Catering for specific dietary requirements can be a minefield of problems for restaurants, commercial caterers and chefs everywhere. Whether you have customers following different eating plans out of choice, or they’re suffering from particular food intolerances or severe allergies, it’s an important issue that the food and catering industry is grappling with on a daily basis.
Ingesting certain foods can cause a wide range of reactions. Minor intolerances may manifest as a skin rash, digestive upset or joint pains hours after eating. Lifelong auto-immune conditions such as coeliac disease can cause serious illness, while a nut allergy reaction is immediate and severe, and may result in anaphylactic shock and death.
Here’s a list of the most common allergens though this is by no means exhaustive.
- Eggs, milk and dairy products
- Tree nuts including almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil, cashew, pecan, pistachio and pine nuts
- Fish and shellfish including prawns, crayfish, crab and lobster
- Molluscs including mussels, oysters and snails
- Gluten found in wheat, barley and rye
- Sesame and other seeds
- Soya beans
The Food Standards Agency has set out clear rules and regulations that must be adhered to by all food businesses and event catering companies. However, forward-looking chefs and caterers will know that the only way to satisfy all their customers is to go above and beyond the law.
Make enquiries before the event
With any catering event booking, finding out about dietary requirements in advance of the event is not just desirable, these days it’s essential for good business. Take a moment to think about it from the point of view of the diner who has a food intolerance or allergy. Dining out under these circumstances can be extremely stressful, so if you can offer reassurances about certain ingredients and food preparation methods, your efforts will get you noticed. If at all possible, you should take the trouble to contact the diners in question direct, ask about their specific dietary requirements and agree on a menu for them.
One size does not fit all
From a commercial viewpoint, it can be tempting to create one alternative dish/menu that caters for all food issues. Minimising work and keeping costs low may work for the caterers, but the result will inevitably be a bland meal with everything taken out. Imagine having to eat a dinner that is purported to be equally suitable for coeliacs and nut allergy sufferers, for vegetarians and low carbers, for no-sugar and dairy-free diets. What’s left?! Professional chefs must take up the challenge to create a variety of dishes to suit individual food preferences, intolerances and allergies, plus segregated food preparation areas to avoid cross-contamination.
Thorough staff training is key
Unfortunately, dietary requirements are still widely misunderstood, which can lead to potentially serious health accidents. Does your waiting staff understand that you cannot cut a gluten-free cake with the same knife that’s just been used to cut a regular cake? Are they familiar with vegan vs non-vegan ingredients to be able to reassure diners? Do they know to triple check before pronouncing a dish nut free? Every member of your catering team, permanent or casual, must have received thorough training, plus there should be one designated team members who is an expert in food issues and allergies who can be consulted in case of difficult questions.
Keep abreast of health food trends
Not that long ago, special diets were reserved for medical conditions such as diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, colitis or Coeliac Disease. But over recent decades there’s been a gradual realisation that good food doesn’t have to contain problem ingredients, while people everywhere are now embracing clean eating more than ever before. Millennials are the driving force towards plant-based eating, and there are now over 3.5 million vegans in the UK. According to a recent survey, nearly half of all millennials predict that vegan restaurants are the next big thing in the next 2 years. As a food business, you would be foolish to ignore the trend
Are inclusive menus the future?
Catering for divergent dietary requirements and food allergies at a professional level is anything but a picnic in the park and it is understandable that many chefs and catering companies are struggling to find a way to please everyone. But the importance of being able to cater for all dietary needs cannot be understated. For real-life inspiration, take a leaf out of top chef Dominic Teague’s book. As Executive Chef of the prestigious Indigo Restaurant at London’s One Aldwych Hotel, he has proved beyond doubt that innovative cooking and delicious food that is both dairy free and gluten free is not only possible, it may well be the future.
To find out how Kafoodle can help you to go above and beyond for your food allergic diners, get in touch with us on 020 3371 0450 or through firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Annie Button
Food Allergy Awareness
Winner | 2015
Product Excellence Award
Winner | 2016
Great British Entrepreneur Awards
Silver Winner | 2015