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How to Cater to Different Customers’ Dietary Requirements

  • Dietry requirements

Never has there been such a wide range of different dietary requirements, and as restaurateurs we need to know about them and cater to them with relative ease without make the customer feel awkward or embarrassed.

Many big chains (such as Pizza Hut and Prezzo) and top restaurants have become more conscious is offering additional or alternative meal options for various dietary needs.

Offering a menu with lots of options for people with different meal requirements makes perfect sense. You’re maximising your customer potential but you’re also creating a positive, customer-appeasing persona of your eatery. In other words, it isn’t just good for your customer, it will also improve your brand’s reputation and improve revenue.

Along with being a decent gesture to clients, it’s also imperative to your business that you follow dietary requirements due to legal implications, especially with allergies.

A terrifying example came in January 2014, when a Mr Paul Wilson, of Helperby, North Yorkshire died as a result of anaphylactic shock after a severe reaction to peanuts.

Despite ordering a meal with “no nuts” and the request being clearly marked on the lid of his food, Mr Wilson was given a chicken tikka masala which contained peanuts.

The restaurant that Wilson had ordered the meal from was Indian Garden in Easingwold and the owner, Mr Mohammed Zaman, was later convicted in Teeside Crown Court of manslaughter and jailed for six years.

Another case was back in November 2011 when coeliac sufferer Kristy Richardson told three members of staff at a Jamie Oliver restaurant in Portsmouth that she required a gluten-free pasta dish yet, was served regular pasta instead. This resulted in her becoming “violently sick” for five hours afterwards. A legal battle followed, and in April of 2013 the firm pleaded guilty to selling food not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by a purchaser, a breach of the Food Safety Act 1990.

With all this in mind, it’s imperative to you, your business and customers to ask, listen and respond to all dietary requirements.

What are dietary requirements?

Dietary requirements are the needs of someone who has specific and/or a restricted diet.

Some of the most common dietary requirements are those founded on religious or allergy-related grounds.

Allergy

Allergies are very common. A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts badly to a specific food. Food allergies can be mild but in some cases, they can be very serious and sometimes life-threatening if the diner goes into anaphylactic shock. Some of the most common food allergies are:

– Milk (normally in children

– Eggs

– Peanuts

– Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans

– Strawberries

– Soy

– Wheat and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye, and oats

– Fish (normally in adults)

– Shellfish (normally in adults)

Intolerance

Food intolerances are generally less serious than food allergies and symptoms normally are concentrated around the digestive system. Despite being less serious than allergies, they should still not be taken lightly as they can be uncomfortable and painful for the sufferer.

Some common food intolerances are:

– Milk and dairy (lactose intolerance)

– Gluten/ Celiac

Religious dietary restrictions and guidelines

Islamic diet: Halal

This Muslim diet dictates that only meat from animals slaughtered under strict guidelines is allowed to be eaten. Pork is famously forbidden; as is alcohol. There are also some strict guidelines for fasting during festivals, specifically Ramadan, but these won’t affect you as a business.

Jewish diet: Kosher

Pork and shellfish are commonly known to be forbidden with a strict Jewish/kosher diet. Only meat from animals that have been ritually slaughtered (similar to Halal but not the same) are suitable for consumption by an observant Jew. Another big consideration of the kosher diet is that the mixing of meat with milk is strictly forbidden.

Hinduism

Many Hindus follow a lactovegetarian diet (no meat and eggs, but dairy is eaten).

Beef especially is not consumed as the cow is considered a holy animal by Hindu followers.

There are several fasts during the year with specific restrictions such as only eating plants.

Christianity

Different sects of Christianity vary dietary requirements and customs differ accordingly.

But as a restaurateur they won’t/shouldn’t affect what you offer on your menus.

Sikhism

Sikhs generally follow a lacto-vegetarian diet.

Some other religious diets to keep in mind are:

Mormons

Mormons are forbidden from consuming alcohol and caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate etc).

Rastafarian: Ital

Rastafarians are allowed to eat food that is lightly cooked. Meat isn’t eaten and canned produce is avoided. Generally, the Rastafarian diet is vegetarian and pork is forbidden.

Buddhism

There are no clear set rules for food in Buddhism but due to its teachings many are vegetarian.

Jainism

Jains follow strict rules for the protection of all life forms. Strict Jains don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, and sometimes milk. They may avoid eating root vegetables as the whole plant is killed when the root is dug up.

How can you meet these requirements?

Catering for these vast, different and sometimes complex dietary requirements can seem a bit daunting but it needn’t be so. If airlines serving hot food at 39,000ft up in the air can meet most of these needs then you can to. Doing so will improve your restaurant’s reach, visibility, reputation, and – ultimately – sales.

Review your menu

Take a close look at your menu, the meals and the ingredients that make up these meals.

You’ll be surprised at how many dishes are already, vegetarian, gluten free, lacto free etc.

Confirm details with your chef and/or supplier for clarification if need be.

Once you have pinpointed some dishes you can highlight their dietary requirement suitability either in menu description or with the common dietary requirement icons and don’t forget to add a visual key for these.

Be mindful of cross contamination

Most, if not all the dietary requirements need a certain amount of care when it comes to cross contamination. Cross contamination is a high risk for many with food allergies so it’s something not to be taken lightly. Using a spoon for stirring a meat sauce then later using it for a vegetarian soup is wrong and not ok. Be mindful that kosher food forbids the mixing of milk with meat. It can be a good idea to have a set of vegetable-only utensils – if you are going to cater to this market.

Create new menu offerings

Work with your head chef to create new options that allow your menu to be more attractive to people with dietary requirements. For halal and kosher meals, it’s a good idea to speak to your supplier or find a supplier who specialise in halal or kosher produce.

Expand your vegetarian and vegan dishes

By just widening your vegetarian and vegan options, you automatically cater to other people with dietary requirements. For example, many observant Jews will eat vegetarian meals when out. With a wider choice of vegetarian meals, you’ll be making the menu more accessible for Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain, Rastafarian, Sikhs as well as vegetarians of course.

Educate your staff

Make sure your chefs and wait team are all up-to-date with the new menu changes and give them a briefing of what each of the dietary requirements are and what they mean.

This helps the chefs be mindful of what and how they are cooking and also the wait team will be able to understand the needs of a diner when asked ‘do you have anything gluten-free?’.

Make sure that the person on the phone who handles bookings and enquiries knows about the dietary requirements and your restaurant’s options for these. Before making bookings those with food concerns often ask about meal options so be prepared.

Publicise

Share your restaurant’s new menu changes/additions on your business’s social media pages. Highlight how suitable that they are for vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, nut-free diets, etc.

Make sure your new menus have the suitable dietary requirement icons such as these.

Be open to feedback

People are very conscious of what they eat and when it comes to allergies, religions, beliefs and intolerances it’s even more serious. Take criticisms and feedback positively. It’s a chance to improve and build up a positive image of your eatery’s openness to catering for a wide range of dietary requirements.

If you can improve your inclusivity to those with dietary requirements, you won’t only build a positive reputation as an inclusive operator, you’ll increase foot flow and generate more revenue. Speak with a member of our friendly expert team to see how we can help you build practical solutions to these problems.

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