By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
Food allergies are not only commonplace nowadays but continue to become more prevalent, particularly in a North American context. This means that allergic considerations will only become more prevalent as millennials and post-millennials come to dominate the travel economy as well as the workforce.
Those individuals who are known to have certain afflictions are well-aware of the challenges they face – the common ones being peanuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, dairy and soy, but can also include seemingly more innocuous examples like garlic, red meat, wheat, berries or certain species in the mustard family. These individuals take (or should take) extra care necessary to identify themselves and mitigate any risks. To do otherwise is simply foolhardy.
Along with such back-of-house operations like housekeeping, foodservice is one of the most important components of any full-service property’s success – at least from a guest satisfaction perspective. While the critical nature of food allergies has probably already been covered numerous times by your team leaders, it is necessary for you to bring this up continually in order to ensure that it remains top-of-mind.
Personally, I somehow have a bad reaction to scallops but not any other type of shellfish. While it’s not anywhere close to life-threatening, the results of its consumption are rather unpleasant for the next four to six hours.
However, I once inadvertently served shellfish to a friend with a more serious allergy, as he had never previously mentioned this to me or anyone else at the dinner party. Thank goodness another one of my guests had an EpiPen, or the results might have been tragic. The point here, though, is that you are ultimately responsible for your guests’ safety above all other factors. While this guest should’ve made his allergies known, I was in the wrong for not asking and not having any emergency treatments on hand.
As such, I strongly advise that you err or the side of caution, again because of the increasing rate of food hypersensitivities in Western society. While, for most of us, peanut butter is a delightful umami flavor, it shouldn’t grace the kitchen of your ‘something for everyone’ restaurant, lest you exclude certain guests or families with allergic kids from eating there, or, worse, provoke a medical crisis. At the same time, your suppliers need to identify any items that may contain trace peanut elements while you pay that information forward to customers.
Importantly, allergic considerations may play a prominent role in influencing other members of a dining group. If one person has a particular sensitivity, it may be the deciding factor towards choosing a ‘safe’ place to eat. Moreover, even if these patrons choose your outlet, all the others in that group will judge how you deal with this particular member’s allergy concerns, factoring it into their appraisal of your restaurant.
Going one step further now, advise your staff dining in the cafeteria to avoid bringing peanut products into your facility. This may sound somewhat extreme, but some guests are so allergic that residue from a housekeeper’s hands might be enough to trigger a reaction.
Lastly, having a non-expired EpiPen in your restaurant and your catering office is always a good insurance policy that most of you likely already have in place. However, it’s the training of managers and servers that can degrade to the point of negligence, and therefore this must be readdressed at least once a quarter so that everyone is able to quickly identify the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Part of this instruction should also include ways for servers to ask guests about their allergies and how to properly relay this information back to the kitchen.
As with many situations, communication is the best form of prevention. You owe every individual who sets foot in your hotel a duty of care, and you should do your best to avert any crisis before it even has the chance of occurring.
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