No two people are exactly alike, including how we each experience food allergies. For some, even the smallest amount of an allergen can cause a reaction, while others may be able to eat foods that contain traces of an allergen without any problems.
Because of these differences, both restaurant staff and customers need to communicate about food allergies to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable dining experience.
Here are ten ways restaurant staff and customers can communicate to prevent food allergy reactions:
1. Ask about allergies
When taking orders, whether in person, over the phone, or online, always ask about any allergies the customer may have. This way, you can avoid using any ingredients that could trigger a reaction. Some customers mention their allergy but leave out important information in the same interaction, like how serious the allergy is. According to the staff we surveyed, customers should not just state their allergy but also describe the severity of the allergy. For example, “I’m allergic to peanuts. Even a little bit will make my throat swell up.”
2. Write it down
Customers should not assume that staff will remember their allergy information after the conversation. It’s always best to write it down, either on the order slip or in a note to the server. That way, there is no confusion later on.
3. Be specific about what you can and cannot eat
Some customers may be unsure what ingredients are in a dish or whether it is a certain cooking method. In these cases, it’s best to ask the server for more information. For example, you might say: “I can’t eat peanuts. Would this dish contain peanuts?” or “I’m allergic to shellfish. Will the sauce be cooked with shrimp?”
4. Communicate cross-contamination concerns
In addition to avoiding ingredients that they are allergic to, some customers need to avoid food that has been in contact with their allergen. This is called cross-contamination. For example, a customer who is allergic to nuts may not be able to eat a salad if the same knife is used to chop both the nuts and the salad greens.
If you have cross-contamination concerns, communicate them to your server.
5. Ask about alternatives
If you’re unsure whether a dish can be made safely, ask about alternatives. For example, you might say: “I’m allergic to peanuts. Could I get the sauce on the side to avoid the peanuts?” or “I can’t eat shellfish. Would it be possible to get the shrimp out of the dish?”
6. Request a new plate
In some cases, it may not be possible to avoid cross-contamination entirely. For example, if your allergen is fish and the dish you ordered was plated on a plate that previously held fish, there may still be traces of fish allergens on the plate. In these cases, it’s best to request a new plate.
7. Speak up if you start to have a reaction
If you start to react to eating a dish, it’s important to speak up right away to allow the restaurant staff to take steps to prevent the reaction from getting worse and help them avoid serving the same dish to other customers with allergies.
8. Be patient
Dealing with food allergies can be stressful, both for customers and restaurant staff. It’s important to be patient and understand that everyone is trying their best to ensure a safe and enjoyable dining experience.
9. Don’t hesitate to ask for help
If you’re ever unsure about anything related to your food allergy, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Most restaurant staff are happy to answer any questions you may have.
10. Thank the staff
After a safe and enjoyable dining experience, be sure to thank the restaurant staff for their efforts in accommodating your food allergy. A little appreciation can go a long way!