How To Handle A Guest With Food Allergies

A guest in a restaurant, while placing their dinner order, informs the sever that they are allergic to [fill in the blank]… lets just say gluten, a scenario that plays out regularly in restaurants around the US. This is the crucial moment for the operation because here is where we determine if we get the customer sick, make them angry or provide them with a great experience.  Something we find more often than not is that server is not prepared to handle the request correctly and this could lead to a major problem.

The most important thing you can to to help this guest is make sure the server knows the menu items ingredients.  It will give them the confidence to proceed in a way that will help them both.  But be careful and really test the servers regularly to make sure they actually know what is in your dishes, sometimes there will be resistance on their behalf.

Next, make sure that the server understands the difference between an allergy and a specific diet, which will drastically effect the way the food item is prepared.  Is it ok to ask a guest if they are allergic or just prefer to not have an item? Well, I guess that depends on the guest and how they are asked but regardless it is important to know.  And once you find out if the guest has an allergy or not, you need to inform the chef/cook and the manager.  An order for an allergy that says, “Cheese Burger NO BUN” only tells the cook that this customer does not want a bun, not that they are allergic. The cook could still prepare the food in a way that could harm the guest without knowing. So “Cheese Burger GLUTEN ALLERGY” may be a better option.

If a guest is allergic to a food product in your facility then you have two options on how to move forward.

The first option could be very difficult and frustrating for the staff and the guest.  The food item that is prepared for them must be prepared in a way where there is no cross contact, which means that you not only need to wash your hands and change your gloves but that you must also not allow the food to be touched in any way that the allergen can contaminate their food through other foods or surfaces.  If you make sandwiches you’ll need a clean and sanitized cutting board and you can not even use the same ingredients that you have been preparing other foods with because they may be contaminated.  If you have been making any breaded dishes the equipment you have been using like pans or deep fryers are also contaminated, so this equipment can’t be used either.  There will need to be a lot of separate prepping and cleaning that will add time to the preparation of this dish and once again this could be frustrating for everyone involved.

Usually the option to prevent cross contact is only available to facilities that are designed to handle allergies so not every operation can do this.  This leads to the second option which is tho not serve the guest certain dishes or simply deny service completely, which nobody wants. But, if the overall goal is to protect guests with food allergies, then this may be the best way to do so.