Whether you run a casual cafe or an upscale restaurant, your customers' food allergies can bring you success, or even failure. You’re most likely seeing increasing requests for allergy-free offerings, as allergy issues are on the rise due to growing awareness of adverse reactions to shellfish, eggs, nuts, diary and wheat. But these hurdles can also be seen as opportunities to amp up your customer service and create repeat business at your restaurant or coffee shop.
“People with food allergies may be a small percentage, but they're still our customers,” said beloved Chicago-based chef Tony Priolo told food-allergy app maker, Spokin, in an interview. “If you address their needs and gain their trust, they keep coming back.”
To make a broad customer base feel invited into your establishment, you should display this information on menus, pastry cases and even the front door.
You should also properly maintain your kitchen and other areas where food is prepped:
· Designate an allergen-safe food preparation area to prevent allergic reactions and cross-contact of food allergens during prep and service.
· Keep current information for vendors and supplies so you can access food-ingredient information.
· Ask vendors to let you know about any product substitutions so they can be vetted for potential allergens.
With nut allergies in particular, coffee drinking has become riskier. (Of course, it’s always been a hassle for people with dairy allergies.) But those who are allergic to nuts, soy, coconut or rice are now also at risk. While it’s great that more milk alternatives are available, cross contamination has become a more concerning around espresso equipment.
Because the steam wand touches many different milks when steaming them for lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, steamers, etc., cross contamination is a serious risk. When the morning rush is in full press, it’s easy to accidentally steam some dairy milk, followed by soy or almond mild. Some coffee shops have one wand dedicated for alternative milks—but that isn’t common, so cleaning them after each use is critical.
Baked goods with nuts or gluten should always be kept and handled separately from each other and all other foods. This includes separate storage containers, separate shelves in the display case, and separate tongs.
It’s simply a best practice in the restaurant business to make all guests comfortable, including those with food allergies. By making allergy management part of your food-safety training and practices, you can confidently serve customers with food allergies and sensitivities. You'll also gain a following among customers with dietary restrictions.