Since the introduction of the legislation in December 2014, which requires restaurants to list 14 allergens on menus or have their presence communicated to customers by staff, businesses have had to work hard on communication between both staff and customers and taken greater care of the creation of menus, with some even eradicating allergen ingredients from menus completely.
Speaking at BigHospitality and Appetite Learning's panel debate 'Are we doing enough about allergens' at The Restaurant Show last week, Michael Bremner, chef-owner of 64 Degrees in Brighton revealed he no longer included peanuts in any dishes to ensure there was no chance of cross-contamination or error when a customer with a peanut allergy visited the restaurant.
"I don’t put them on the menu for sheer fear. I used to do dishes with peanut butter, but I’ve eliminated it from the kitchen completely now," he said.
Libby Andrews, head of marketing at Pho restaurants, said it had been easier for the restaurant chain to make itself 99 per cent gluten-free to remove any margin of error across the group.
"One of the main reasons we changed our menu to be 99 per cent gluten free and have gluten-free accreditation is it made it a million times easier for staff to understand and rather than having a couple of thing things that may have a bit of gluten in them, or have cross-contamination, we thought 'let’s just get do away with all of it'," she said.
Communicating better with both staff and customers when a diner said they had an allergy was also the key to managing allergen legislation, our panellists agreed.
Bremner said he took allergy requests very seriously and would adapt dishes or create new ones depending on a diner's allergy. When in the restaurant, the diner is reassured their request is being fulfilled.
"If anyone comes into the restaurant with a dietary requirement or allergy, whoever is in charge of the kitchen, will go over to them, make sure they know we’ve acknowledged it’s serious and find out what is that they can and can’t eat. Then, whoever has spoken to that customer will be in charge of that order, so there's complete understanding between both the chef and the customer," he said.
Andrews said the 'biggest thing' the company had learned about managing allergen legislation was around communication with customers.
"We used to have one line on our website asking questions about allergens and dietary requirements, and now we have whole pages dedicated to it," she said. "We are very quick to respond when they ask on social media about our menu or email in. We take all requests very seriously and if someone's allergic to an ingredient we use a lot, such as garlic, I’m very clear in saying you’ll be limited in what you can eat. We specialise in Pho and it’s made with certain allergens, so while you should cater for guests with allergies, it’s important to be honest and say ‘we can do a meal for you, but it might be limited’"
Andrews also said staff training at a multi-site business was key: "We have a strict and straightforward training plan. If someone's working the floor, they have been trained and our main menu changes once or twice a year, so staff will know exactly what's on it before they start working."
According to Allergy UK, the cases of food allergies have doubled in the last decade with. Lindsey McManus, deputy chief executive at Allergy UK, praised the Bremner and Andrews for the steps their businesses were taking, but said it also made strong business sense to do so.
"People with allergies don’t want to be special, they want to be the same. They are also the key decision makers about where they go out to eat," she said.
"It's easy to forget that food allergies are potentially life-threatening, but those with them, just need reassurance that they are safe and to be given the chance to make the right decisions when they eat out."
For more information about training staff in allergy awareness visit the Appetite Learning website.