Following the Pret a Manger debacle, restaurant patrons, especially those with food allergies are becoming increasingly concerned about the reliability of food manufacturers and eateries to provide allergen-free products. The BBC has recently reported a second case of a customer having an allergic reaction and losing their lives in 2017, after eating a sandwich produced by Pret a Manger.
In 2016, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse ate a Pret a Manger baguette containing sesame seeds and suffered a fatal allergic reaction. In the wake of her death, there were calls for stricter legislation regarding labeling of food products containing allergens.
According to an article by Sabrinna Bar, Pret a Manger has now decided it will provide labeling that lists all the ingredients used on each product. This is in accordance with the UK law that requires any food product containing major allergens to be clearly labeled. Prior to this, restaurants could get away with not listing all ingredients used in the food they prepared at their restaurants.
Does this mean that consumers with food allergies can rest assured they have nothing more to worry about? Not exactly, a certain measure of caution is still required on the part of restaurants and consumers. Here is what you can do:
Put Your Customers First
Amid the uncertainty stemming from the Pret a Manger case, as a restauranteur, the first thing you want to reassure your patrons of is their safety. Customers want to be able to trust that they can visit your eatery and dine without worrying that they or their loved ones may have an adverse reaction or go into anaphylactic shock.
Take a leaf from Pret a Manger and list the ingredients you use in each dish that you offer. Customers can read this from their menus and decide which food they are comfortable with.
It’s also a good idea to have a sign that clearly invites those with food allergies to notify the staff before placing their orders. This can either be on the menu or as a larger sign placed where everyone can see it.
When dealing with your suppliers, ensure they give you a list of all the ingredients that they use in their products. If they give you a product containing an allergen and you serve it to your customers, you will carry a certain amount of responsibility if the customer has an allergic reaction.
Train Your Team
Your staff is the primary point of contact with your customers. They, therefore, have to be trained to handle situations where they have to wait for clients with allergies. Take the time to ensure they know how to make customers feel understood, and feel like they are in capable hands. They also need to understand the severe consequences of serving someone an ingredient they are allergic to. Establish a process to follow when dealing with a request from a customer with food allergies and ensure everyone on your team adheres to it.
Establish Emergency Procedures
Sometimes, no matter how well you train your staff or how clearly you communicate with your customers, accidents may happen and you may find yourself facing a customer with an allergic reaction. Prior planning is key, in this case. It is worth investing time and resources to get basic first aid training for your whole team so that they know how to act during an emergency.
As a customer, before ordering in a restaurant, let your waiter/waitress know of your allergies so they can advise on the right dishes for you. In addition, read the menu, check all the ingredients. If it’s a responsible establishment, they will provide a warning of the allergens they may have in their dishes. Talking to the chef before ordering may help him/her to understand that your food should not come in contact with anything you are allergic to.
The Pret a Manger case demonstrates that it only takes one unfortunate incident to sow doubts about a brand. This can have far-reaching consequences that can wreck the brand’s reputation and reduce market share. In the food industry, how a brand reacts to legislation regarding foodlabeling can mean the difference between life and death.
As a restaurant owner, the comfort and safety of your customers, including those with food allergies, should come first. When customers see you putting measures in place that show your transparency in listing food allergens, they will trust your restaurant more, resulting in repeat business and loyalty to your brand.