserts; and dairy can be hard,” Antico says. “That’s what differentiates a really good allergy-friendly Italian restaurant from one that’s not so good; they know how to handle any situation.”
Making the guest comfortable
Beyond menu options, being an allergy-friendly establishment necessitates a certain mindset wherein employees are willing and able to accommodate diners with dietary restrictions.
“Wait staff should start the conversation by asking if anyone at the table has an allergy and then know what to do with that information once they have it,” he says.
At the bottom of The Flatbread Company’s menu is a simple line stating, “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy.” Maggiano’s offers a gluten-free pasta and places an asterisk next to menu items that contain nuts. At Bertucci’s, the regular menu calls out “gluten sensitive” items and offers a separate, exclusively gluten-sensitive menu for those who have a wheat allergy, Celiac Disease, or are simply gluten intolerant.
The AllergyEats website asks reviewers questions about whether the restaurant was able to accommodate them, how knowledgeable the staff were, and how comfortable the diners felt during their visit.
Training staff and boosting business
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control’s Environmental Health Specialists Network showed that less than half of the restaurant staff interviewed had received training on food allergies. Furthermore, most restaurants did not have dedicated areas or equipment for preparing allergen-free food.
One promising finding from the study was that the majority of polled staff did have ingredient lists or recipes for some or all of their menu items. That trend is in line with anecdotal evidence from AllergyEats, which has some restaurant operators reporting that roughly one out of every two tables has a guest with food allergies.
“Nine years ago, I was able to prove that a restaurant that’s allergy-friendly can make roughly 25 percent more in profits than one that’s not allergy friendly,” Antico says. “I would claim that the number is much higher now.”
As allergies grow and customization preferences increase, Antico hopes operators will answer the call.
“If you’re in the restaurant business and can’t accommodate allergies, or frankly, even just preferences, you’re losing a ton of market share,” he says.