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Lessons that all foodservice professionals can learn from the most allergy-friendly restaurant chains

Lessons that all foodservice professionals can learn from the most allergy-friendly restaurant chains

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Each year, AllergyEats, the leading guide to allergy-friendly restaurants nationwide, spotlights its list of Most Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Chains in the US. These chains hold the highest ratings on AllergyEats’ website and smartphone app, per feedback from the food allergy community. These ratings are based solely on how well restaurants have accommodated food-allergic diners, and not on other factors, such as ambiance, service or food quality.  

There are some important lessons that all foodservice professionals can learn from these allergy-friendly restaurant chains—even if they work outside of the restaurant setting.  Whether they're cooking in a university dining hall, hotel, sports venue or elsewhere, all foodservice professionals should know how to accommodate food-allergic guests. Restaurants like Chipotle Mexican Grill, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and the other establishments on AllergyEats' list have proven themselves to have best-in-class food allergy protocols, training and knowledge. And they're raising the bar for more foodservice professionals to do the same.

Not only is being allergy-friendly good for guests, it's also a smart business decision. Research shows that when establishments accommodate food-allergic guests, they can experience significant business benefits, including increased customers, sales, loyalty and profits. AllergyEats encourages foodservice professionals to implement food allergy protocols, as the trend toward greater allergy-friendliness across the foodservice industry continues to grow.

Some of the most allergy-friendly chains shared their tips, including:

•    P.F. Chang’s China Bistro—Utilizes a multistep allergen process:
•    Trains all employees on its eight-step allergen process.  
•    Uses an internal food allergy matrix that determines which menu items are free of diners' food allergens.
•    Prepares allergy-friendly meals in a separate area of the kitchen using dedicated woks and utensils.
•    Serves all allergy-modified items on special plates to visually identify them.

•    Legal Sea Foods—Emphasizes hospitality and teamwork:
•    Understands that being accommodating is critical in the hospitality business.  
•    Trains all of their employees on allergy-friendly practices.
•    Sets the tone from the top, with their leadership team emphasizing allergy-friendliness as critical to the organization's core values.
•    Accommodates a wide variety of food allergies, including fish and shellfish, which is especially notable for a seafood restaurant.

•    Red Robin Gourmet Burgers—Says allergy-friendliness is in its company's DNA:
•    Allows guests to customize their meals based on their specific dietary restrictions.  
•    Provides transparent allergen information so guests can make informed choices.
•    Knows that being accommodating is important, as they served more than 1 million allergy orders last year alone.   
•    Leverages technology as a way to communicate, offering interactive, online allergen menus that allow guests to indicate their allergens and get a customized menu of items that are appropriate for them.   
•    Offers peanut-free environments.
•    Utilizes allergen kits—separate knives, utensils, gloves, etc.—to prepare food-allergic guests' orders.
•    Uses purple frill picks to visually identify allergy-friendly meals.
•    Provides continuous, comprehensive food allergy staff training, in person and through reminder documents, onsite posters, etc.
•    Calls allergy-friendliness "an integral part of Red Robin’s DNA."  

•    Burtons Grill—Reiterates allergy-friendly training messages to staff daily:
•    Has a top-down commitment to allergy-friendliness, as the restaurant's CEO/owner is passionate about this issue.
•    Starts food allergy training at staff orientation and conducts staff meetings every day to discuss accommodating guests' food allergies.   
•    Prepares food-allergic meals in separate areas, using dedicated equipment—including dedicated fryers—to eliminate the possibility of cross-contamination.  
•    Uses special square dishes as a visual cue for allergy-friendly meals.  
•    Requires managers to serve allergy-friendly meals separately from other diners' meals as an added safety precaution.

•    Not Your Average Joes—Understands the importance of communication:
•    Emphasizes staff training and is dedicated to accommodating food-allergic and gluten-intolerant guests.
•    Ensures clear communication between guests and staff, sending the manager and chef to speak directly to guests about their specific food allergies. Once they're clear on what each guest can (and can't) have, the chef cooks the meal accordingly.
•    Uses all fresh ingredients for food-allergic guests to avoid cross-contamination.  
•    Markets their allergy-friendliness to attract more food-allergic guests (and their families).

"The food allergy protocols that we leverage across P.F. Chang’s restaurants can certainly be transferrable to foodservice industries outside of restaurants. By modifying the way the flow of the food is handled with a HACCP approach and ensuring that everyone throughout the organization is aligned with this process, it’s relatively easy to implement within any foodservice industry," explains Michael Moomjian, director, quality assurance & food safety at P.F. Chang's China Bistro. "Our protocols are more operational than anything, and once that process is in place and followed, foodservice professionals can feel confident that they too are able to meet the food allergy requests of their guests."

Visit AllergyEats Most Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Chains for the full 2015 list.

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