To put it simply, diners want to know what they’re eating when they come into your establishment. They want to know how it’s prepared, too, especially if they have food allergies or celiac disease.
It goes way beyond getting the order right. It’s about making sure your communications and food prep systems are in place. And that your staff is responsive and informed.
That’s where menu labeling and allergen training go hand in hand. They tie the front of house and back of house together with a nice neat bow, ensuring your customers get exactly what they’ve ordered. When your staff is thoroughly trained, they are able to answer customer questions quickly, efficiently, and accurately.
It all begins with the menu.
When you provide calorie counts and nutritional information to your customers, you’re already talking about transparency with them, before the conversation even gets started. That’s great. You’re giving them information they didn’t know they wanted—or information they’ve come to expect when they go out to eat. But there is so much more to the big picture. And that’s where the gluten-free and allergen training come in.
Diners with food allergies or celiac disease already know to ask questions and to inform you of their needs. But there are some who simply may have food preferences over strict needs. Your wait staff needs to know how to discern this information. Just ask Dee Dee Vicino, Director of Training and Education at MenuTrinfo and AllerTrain. Servers need to be very specific on the tags: just writing “no nuts” isn’t going to indicate a severe allergy, or even if the allergy is to peanuts or tree nuts. And that matters. Accurate communication is key.
“It means the difference of removing croutons from a salad with no repercussions to the diner [when they have a preference instead of an allergy] or having cross-contact that can impact someone with celiac disease for weeks and weeks,” she says.
Dee Dee goes on to explain best practices in communicating these customer needs. Ideally, there is a designated point person in the kitchen who informs the chef and appropriate kitchen staff of special dietary needs. That person is responsible for these meals from prep to table, making sure there is no cross-contact and that the proper cooking utensils are used. They are familiar with the recipes and ingredients and will inform the wait staff if an order can’t be fulfilled. For instance, if there is soy sauce in a particular brand of catsup, then the meatloaf will not be safe for someone with a soy allergy.
Menu labeling may seem like more of a front of house application, but it really does have an impact on the back of house, too.
Once a recipe has been analyzed and ingredients identified—even down to the brand of, oh say, mayonnaise—it’s easier to ensure precision in the kitchen. “Menu labeling makes it necessary for a covered establishment to nail down their order guide,” says Claire Willis, MenuTrinfo’s Director of Nutrition. “By requiring that they only use approved ingredients, your cooks aren’t veering away from the recipe and altering your dishes’ numbers.”
So as you consider menu labeling (It’s mandatory in six days!), think about adding allergen training for your staff, as well. It rounds out their knowledge. It’s one thing to be able to point to a calorie count on a menu and a whole other thing to be able to discuss ingredients and preparation informatively.
And that leaves a very good taste in your customers’ mouths.
Looking for more information about menu labeling and ANSI accredited allergen training? We’ve got it.