Embracing the special dietary requirements culture at your restaurant
Australia has been named the ‘allergy capital of the world’ with more than 5 million Australians living with allergic disease (https://nationalallergystrategy.org.au/news/media-releases) and 42% of people are eating less meat or none at all in 2019. Among them, 10% of the people identified themselves as vegan or vegetarian, 12% as meat reducer, and 20% as flexitarian. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1232881/australia-share-of-people-avoiding-or-reducing-meat-consumption/). What changes have you made in your business to address this trend?
Food allergies and intolerances are getting more common these days and there are all sorts of dietary requirements - something that was almost non-existent just 20 years ago. Today we should acknowledge that this change is inevitable and hospo businesses should take advantage of this evolution as a sign of understanding consumer needs and represent a more progressive food outlet.
Unfortunately many chefs still view this as a restriction during restaurant service, especially if there was no advance notice given for this special request. While restaurants may charge customers for this late notice, some may not even accommodate. So what are the steps we should consider?
Understanding and listening to your customers - observe the types of food allergies and special dietary requirements from your customers over a period of 3 months or so. This exercise allows you to identify the average percentage of customers who are vegan, gluten free, nut free etc. Now you have a valid opportunity to update your menu based on this finding. For example, offering 25% of vegan options on your menu because you know that you have approximately 25% of vegan customers coming to your establishment every month. This approach would seem to be the most practical and flexible solution for walk-in customers.
Photo credit: https://www.firebird.hanoihannah.com.au/menu A basic food menu should have dietary information tagged to each dish item included i.e. VE = vegan, V= vegetarian, GF = gluten free, DF = dairy free. If you can include an optional version, add ‘O’ at the back so it appears as ‘GFO’ meaning gluten free option.
How about those with more challenging requests - such as allium free (no garlic/onion)? People who don’t even work in the kitchen would know that garlic and onion are basic ingredients to any cooking in any cuisine. However there is still a growing community of people who just simply dislike the taste or due to religious beliefs such as Buddhism. If you are certain that you are unable to accommodate such requests then communication is essential. Make sure you highlight this at the point of booking so customers are well aware and informed. What happens if customers still show up and ask for this? As a business we must show that we are customer-centric and adaptable at some level - either recommend garlic free dishes or remove any possible garlic elements from the dishes (you can charge the customers at your discretion).
Source: https://www.amarumelbourne.com.au/reservations-1 Always provide vital information on your website so customers are aware of what you can or cannot cater for prior to booking.
One common oversight in a busy kitchen is failing to account for customer requests when orders are put through. Most ordering systems allow special requests to be notified to the kitchen but in a very busy kitchen environment it is not uncommon at all for these requests to miss and eventually - serving the wrong order. This will not only tarnish the restaurant’s reputation but at risk of a negative review and ultimately an unhappy customer. Again, communication is key and it falls down to the responsibilities of both teams on the floor and kitchen to cross check with each other at least multiple times until the food gets served. One helpful tip is to serve special requests on a different coloured plate and notify the floor staff for a successful execution. If this is practiced as a daily routine it is unlikely that this oversight will take place.
Lastly educate both floor and kitchen staff on the various food allergies and special dietary requirements in Australia. Every new starter should be taken through the menu as part of their training and familiarise potential allergens as elements of the dish. Making suitable recommendations based on customers requests is a great way to showcase superior customer service. Floor staff need to be proactive and attentive in checking with diners if they have any special dietary requirements as soon as they arrive. If a customer informs of a peanut allergy then it is important to check if that person suffers anaphylaxis when exposed to peanuts. This must be communicated to the kitchen so proper protocol can be followed - using gloves, different pots, pans and dedicated crockery etc.
Hope this blog post has added some useful insights on how to better manage your restaurant when it comes to allergies and special dietary requirements.