Breathe Easy: How to Design Menus Around Diner Allergies

Breathe Easy: How to Design Menus Around Diner Allergies

Research estimates that 15 million Americans and counting have food allergies. The significant rise in the number of allergy sufferers is leaving experts stumped. While science tries to answer this $25 billion-dollar question, restaurateurs are finding new ways to accommodate guests’ needs.

Allergens aren’t the only concern for today’s guests and restaurants. Diabetes, food intolerances and sensitivities, and new diets are great reasons for restaurants to design dishes and menus that respect the growing spectrum of nutritional needs.

Whether your guests are allergic to ingredients, trying to lose weight, or sensitive to common additives, it’s your job to provide dishes that suit their needs. Take a look at how the experts are building new dining options that take these issues into account.


Communication is Key

First and foremost, it’s important to keep your staff informed about the food you serve. They should be prepared to answer any questions from a curious diner, and if all else fails, they should know who to ask for more information. Servers should never dismiss a guest’s concerns about allergens – it is sometimes literally a matter of life or death. Food allergies send someone to the ER once every 3 minutes.

Restaurant tech empowers you to know about a guest’s issues before they even enter your business. Learn from the best in the biz: restaurants at Disneyland invite guests to tell the staff about their dietary concerns when they book reservations online. Disney’s system allows servers and chefs to prepare for any dietary curveball ahead of time, and provides the flexibility to create off-menu dishes that respect guest wishes. This method is ideal for families with children and teens as they experience the highest risk of serious food allergies.


Choose Your Own Adventure…and Menu

There are countless ways to design a menu that informs guests about which dishes fit best into their diets. A 2014 article in Eater showcased Odd Duck, an Austin restaurant that goes so far as to print seven different menus every night. And it doesn’t stop there. Journalist Amy McKeever writes:

“Odd Duck’s commitment goes beyond the menus, too. The Austin restaurant trains its reservationists, hosts, and servers to ask about food allergies and dietary restrictions. If a celiac diner orders quail, the server rings the order in Odd Duck’s ticket system, which highlights the allergy in red ink. The expediter calls out that ticket and tells the grill cook not to fire the quail on the grill, which has traces of gluten on its surface. Instead, a sous chef pan-sears the quail. When the server brings the quail to the table, he or she confirms that it is celiac-friendly.”

Another alternative is to choose one or two common dietary restrictions, and build your menu around them. QSR chain Native Foods has an entirely vegan menu, which clearly notes gluten-free items as well. Guests can refer to the website for even more details, including ingredient lists.

Guests with severe allergies may choose a restaurant based on whether you can accommodate their diet, and how much information is available online – which means taking the time to optimize your online menus for desktop and smartphone viewing is crucial to capturing dietary-specific business.


To Epi or Not to Epi

EpiPens are medical devices containing a single dose of epinephrine, a chemical that narrows blood vessels and opens airways in the lungs. This naturally-occurring neurotransmitter (also called adrenaline) is administered as an emergency measure during severe allergic reactions. When a person with an allergy goes into shock, an EpiPen might save their life.

It’s common for people with severe allergies to carry their own EpiPens at all times. However, that doesn’t include people with undiagnosed allergies – and even the most organized person will sometimes forget their purse. That’s why a growing number of U.S. states allow restaurants to stock their own EpiPens in case of emergency.

In an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, lawyer Nancy Stagg encourages restaurant operators to consult their lawyer and insurance provider before purchasing an EpiPen. It’s likely that your state has clear rules about the device’s storage and use. For example, laws in California protect “lay rescuers” – that is, people who administer the injection in good faith, with the intent to save the life of a person experiencing an allergic reaction. Consult your local laws; if your state allows for stocking EpiPens, carrying them is a huge investment in making diners with severe allergies feel comfortable eating in your restaurant.


Beyond the Paleo

The most popular diets these days are more focused on health than they are on weight loss. The DASH and Mediterranean diets – named two of the healthiest 2017 diets by US News – are better described as eating patterns than as structured diets. Eaters are encouraged to monitor the nutrients in their meals, and choose a daily caloric intake that works for their age, weight, and height. These habits promote weight loss, heart health, and brain health. There’s even a new combination of these two – called the MIND diet – specifically intended to help older diners seeking to maintain brain function and avoid Alzheimer’s.

Younger dieters are leaning toward trendy options including the Paleo diet, the Alkaline diet, and the Whole30 month-long cleanse. The Paleo diet eliminates dairy, complex carbs and processed sugar, while the Alkaline diet goes even further, cutting out eggs and some legumes as well. (The Whole30 cleanse follows a similar principle – but it has an end in sight.) All of these eating patterns reportedly reduce inflammation throughout the body, promoting weight loss, boosting energy, and improving overall health.

People who don’t eat such common ingredients as wheat, eggs, and dairy have a hard time finding restaurants that can serve them at all. By offering a wide variety of options, you’ll become your guests’ go-to restaurant for a healthy, delicious meal that lets them enjoy the pleasures of dining out without worry.

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