Only a decade ago, very few restaurant guests would inform their servers about their allergies, ask what ingredients different dishes contained and then order requesting certain ingredients to be fully excluded.
These days, such requests occur almost daily and frequently during lunch and dinner.
Restaurateurs, servers, and cooks often have to deal with special requests, sometimes from a “4-top “ table. Imagine the juggling cooks go through when such requests pour in, especially when 100 people arrive in a matter of 45 minutes. Imagine a table of four, between them one has a peanut allergy, the other is lactose intolerant, and a third, a celiac disease. Is your kitchen and service staff prepared to handle the situation? After all, you don’t want the party to make negative remarks about your restaurant.
According to doctors investigating allergies, such problems are becoming more common.
During a conversation with a maitre d’hotel in Toronto, I asked how he handles such requests. First he told me what kind of allergies he had to deal with while negotiating a wedding for 50 – mushrooms, lactose, squash, shrimps, nitrates, deli meats, canned tuna, chocolate, bottled salad dressings, mayonnaise, marzipan, peanuts, deserts, pesto, surimi, fish stock, cereals, ice cream, soy sauce, MSG, couscous, and spelt.
The work of cooks is now more difficult that it was only a few years ago. Executive chefs have to manage the crew, ensure timely production and food quality at an acceptable cost of food, have equipment repaired, and now also worry about guest’s allergies.
The consequences of ignoring an allergy or intolerance can be severe, as a hotel dining room manager in Alberta discovered. The server conveniently ignored a guest’s request that if the ordered dessert contained nuts, it should not be served. During the ensuing court case, the restaurant fined $ 27,000.00 and was forces to pay all hospital charges for anaphylactic shock.
If you as a chef ignore, a customer’s request because you feel he/she is untruthful, you do so at your peril.
In one case In Novas Scotia, a customer asked whether the seafood stew contained salmon, and the server answered in the negative. After one bite, the customer died!
As a restaurant manager/owner you must prepare your staff for every eventuality by insisting that alls servers know all ingredients of each dish on the menu, and ensure that every cook including the executive chef must act responsibly when a guest request comes on an order.
Some restaurateurs go as far as banning whet, (or any other gluten containing food), fish and shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, peanuts (and other nuts including sesame). Predictably the menu is restricted, but it is better to offer a limited choice than be faced with problems later.
All communications between service, kitchen, purchasing, receiving, and storage must function perfectly to avoid complications.
You can also use a colour code system for each dish coming to the pass, and double check with the order and server in an attempt to prevent a major inconvenience and/or problem.
In almost all Chinese restaurants, woks are never washed and contain traces of shellfish. If you operate a Chinese restaurant; make sure there is a special wok for people with allergies to shellfish.
If you decide to replace one allergen it often means (say dairy) then another one (soy) is used.
In the past, cooks just prepared food to order, but these days they must be familiar with all kinds of allergies and know how to substitute for them.
Celiac is a genetic disease and occurs due to gluten (what food does not contain gluten? Quinoa).
Food intolerance occurs when there are relatively large quantities of something to whish the individual is allergic, versus allergic people react immediately even if small amounts are involved.
Some restaurants and QAR (Quick Service Restaurants) post all the ingredients of their menus on their web sites, and emphasise that it is the customer’s responsibility to research and communicate with servers clearly.
Many restaurants use convenience foods that contain all kinds of preservatives, artificial colouring, and taste enhancers.
Before you decide to use any convenience item, ask the sales representative about all the preservatives, and chemicals the product contains (marinades, salad dressings, desserts are commonly purchased by small restaurants), and even convention hotels with large banquet facilities buy semi-prepared main courses to re-thermalize.
You must also accommodate guests who ask for halal food, kosher food, peanut free food, and the list seems to grow every year. These requests can be accommodated relatively easily, except kosher, which requires the supervision of a mashgiach.
Be flexible with clients with children and who provide their own food.
The restaurant business requires attention to detail, and now it has become more demanding!
Finally never assume that a guest is untruthful when he/she states and allergy!