Should caterers provide written allergy information?


The new law states that food businesses can choose to provide allergen information verbally rather than provide documented information; I recently conducted a quick poll across 4 social media groups (multiple allergies and coeliac) to get feedback to see if the food allergy community felt they could trust a venue to just give verbal information.

The post was left up for two hours and here is a snap shot view of the responses, with comments to help the caterer understand what the customer wants to see.

Survey results

139         number of responses

100         No confidence in eating in a venue without written documentation

11           Yes

18           depends if they had confidence after discussing the cross contact procedures

10           comments rather than answers yes/no

The consensus was that many would have a conversation on arrival or prior to booking to understand how much knowledge the venue had on cross contamination and their menus. Once the initial trust was established with the venue the preference was to have clear written documents stating what they can eat.

Why is this?

When a server goes through the menu they are time limited and could go through a long list of options quite quickly it can be difficult for the customer to keep up or remember what has been listed. One person commented it was because they have a hearing disability and this causes additional issues.

If the venue is busy the allergy expert with the knowledge maybe to rushed to give accurate information.

It was also noted that some customers did not like it when their orders were not physically written down or logged on a hand held unit, there was always the concern that the server’s memory would not note their order correctly.

To read some of the varying comments click on the tab at the foot of this posting

Audit check your data

IMG_3219If you do create written documentation, ensure you have a second person to audit and sanity check the information. Our travels around the country have shown that even large chains employing agencies are still getting it wrong. This example shows celeriac listed as ingredient but not highlighted as allergen. there were other errors which took a while to get rectified.

Some matrix’s only list the 14 allergens as stated by the law but be aware that if you list full ingredients on a specification sheet this will help the multiple allergen customer, and they will love you forever. Also if the chart can state what food item(s) can be omitted to make the meal safe (within 14 allergens) this was felt to be more helpful click here to download our FREE matrix which is already formatted for you.



Make sure your chart is compliant could you spot the errors on the chart below, one column for tree nuts, peanuts and sesame.  We also noted the cereals listed here as gluten free, actually contained barley malt extract and are not classed as gluten free

Matrix bad example

Good Practice

We believe a combination of both  verbal and written communication to provide allergen information is the best formula as one will back up the other and in cases where venues are rushed off their feet, the written document will give added assurance to the customer to show they have taken time to check their dishes thoroughly.

As a matter of course make sure your staff have taken the FSA online training as a basic tool its great click here for links under FSA tab


Our Experiences

It was apparent when we visited The Belfry in Nottingham, that the staff were knowledgeable and they had an extensive menu which was labelled gluten free with a back up folder containing additional information for the remaining 14 allergens, I was impressed my the vast range of starters and main courses, although the menu had to be adapted for my lactose and gluten intolerance, the options were explained by the waiter who was very willing to help, I was even able to have a dessert Panacotta made from soya milk-  so it was a first to be able to have a 3 course meal.

IMG_3263belfry starters

We can help you develop your allergy  documentation, call us on 07732637292 or email

Check out our CIEH Level 2 Award in Food Allergen Awareness few spaces remaining

Food Allergy Training Consultancy the first dedicated ‘allergy awareness businesses’ running CIEH & RSPH certificated courses recognised by the Anaphylaxis Campaign

[spoiler title=” Here are some of the comments from all the feeds” open=”0″ style=”2″][list style=”check”]

Depends – if they sound like they know what they are doing then I’ll trust them e.g. if unprompted they say the chips are fried separately or not

Not black and white. Each situation varies.

Thinking about it I suppose it depends on the situation but in a chain restaurant I would prefer written confirmation.

I actually feel more secure if someone talks to me about the food and appears to understand what they’re talking about. I’ve recently been in two restaurants (chains) where they’ve just handed me the ‘book’ and left me to try to decipher what was in each item on the menu, then looked at me blankly when I’ve asked them for their advice

Depends on the establishment and how understanding and informed they are. A couple of my favourite restaurants don’t have an allergen sheet as such but are so clued up and accommodating that I feel safe eating there (well as safe as you can be, relying on someone else but that’s a chance we all take if we eat out)

Depends put my trust in people. If I don’t feel the people I am dealing with understand then it does not matter whether it is written down or not.

Depends, I went to a café today. I saw individually wrapped GF cakes from a local GF bakery, a clearly signed GF only toaster and chopping board and signs saying wash hands/utensils before doing GF foods. I had my first ever GF cream tea down in town (Brixham)

Yes in theory… If I feel they know what they are talking about then I feel comfortable … The same apples however if I’m handed a piece of paper and they can’t explain it well enough I won’t eat there… It really Depends how the staff are.

Depends on the place, I have seen a chart in a takeaway saying naan bread is gluten free when it’s obviously Not, When questioned the chart was wrong. But on the other hand last night the waiter had No idea when I asked if dishes were gluten free, luckily had been to that restaurant before and knew what was safe so stuck to that, but an allergy chart would have been useful then to see what else I could have..,,

No way. A Nandos employee told me that the only thing with gluten was the peri peri salt. I proceeded to ask about the bread and he said ‘NOT SURE’ people are idiots. No is the answer to this question.

No – half the time when chips are written on the GF menu when you check they’re fried in the same oil as onion rings etc., so I wouldn’t trust verbal ingredients- too easy to miss something

Yes as most good quality restaurants serve seasonal local produce so having a folder wouldn’t be practical. I’ve eaten at several places like that recently and have felt confident. A folder doesn’t mean they know what to do in the kitchen!

I have been in this situation, I asked a hundred questions, but the chef was too busy to come out, then the food arrived covered in sauce and I decided to walk! I couldn’t take the waitresses word for it. Sounds bad, but I went outside a literally nearly passed out with all the stress! Following on from my comments above, hubby had rung the night before and been assured, they could do ‘Gluten Free food’, but when we got there nothing in writing, no GF marked menu and waitress said oh you can’t eat cream and dairy can you!! And yes I should have walked then, but being with a group you try not to make a fuss, whilst outside the rest of the party eat and enjoyed their food, I wasn’t charged for mind, so note to self never go back there again!

Wouldn’t categorically say YES or No. We have has to trust verbal information often before the law came in. If staff seems competent and understanding after thorough questioning that I would trust the verbal information. I would be tempted to question even if documentation is present to ensure no contamination risk is present.

It really Depends of the quality of the verbal info given and more importantly the confidence that the giver of information shows x

Yes, as long as I speak to the chef or the owner. However I did have an occasion to visit a restaurant I’d used many times before AND they mark gluten clearly on their menus but when reading the menu it stated that a pearl barley meal was gluten free. When I pointed out that it wasn’t, they said they the under chef had composed the menu and not consulted the head chef!!! They soon corrected it but I didn’t have a word of thanks nor an apology.

No. I prefer to have it in writing. If it is black and white then it is also available for staff to read over and over. Helps them too, I was verbally told in a really nice Chinese restaurant in Liverpool that the curry prawn was GF. Went back a month later, waitress didn’t know what coeliac meant. After checking with the chef, she informed me the curry prawn contained wheat flour.

It Depends for me if they say it with confidence!! If they hesitate or say something like you can eat pasta can’t you!!!! Then definitely No

If this is a high standard restaurant which I have tried and tested, and the staff are knowledgeable and patient then that is fine by me. I can think of one place near my home which will adapt some ingredients for me and also tell me which dishes is already gluten free. The chef does not mind how many questions he answers, either. On the other hand if it’s a chain or if the staff are vague, then it’s NO.

I like it written down but I also think the staff should know what they are talking about. Having it written down makes you feel a bit more Normal, you have a menu and can choose your food. But if the staff has No clue what you’re talking about it makes you think the kitchen staff don’t either and then I worry about contamination and stuff like that.

No, I’m hearing impaired and can’t follow those “mumble bunnies”. WRITE IT DOWN!

In restaurants with professional Chefs like Gordon Ramsay, yes, it should be okay.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.