What would you say if we told you that there were an extra 32 million people that could be ordering from your restaurant that aren’t? What if we told you that just a few simple menu tweaks would allow for you to reach them? Would you care? Would you make the effort? The good news is, there really are 32 million people who would love to dine at your restaurant. The bad news is, they can’t. These 32 million people are those in the United States that have a food allergies.
In today’s restaurant environment, those afflicted with food allergies have found it nearly impossible to dine out safely with their families due to the lack of resources as well as understanding from the dining community. It is our hope to begin to turn the tide and connect you with this untapped market to create not only new revenue opportunities, but safer dining practices within restaurants everywhere.
Dining Out with Food Allergies
In order to dine out safely, this particular group of patrons have to research restaurant menus ahead of time to make sure that the restaurant can accommodate their needs. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), those with food allergies should do the following:
Understanding Food Allergies
We’re sure that if you’ve been in food service for any length of time, you’ve likely had diners inquire about the allergy-friendliness of your menu. In order to accommodate those with food allergies, it’s important to know what they are and how they effect the body. Did you know that over 90% of allergic reactions are food-allergy-related? While we’re all familiar with outdoor allergies and the discomfort around itchy eyes and noses as the seasons’ change, food allergies tend to be a bit more allusive.
Food allergies are similar in the way that they cause what’s caused a “histamine response” upon consumption. This IgE (Immunoglobin E) immune response is given off when the body detects a threat. In the case of food allergens, this response results in a swelling of the respiratory tissue.
Can’t they just take the cheese off?
Actually, they can’t. When someone has a food allergy, the allergen can’t have contact with the food that they’re about to consume. This falls under the umbrella of “cross-contamination”.
“Cross-contamination occurs when one object becomes contaminated by either direct or indirect contact with another object which is already contaminated.”
For example, if a person has a food allergy to dairy and removes the cheese from their pizza, the allergen is still present on the sauce and crust of the pizza. The person consuming this seemingly cheeseless pizza is at nearly the same risk for allergic reaction as they would have been if they had left it on. An allergen can not be removed from a food source, it must be avoided.
Observing Best Practices
Serving this particular audience comes with a few hurdles to overcome but nothing insurmountable. ServSafe requires a specific set of rules not only for combatting food borne illness, but for cross-contamination with food allergens as well. Let’s take a look at the example below:
In the example above regarding safe practices for preventing foodborne illnesses, you can begin to see how the same concepts apply to preventing allergic reactions in patrons with food allergies. Because cross-contamination involves the touching of an allergen to another food or object, the storage, preparation and serving of top-8 allergen containing foods requires care and consideration. If we applied the safe practices above to allergens it would look like this:
- Make sure to clean and sanitize workstations, cutting boards, equipment and utensils. (No changes there!)
- Do NOT allow a dining patron’s allergen to come into contact allergen-free foods (that are ready-to-eat)
- Prepare allergens at a different time (and away from) read-to-eat/non-allergen containing foods.
- Clean and sanitize work surfaces, utensils and equipment between each product.
- Cross-contamination can be caused by other ready-to-eat ingredients that have come in contact with an allergen. When storing allergens, make sure they are contained separately and safely away from your other non-allergen-containing ingredients.
How to Implement These Changes
Once you’ve begun to grasp the basics of safe practices for serving your patrons with food allergies, you can begin to safely cater to this food-cautious audience. Trailblazers in the restaurant industry, such as Cooper’s Hawk, have lead the charge. Cooper’s Hawk rolled out an all gluten-free menu to cater to those who need it. However, catering to your food allergy audiences doesn’t have to be singular in focus. You can address multiple food allergens at once.
Certain lifestyles, such as Vegan, account for a large majority of food allergies. A vegan diner won’t consume at least half of the top 8 allergens including: milk, eggs, shellfish or fish. So, as restaurants continue to experiment with adding plant-based options to reach their vegan audiences, they naturally become more allergy-friendly as well. For this reason, it’s no wonder that restaurants who have debuted plant-based burgers have seen a 36% increase in same-store revenue.
Reaching these new audiences is not just advantageous for revenue purposes. Many now make conscious efforts throughout the restaurant and CPG industries to serve more than just your traditional diner. Want to learn more?
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