How food allergen programs increase customer loyalty

| by Betsy Craig
How food allergen programs increase customer loyalty

Diners constantly ask for more information when dining out. They want to know where their food came from, what the nutritional facts are, and if the food is safe for those with specific food allergies. 

This used to be a daunting task for restaurateurs. Recently, however, many more brands are stepping up to the plate to tackle these questions head-on through staff training initiatives, publicly available allergen information and other means that take the mystery out of dining out. 

And these moves involve all types of brands including those run by large corporations, right down to the mom-and-pop establishment. As their leadership is finding, all brands can innovate in ways that keep their customers safe, assured and well-informed. What follows are some of the best practices. 

Train food service staff

When customers and even fellow staff members know the QSR manager is well-trained and knowledgeable about food allergies, everyone has more peace of mind. That's why it's important to train all food service staff —from cashiers to managers— as a first step in ensuring diners'safety because, in this case, education is, in every sense, power. 

Develop allergy-friendly menus

Gluten-free menus popped up a few years ago all over the place and now it's common for diners to expect menu listings of gluten-free options. Some restaurateurs go a step further and provide menus with both food allergy and nutritional information.

But remember to train all food service staff to know what types of menus your brand makes available, as well as where other top resources are located connected to this issue. This gives diners the tools they need to choose safe menu items and, as mentioned above, education is power and now more than ever, consumers want a sense of power and control over what they eat and drink.

Allergy alert systems

While designated menus and trained staff are awesome tools, the steps you take after being alerted that a diner has food allergies are paramount. A cashier or server must know who to go to and what the proper protocol is when they are made aware of a customer with a food allergy issue. 

With adequate training, food service staff will not only know what an allergy is, but whether they can serve the diner an allergen-free meal safely and proactively, thus also creating a very dedicated repeat customer. 

Some restaurants are at the forefront of implementing innovative ways to assist customers with food allergies. Resources like Allergy Eats'offer a guide to restaurants that cater to those with food allergies, like In-N-Out. 

In fact, In-N-Out took their compact menu and assessed it for food allergies. Likewise, on their website they offer an allergen menu that shows which allergens are present in each food item, including the ingredients in each dish and the oil used to prepare their fries. Those specifics make it easy for those dining out to have a chart on hand, via their mobile devices, which a well-trained staff can easily direct customers to, as needed. 

Another chain, Red Robin caters to diners with celiac disease, food sensitivities and food allergies by providing an interactive allergen menu on the web and at table kiosks in the restaurants. Diners can select the allergen they would like to avoid from a list, which in turn gives them all of the menu items that come naturally without them. It also allows the diner to see what other menu items they can select by simply modifying an ingredient. 

Red Robin augments this with a training system that has servers notifying both management and the kitchen of a diner with a food allergy, so that kitchen staff can use a special allergen kit to prepare the meal, which is flagged with a purple frill-pick to warn those handling the meal that it was specially prepared and cannot come in contact with other prepared or raw foods.

Finally, and in the interest of complete disclosure, my company, AllerTrain, annually recognizes a number of brands for outstanding accomplishment in this area. 2018 award winner, Portillo's, exemplifies a brand with a great system where nutritional and allergen information is housed on their website, along with fryer information and cross-contact disclaimers.

As a result, all diners can easily find the information they need to eat out safely. Portillo's also augments this with food service staff training, as just another example of how brands can turn what some might perceive as a business impediment into a business plus. 

After all, diner questions and concerns around food allergens and preferences are increasing. Fortunately, so are the number of great tools for restaurants that choose to cater to these diners'needs, since they will likely only return the favor with their dedicated patronage of your brand. 

Photo: iStock

Topics: Food Allergies / Gluten-free

Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC. wwwView Betsy Craig's profile on LinkedIn

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