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The number of consumers with food allergies is growing. One in 13 children have one or more food allergies, and an estimated 15 million Americans are on the hunt for allergy friendly restaurants. 

Restaurant managers will want their establishment to get on the elite list of allergy-friendly restaurants. So where do you start?Tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.

These are the eight big bad foods that make up 90% of food allergies here in the United States. Most restaurant managers can testify that they have received requests to keep these foods out of an order. That means restaurateurs have a decision to make: will they accommodate these dietary restrictions or reject special requests? (Hint: we recommend you accommodate these requests!)

Restaurant managers who choose to accommodate customers with food allergies can use the following tips to get started.

1. Two menus, two prep stations.

This is the most intimidating, and important, aspect of running an allergy-friendly restaurant.

When designing an allergy-friendly restaurant menu, it is best to create dishes that accommodate many allergy types at once. For example, a dish without wheat, nuts, or shellfish would be an option for diners who have any one of those allergies or a combination of the three.

Creating a wheat-free dish may be easier, but it doesn’t stretch as far in terms of covering a larger consumer base.

The need for two meal preparation stations is also essential when dealing with meals for diners with allergies. Preparing an allergy-friendly meal on a non-allergy-friendly surface negates all the work that goes into creating a specialized menu. This means that the cooking utensils, food supplies, and preparation stations for allergy-friendly meals need to be kept separate from other menu foods and supplies.

2. Informed and engaged servers are a must.

The wait staff is your first line of defense when addressing requests for specialized meals. Staff needs to be trained about the risks associated with allergic reactions (yes, these are serious and can include death). They must also be proactive and engaged. Being proactive means they make sure they are aware of any and all allergies that could affect customers’ meal choices. Being engaged means that they are clear about which dishes are allergy-friendly when they are served.

Allergen training options for restaurant managers and wait staff are a good way to prepare yourself and your staff about how to address food allergies. In fact, Massachusetts and Rhode Island require restaurants to provide allergy training for their employees. If you are committed to creating and allergy-friendly restaurant menu then find a company near you that can provide food allergy training for your employees.

3. The Customer is always right (about their allergy)

They say the customer is always right. Who can argue with that logic when it comes to restaurant-goers with allergies? A person who lives with food allergies is aware of what they can and cannot eat and that knowledge is a vital resource when serving people with allergies.

The wait staff can’t hesitate to ask about allergies because all the information they need is literally sitting in front of them. In the end, a friendly inquiry can be a 5-second step that saves a life.

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Quinn Massaroni is a Rhode Island-based freelance writer, graduate student, and daily eater. Her ideal meal would start off with calamari from Druthers in her hometown of Albany, New York, followed by borscht from Cafe Pushkin in Moscow, dessert from Baked Bear in San Diego, and would finish with a margarita on the Salvation Taco rooftop in New York City.