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A menu catering for nut-allergy sufferers could make your pub stand out from the crowd, says Stephen Crawley The House of Lords recently reported on...

A menu catering for nut-allergy sufferers could make your pub stand out from the crowd, says Stephen Crawley

The House of Lords recently reported on allergies. The report found that in the western world there has been a significant increase in the number of people suffering from allergies. However, some of these are more than irritations - they are a matter of life or death.

I recall hay fever being a real problem for me as a teenager - now I can buy tablets over the counter to help my allergy. There has also been tremendous progress on controlling asthma, reducing the threat of serious illness if the right medication is taken.

However, for many people, supermarket food shopping, going to another kid's party, choosing a restaurant, or having a meal in a pub is a major issue. These activities are real life-and-death issues for people who have an allergy to peanuts.

Shopping takes up to 39% longer as labels have to be checked. An invitation to a kid's party invariably means a phone call to the parents arranging the event and sometimes a call to a restaurant that can result in a packed lunch. Booking a restaurant also involves rather more than "do you have a table for four at 1pm?"

And what about a visit to the pub to get a bite to eat? This often means visiting several as the first three cannot guarantee the food as being nut free. Often you get a blank look from the waiter, or the waitress disappears to speak to the chef. Sadly, and all too often, you end up reading the labels of the packets of food that have been bought in to re-heat. It is amazing what you learn about food in a pub by having a family member who has to carry an epi pen everywhere and always has to ask the question "does this contain nuts?"

In Spain most food is prepared and cooked on site. In California staff are fantastic at recommending dishes that are suitable and those that are not. But in the UK the response is often uninformed and it takes far too long to decipher the menu trying to decide what is suitable for a severe nut-allergic person.

As 1.8% of UK kids at school entry are now nut allergic, there is a real opportunity for pubs to get clued up on this subject. A pub serving good real ale for dad, a good wine range for mum, if she prefers wine to beer, healthy soft drinks for kids, and has staff that are well informed, along with carefully-prepared food that clearly states whether it's safe for nut-allergic consumers to eat, could become the venue of choice.

I am hoping that this article alerts people to a serious problem. The UK has moved massively to assist disabled people - how about the smart operators in the UK pub industry respond to this growing issue and turn it into an opportunity?

It is also interesting to note that most of the supermarkets have published their guidelines - but the website www.nonuts.co.uk/guides.htm shows nil response from nearly 20-plus pub/restaurant chains regarding their nut policies. There is certainly more that we can do as an industry to fill this gap.

So, looking for some additional business post smoking? Get clued up on allergies, especially nuts, and build some relationships with sufferers for life.

Stephen Crawley is the managing director of the Caledonian Brewing Company

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