Catering to those with allergies does not always come easily to professional cooks. They are used to being able to use whatever ingredients they want to, coming up with new dishes without restriction. However, there is a need for more chefs to consider those with allergies when they plan their menus. There are few restaurants today that do not offer vegetarian options, and many offer halal or kosher options too. However those with allergies are often left without much, or even any, choice. That is a shame for those with allergies who then find it difficult to eat out, and it is also a shame for the restaurants. They are missing out on custom from a large section of the population. Around 5% are thought to have a clinically proven allergy, although the real figure might be much higher, even up to 20%.
Things to Think About
Busy chefs and restaurateurs have plenty to do already: everything from table-setting to catering van insurance needs to be dealt with. That means that thinking about allergy-free cooking might not be at the top of the to-do list. However, it is something worth paying some attention to. Some simple adaptations can be made to some recipes to make them suitable for those with allergies, and many recipes are suitable for most people with food allergies in any case, without adaptation.
Restaurants can make many dishes allergy free if they need to, and it is often very simple to offer both an allergy-free and a standard version of the same dish. For example, a restaurant could keep a stock of gluten-free pasta and offer that as an alternative to standard pasta. Sometimes it can be more complicated to offer an allergy free option. For example, gravy can easily be made with cornflour rather than wheat flour, but it might be difficult to make up a single portion with cornflour. Chefs should think about whether they can change their recipes in such cases to use an allergy-free option in cooking for everyone without compromising taste.
Many of those who suffer from food allergies are unable to eat dairy foods, eggs or both. They can eat vegan foods, and as vegan options are often difficult to find on restaurant menus, including meat and dairy-free dishes would draw in two groups of customers at the same time. Those used to relying on animal protein to create flavor might find it hard to come up with tasty vegan dishes, using herbs, spices and dairy alternatives such as soy or coconut milk can produce wonderful results. Traditional western cooking can be difficult to adapt to allergy-free, but eastern-style cooking often avoids most of the foods that people tend to be allergic to.
Another way in which restaurants can help those with food allergies is to clearly label their menus, as some already do. So each dish would be listed as nut-free, dairy-free, gluten free and so on, just as most restaurants make it clear whether the dishes they serve are vegetarian or vegan. They should also be willing to answer questions about the menu and about how the food is prepared. Allergies can be life-threatening, so those who suffer from them need to be certain that their food is safe before they order. Preparation techniques are particularly important, and care needs to be taken to avoid cross-contamination.
Flexibility is also important. If a customer asks whether a particular dish can be made without the addition of cheese, for example, then there is no reason that the restaurant should not comply. While it may then be a different kind of dish to the one it would have been, it might be none the worse for it. The customer is always right.
A Different Dining Experience
Those with allergies are often put off eating out altogether as it is so difficult for them to do so safely. An restaurant that can offer a range of allergy-free dishes, clear menu labeling and a flexible approach to adapting their recipes will soon become a magnet for allergy sufferers excluded from other places. If you are in the restaurant business, think about how you can cater to allergy sufferers. Not only is it the right thing to do, it might just get you more business too.