AllergyEats, a guide to allergy-friendly restaurants nationwide, recently released its list of the Top 10 Most Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Chains in the U.S., as tabulated from feedback from the food allergy community.
“The chains on the list were all chosen from user ratings based on three questions that they answered on our website or app,” says Paul Antico, CEO of AllergyEats. “Based on the results, these chains have all proven themselves to have best-in-class food allergy procedures, protocols, training and knowledge, receiving high ratings and positive feedback from food-allergic diners.”
The three questions were:
- Could you eat at the restaurant given your food allergies?
- Were the restaurant servers knowledgeable about allergies?
- Given your experience, would you be comfortable getting a meal here in the future?
“This year, tens of thousands of people took the time to answer the survey,” Antico says. “This is important for the community and restaurateurs. Not only do 4 to 5 percent of all diners have allergies, but when you add in their families and those who they dine with, you’re talking about 10 to 15 percent of all sales.”
Of the most allergy-friendly small chains, Rainforest Café topped the list with a user rating of 4.87. It is the first time they have been recognized on the list.
Keith Beitler, chief operating officer of Rainforest Café, notes the company is very proud to be recognized in this arena, and credits the company’s guest-friendly attitude.
“We’re very excited about this honor,” he says. “We listen to our guests. We know there’s more opportunity today for these issues to arise and we feel good that we’ve taken the right steps to address them and our guests recognize us for that.”
At Rainforest Café, servers ask guests if anyone has allergies and if so, either the kitchen manager or chef goes to the table, introduces themselves, and talks about any allergies a customer might have.
“From that conversation, we can create a menu of exactly what they want,” Beitler says. “If we can’t, we’ll ask them, ‘What do you eat at home?’ When we say that, it relaxes the individual. We have a skillet, we have eggs, so we can even make scrambled eggs. It might not be on the menu but we won’t say no to any guest.”
For meals of this sort, the chef prepares the meal individually, and it gets a different color ticket in the kitchen, so they are only handled by a manager who then takes the food out to the customer.
Rounding out the top 5 in the small-chain category are Burtons Grill (4.74 rating); Not Your Average Joe’s (4.45 rating); Joe’s American Bar & Grill (4.41 rating); and Legal Sea Foods (4.39 rating).
As for the larger chain restaurants—those with 50 or more restaurants—Maggiano’s Little Italy came in at No. 1 with a 4.63 rating.
“We were very honored and this is a great compliment to our chefs,” says Steve Provost, president of Maggiano’s Little Italy. “What makes us unique is that we never went for a separate menu; we tell our servers that if guests have an allergy, let our chefs know and they will come out and talk with them.”
Maggiano ensures that all 200-plus chefs who work for the company are educated about the different allergies be it gluten, dairy, peanut or other, with hands-on training. Often, Provost says, those coming out of culinary school are already well versed in the topic, and they even help pass the knowledge down to others in the kitchen.
“In our menu, there are some very simple adjustments that can be made for gluten, dairy, peanut or other allergies that our customers may have and some of the more complicated things that our senior chefs can teach,” he says. “Certain Friday nights we estimate that 1 in 10 guests will ask for some modification because of an allergy. The chefs drive our process.”
Maggiano’s was followed on the list by Chipotle Mexican Grill (4.38 rating); Mellow Mushroom (4.36 rating); Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (4.31 rating); and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (4.29 rating).
“A lot of restaurants don’t understand food allergies and there are some who just don’t care,” Antico says. “These are all chains who value the importance of this and whose customers are noticing.”
By Keith Loria