Soooo, you want what?

Today, I want to discuss what is often a stressful topic to both customers and restaurateurs. Food allergies. Let’s face it, they can’t be ignored anymore. I recall a time, when you would here of the occasional allergy to say shellfish….but it was rare. Food related disease such as diabetes, obesity and certain cancers have been with us longer. If you look at the list below, you can see a growing list of foods that are causing issue with patrons, and henceforth, you as a restaurant owner or chef. The percentage of customers requesting special diet needs has multiplied threefold in less than two decades. Used to be, let’s say when you were planning an event you would calculate 1-2percent for vegetarian choices, and maybe there would be 1 or 2 special needs diets. Move forward to today, those numbers are more like 5-10 percent, with numerous special….very special requests over and above the norm. This makes planning AND EXECUTION a nightmare. Let’s look at ways to make this easier for everyone involved. Read on below.

What can we do to make this issue easier from the business side? Here is a comprehensive list to get you started!

  • Cook with fresh food and ingredients. Embody true “scratch cooking”. Absolutely avoid any prepared food products, and if you have to use them, keep the labels for reference.
  • Use standardized recipes for everything! I use mastercook, excellent program with tons of features like food and menu costing, nutritional database, you can even print a cookbook! it’s also a great marketing tool, as you can provide the recipe to the customer.
  • Grow some of your own foods, herbs, flowers, lettuces, etc.
  • Source local produce, fish and meats.
  • Go with organic….always. It may cost more, but it lasts longer, tastes better and is better for you. Many of the issues people are experiencing food wise are directly connected to food chain contamination.
  • Make sure your service staff have a good understanding, and are empathetic to food related issues.
  • make sure the communication between FOH and BOH is solid. Some food reactions can be lethal, and staff need to be informed and educated.
  • Keep your menu language simple and informative…less is more, if your staff have strong menu knowledge.
  • Offer at least one option in the following categories, vegan, vegetarian and gluten free. And be sure to note on your menu the items that already are.
  • Focus your cooking style to use less or none of the following; alcohol, tree nuts, white flour and sugar. It will really simplify things.

What can the customer, you and I do if we are making dining choices perhaps with a friend with food issues?

1. Eat in good restaurants. The higher up the “food chain” you go, the more likely you are to find food that you or your child can eat. Cheaper and chain restaurants often use prepared and pre-packaged food that have additives and oils you can’t have. Good restaurants usually cook what you can eat.

2. Ask lots of questions. Explain that you have serious allergies. In this day and age, gluten free is pretty common. The basics are: no wheat, no vinegar, no wine. Most other things fall into place.

3. Order what you can eat. Good choices are: baked potatoes, plain, with butter on the side (if you eat butter), salad with lemon wedges, steamed vegetables IF AND ONLY IF they do not have oil on them (ask and ask again); broiled meat/chicken/fish–again ascertain that they have no added oil or margarine. Plain is the key to winning this game.

4. Bring extra food. Explain to the server that you/your child is highly allergic and you wouldn’t want to risk a reaction. Order salad, or sliced tomatoes, or some food.

5. Leave a big tip.

6. Avoid deep fried foods, such as french fried. Usually the oil is used for other foods, that may have gluten in them.

7. Ask MORE questions. We have gone into the back of restaurants to read the ingredients labels. You would be surprised how many foods have hidden malt in them. Ask to talk to the chef. If the chef is offended, or won’t reveal secrets, order sliced tomatoes or other raw food.

8. Call ahead to place your order and discuss the menu with the chef. Most chefs really appreciate this.

9. In Chinese restaurants, if the oil used is OK for you/your child, you might be OK ordering stir fried vegetable/meat dishes without mushrooms and without soy sauce. Some Chinese restaurants will use the oil that you bring with you (Safflower or Canola oil).

10. Mediterranean restaurants often are good choices, because they use Olive Oil. Many do not use vinegar, preferring lemon instead.


I believe this is a very important topic. I’ve read horror stories about people becoming incredible ill or even dying because staff were not informed, ignored or forgot to communicate. We are entering a new era in the restaurant industry….people are coming back soon! The expectations are going to be higher, be prepared! Thanks so much for popping by, Cheers, and happy Friday!