Restaurants are a huge part of our society today, with people going for anything from a basic and uneventful meal to one for a special occasion like a birthday or a wedding. Personally, the large majority of all the restaurants that I have ever been to have been able to cope with my allergies and take enough care to make sure that I can have a pleasant and safe meal. However, there have still been many places in which the concept of allergies have not been fully understood and then I have paid the price for it.
To try to understand the state of awareness in restaurants today, I carried out a survey. I visited 9 restaurants with a questionnaire I wrote and asked it to various staff. These restaurants were all in three different countries, and were of various cuisines. I have arranged the general information of the survey in the following table and have included some of the more interesting responses from the surveys and why they stand out.
Allergy Questionnaire Responses
In one or two sentences, what does the term allergies mean to you?
2. Have you ever had to deal with an allergic reaction in your time in the restaurant business?
3. Have you ever interacted with a customer who had an allergy? Were there any precautions you took when making their food?
4. Does your restaurant have any allergy systems in place (allergy keys and such)?
5. How would you ensure a customer’s allergies are properly communicated to the chef?
6. How would you ensure zero cross contamination when preparing a dish for a person suffering from certain allergies?
7. What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant?
Waiter~ Restaurant B: What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant?
We should write what is in what (allergens) in the menu, because you never know what is inside each dish. Oh yes, of course. Allergies definitely need more awareness, it is very important because I don’t want to make anyone sick and I am not trained to handle an emergency situation if it comes up.
Waiter~ Restaurant B: How would you ensure zero cross contamination when preparing a dish for a person suffering from certain allergies?
Make sure that everything is clean. Sometimes it is difficult because when a customer wants many things its a little difficult, but we still do it. If in a family of people, when one is allergic to something, we make their food first so that everything is new and clean.
Shift Manager ~ Restaurant C: Does your restaurant have any allergy systems in place (allergy keys and such)?
Other than a menu with the common allergens listed we do not have any other systems.
Shift Manager~ Restaurant D: How would you ensure zero cross contamination when preparing a dish for a person suffering from certain allergies?
We always alert them that the products are cooked in the same place as everything else, but when serving we have particular tongs for particular foods so there is no cross contamination there. And it is in a separate container and everything.
Manager~ Restaurant E: In one or two sentences, what does the term allergies mean to you?
Well, today for some weird and sad reason it has become a ‘fashion’ word in the food industry, but I still think it is something that needs to be taken seriously. The thing is that people use it as a trendy word. I have had customers who have said that they’re allergic to gluten, and so we take necessary precautions and then they order a beer, which also contains gluten. This then also reduces how seriously people take allergies for people who are actually allergic to foods particularly in smaller restaurants that do not have an official protocol.
Manager~ Restaurant E: How would you ensure zero cross contamination when preparing a dish for a person suffering from certain allergies?
If a person tells us that they are highly allergic to something last minute, we tell them that we cannot provide for them because there is likely some cross contamination. If they call earlier and pre- order, we will prepare their food before anyone else’s so we can fully ensure no contamination.
Head Waitress~ Restaurant A: Have you ever interacted with a customer who had an allergy? Were there any precautions you took when making their food?
Pretty often because there is a large use of nuts in the foods. Depending on how severe the allergy is, the number of precautions taken change. If a customer says that they are very allergic, I will tell the kitchen to make sure to use new cooking utensils and to make it very clear that they cannot contaminate with other dishes.
Head Waitress~ Restaurant A: What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant?
We have some social media sites where we could promote it, but its very new. In some of the restaurant chains there are posters telling customers to tell the staff if they have allergies, but we could also put up posters about allergy awareness too. And yes, I do think they are relevant.
Waiter~ Restaurant H: How do you ensure zero cross-contamination when preparing a dish for a person suffering from certain allergies?
All of our chefs have to wash their hands and use gloves, and any dishes which have allergy problems are cooked at a separate station from others so that waiters can also double check dishes to make sure the dish has not come into contact with any food which could cause a reaction from a customer, and that the request for the dish has been properly accommodated for.
Waiter~ Restaurant H: What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant? Proactively asking customers, if they have any dietary requirements, is a big thing which I think restaurants can do to raise more allergy awareness.
Waiter~ Restaurant H: Have you ever interacted with a customer who had an allergy? Were there precautions you took when making their food?
Our restaurant has gotten requests many times in the past. As for any precautions which we take, we mainly write down the allergy on the notepad which we write down customer orders on. They are marked with stars at the top of the paper to make sure the chef sees them.
Manager~ Restaurant I: What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant?
I definitely think it should be a manager/chef/waiter’s top priority to make sure their customers are comfortable and know what they are eating is safe. For our restaurant, we are planning on putting more information on our website and discussing more with our chefs to find ways of making more dishes which don't have common allergies - for example using a substitute for peanut oil in case someone is allergic to peanuts.
Why were these interesting?
Restaurant B~ This response was very insightful as it discussed an extremely important aspect of allergies. The truth is that in multiple meals there is no telling what the ingredients actually are, and so if the common allergens were written down it would clear up any doubt. In addition, the mention of the fact that no staff member is equipped to handle an emergency situation is very true. If the situation of anaphylaxis comes up, they have no way of dealing with it, which means that extreme levels of cautiousness need to be taken when preparing the food.
Restaurant B~ The practice of cooking food for the person with allergies first is something that should be taken up by all restaurants if possible. This ensures that the work space is clean and avoids cross contamination.
Restaurant C~ A separate menu with the common allergens listed for all the menu items is a very practical way to go about his issue. This way this specialised menu is available to those who need it while a regular menu is provided for everyone else.
Restaurant D~ One of the most important aspects of this business is to be honest and upfront with the customers. If a restaurant is not able to provide for a customer in any way, it is vital to alert them. They can then decide for themselves is they want to take the risk.
Restaurant E~ This response brings up the very unfortunate fact that the term allergies is often used as a word to describe a dislike rather than an illness. The fact of this is that when this happens more and more the level of care taken with customers who actually have allergies decrease because it is not seen as a serious issue anymore.
Restaurant E~ Although this system may seem long winded and unnecessary, for people who have extremely severe allergies it could come in handy. With this system, people can fully trust they will be safe with their meal and have a pleasant experience without any stress.
Restaurant A~ Using different cooking utensils and really making sure that there is no contamination is very important and is exceedingly reassuring for those who have allergies.
Restaurant A~ Rather than social media, the idea of using posters to raise awareness is a great idea. It is cheap, effective and very reassuring for customers with allergies
Restaurant H~This system is the most effective and elaborate out of all the restaurants that were interviewed. This system ensures everything that could possibly be done to create a safe environment, is done.
Restaurant H~ This could seem unnecessary or irrelevant, but for the waiter to proactively ask, shows that they are aware of the existence of allergies and of its importance.
Restaurant H~This is just a further step to ensure the allergens are properly communicated to the chef.
Restaurant I~ All of these are valuable ways in which a restaurant could be allergy friendly.
Shift Manager~ Restaurant C: What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant?
I do think that it is relevant, but I think here at Halifax we already do it quite well.
Owner~ Restaurant F: What are some ways that your restaurant could promote allergy awareness? Do you think this would be relevant?
It is relevant, and we could do more, we could do little notices and all of that. But I find that people nowadays are quite conscious of what they can and can’t eat, so I find that most of the job is done by the customer themselves. We could say on the menu to communicate allergies to the chef, but I feel like my customers are of a certain level where they can do it themselves. We leave the responsibility to the customer.
Waiter~ Restaurant G: In 1 or 2 sentences, what does the term allergies mean to you?
A physical health reason meaning that a person simply cannot eat certain foods.
Manager~ Restaurant I: Have you ever had to deal with an allergic reaction in your time in the restaurant business?
Yes, in the time I have spent working in the restaurant business, I have seen plenty of people experience minor and major allergic reactions; it is something to expect when you work with food.
Why are these negative?
Restaurant C~ Just because this restaurant believes that they are dealing with allergies well, does not mean they are promoting awareness effectively. Raising awareness for allergies would be making aware the customers that they knew about allergies before the customer even asks, for example.
Restaurant F~ This is one of the biggest misconceptions when dealing with allergies. People believe that if a person is cautious with their own allergies then no allergic reaction will take place, however, when eating out, the responsibility lies almost entirely on the restaurant. Regardless of how conscious a person with allergies is about their own allergies, this is redundant if the restaurant staff themselves are not aware of it as well.
Restaurant G~ Although this response may have been interpreted wrongly due to the use of words in the response, I still felt like I needed to include this in the list. An allergy does not mean that they ‘simply cannot eat the food’, it means that (in some cases), a person’s life will be threatened because of a certain food.
Restaurant I~ Dealing with allergic reactions is not ‘something to expect’ in the restaurant business, especially major ones. This only occurs when the staff is careless with food preparation or in some cases when the customer is not vigilant enough. There are plenty of people interviewed who never once had to deal with an allergic reaction during their time in the business, and while this may be to do with the luck of the draw, it will also have to do with the care that they and their restaurant has taken.