Christmas parties! Are your food allergy customers an afterthought?


It’s that time of year when you are planning for the Christmas party season, menus are being developed, recipes tested and menu printing is in production.


Have you considered how inclusive your menu is for the food allergy customer?    If you take the time to consider the food allergy customer in your planning stages you will receive social media      love which money just can’t buy!

Believe it or not the food allergy customer wants to eat, where possible, the same foods as their family, friends and colleagues.  Just because they cannot eat gluten or dairy it also does not make them vegetarian. I called a few restaurants offering Christmas menu’s with gluten free options (no mention of milk, eggs or nuts) The members of staff I spoke with could not be specific about how the menu could be adapted they were vague when asked if part of the dish was removed eg: stuffing.  and if I asked about dairy content they were not able to respond in a positive manner.  One restaurant after some discussions with the chef came back and stated they would do a special stuffing although the menu indicated it was already gluten free.  It would appear that many businesses create a menu and then as an afterthought they would add the GF tag and consider later how the dish will be changed, or just omit many of the trimmings associated with Christmas dinners, which then makes it a Sunday roast!fruit-salad

Social Media and how it can affect your business

I recently came across a post on social media, the person who was coeliac had contacted a London restaurant in July for their Christmas dinner in December only to be told she will have reduced options for starters and main and for dessert all there is available is fruit salad.  She is paying £50 including service charge, is that value for money! With nearly 14, 000 members in the group is this positive publicity?

The post on the right generated 90 comments with more than double the views – how damaging can it be to get it wrong.

Why should we go without!

Here is a selection of foods often left off the menu for those who are gluten or dairy free, however, with a bit of research and menu adaptation you can provide a product suitable for all your guests without having to have separate menu items. I have added links to help you find suppliers or recipes for your menu’s

So how you can adapt or improve your menu and the service you offer?

Menu Creation

  • Review your menu check the contents of each dish
    • Do you need to have nuts within the recipe or can you substitute with another ingredient or garnish?

Did you know that Chestnuts are NOT NUTS but are within the latex family of foods

  • Fish, shell fish and molluscs, do you have an option free from these allergens?  If they are on your menu do you have a process for how they are prepared in advance avoiding any cross contamination issues?

Did you know the average age for man to develop a shell fish allergy is in their 50’s 

  • Gluten & dairy free – can you create a choice of desserts and starters which could be appropriate to cover these food groups which can go hand in hand
    • Check out Mortimers white and dark chocolate – free from Gluten, dairy, soya and nuts – Be chocolate creative!

Remember ‘Fruit is NOT a PUDDING

  • Review your main dishes. Can sauces be adapted to use reductions, cornflour, stocks and seasoning which are safe?
  • Create standard Recipe templates and ingredient templates where information can be readily to hand. See out our templates by clicking on the links.  This will help when managing guests who have allergens outside of the major 14.
  • Train your staff to understand how dishes are created and how to avoid cross contamination.
  • Once your menu is created take time to check dishes for the 14 allergens and review where appropriate can they be eliminated or replaced?

Remember although one person may have the dietary requirements their party could be 4 or 50 persons in total.  More often than not the FreeFrom diner will choose the venue where they can eat safely and therefore where their party can eat, and it is far easier to have a menu dish suitable for as many dietary requirements as possible than trying to adapt a dish on the day, eliminating the chance of errors which could cause a cross contamination issue on the day.


Positive Communication

Create an allergy table.

  • Once the menu is created, communicating suitable dishes and their contents to guests should be relatively straightforward. Creating an allergy table, click here which highlights the allergens, adaptions and covers ‘May Contains’ will help the food allergy guest decide at the booking stage what is suitable for their requirements rather than waiting until the day and risking what may be available. Post this online so guests can see exactly what they are getting for their money.

Be clear on menu dishes

  • Obtain full information of the customers’ dietary requirements,
  • Train staff to look at the allergy matrix to affirm what dishes could be available.
  • Where customers have multiple allergies or those outside of the 14 major allergens, arrange for the chef to call them and discuss options direct.
  • When taking a booking for someone with multiple allergies request their group sit at an earlier time from other groups,  at the start of the session where appropriate, enabling them reassurance that they will have a safe meal during the quieter period.
  • Where there are true risks of cross contamination, be up front but don’t use coverall ‘may contain’ statements.
  • Don’t offer false assurances at the booking stage and then on the night tell the guest you cannot guarantee a safe meal, explain your procedures at the time of booking.
  • A gluten free menu should be what it says, ‘gluten free’ without disclaimers! Remember the use of the ‘NGCI’ term has changed click here for more information.

Check your bookings and create a plan

  • Ensure that bookings are reviewed two to three days prior and where dietary requests are highlighted put processes in place to ensure that all information is captured and all staff are aware.

On the day

  • Allocate a senior member of staff to manage FreeFrom customers.
  • organise a passport system which can subtly sit by the FreeFrom guest as a check marker for staff
  • Have a list of names, their allergens and specific meals.
  • Arrange to speak to the guest on arrival, review their menu with them so they know exactly what they will be getting,
  • Let them know if there will be identifying markers (eg: coloured tooth pick) for their food
  • Staff serving food should double check with kitchen prior to delivery.
  • Arrange for the FreeFrom customers’ food to be delivered first and separate to other plates.
  • And be aware the customer will check and double check each time a dish is served – don’t allow staff to be flippant ensure they have a reassuring manner when responding to the customer.

Having robust processes in place will ensure your guest returns to your restaurant and shares information on-line with other like-minded colleagues.  Get it right and you will have a customer for life.

If you need help, advice or training in any aspect of allergen awareness including the templates provided in this article Food Allergy Aware Ltd can help.  We offer food allergy awareness and food safety training and consultancy for every aspect of food production and service.  We offer a FREE 30-minute telephone consultancy call us today or sign up for our newsletter by visiting our website or call us on 07732 637292.

We hope you have a busy and prosperous Christmas period and keep all your customers including those with an allergy, safe in your venue.

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