With food allergies on the rise, restaurants must maintain constant vigilance and preparedness to protect patrons…

Food allergies from shellfish to tree nuts are on the rise. According to the CDC, the incidence of food allergies rose nearly 50% from 1997 to 2011. It’s an interesting stat, but what’s a bar or restaurant’s responsibility to keep patrons safe? And how can you go about doing it?

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Implementing food allergy precautions

Here are six common and creative ways to manage allergies in your restaurant or bar:

1. Special menus

One of the most common methods of alerting your patrons to potential allergy complications is to mark them on the menu. If you really want to go the extra mile, create completely separate menus that are 100% safe for people with specific allergens.

2. Separate prep space or cookware

Designating a separate kitchen space and incorporating labeled cookware specifically for preparation of non-allergenic food, drastically lowers the odds of an accidental allergic reaction.

3. Informed staff

When training your staff, bartenders and servers should be educated about which potential allergies can be found in food, drinks, and even garnishes. Allergens can show up in the strangest places. Did you know that maraschino cherries have nut oil in them?

4. Permanent menu substitutions

Making substitutions in a high-volume kitchen can be challenging. Consider swapping out an offending ingredient for a non-allergenic substitution for all batch cocktails or food to avoid complicated substitutions.

5. POS allergen alerts

Certain POS systems can be equipped to deal with allergens. P.F. Chang’s POS not only has an allergen button to alert chefs, but can also scrub the menu to eliminate items with allergens to make menu recommendations easy and safe.

6. Strategic allergy-friendly seating

Heat from cooking certain foods and chemicals can cause the allergen to go airborne. With the constant movement of servers, bartenders, and barbacks, sitting at the bar or near the kitchens can become a potential trigger for a patron with a food allergy. If you have someone controlling seating, ensure they know to ask if anyone has severe allergies and would like to be seated accordingly. A bartender can make sure to accommodate anyone sitting at the bar with the same quick question.

When allergy precautions aren’t enough

For all your caution and good intentions, something will inevitably go wrong. It’s terrible and sometimes unavoidable. This doesn’t mean that you should be unprepared. Here’s how to be prepared for when allergy disaster strikes:

1. Keep an emergency allergy kit

From something small like benadryl, to something a bit stronger like an EpiPen, an emergency kit can help to lessen discomfort, or even save a life. Benadryl is fast-acting, cheap, and can help with minor to moderate reactions. While they are expensive, an EpiPen only needs to be purchased once every 18 months to maintain potency.

2. Create a solid emergency plan

It cannot be overstated enough—having a disaster plan that your staff is well trained and competent in can be a literal lifesaver. Run drills to make sure everyone knows their responsibility, such as who is calling 911 and who is attending to the people in need. Giving everyone a role, and knowing that your staff is capable and ready to act, is every bit as important as any other precaution you take.

It takes work and prep to become an allergen-friendly establishment. But, it is work that’s well worth it. 200,000 people a year are sent to the emergency room due to allergic reactions to food and drink. Any number of these can result in lawsuits, serious injury, or death. Taking precautions, training staff, and being prepared for the worst can save lives.

Additionally, people with severe allergies remember businesses that take the time to keep them safe. When eating out is usually a chore of specific ordering, apologies, and worry, finding a spot that makes them feel welcome and safe can lead to an enhanced reputation, and potentially enhanced business.

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