Ensuring food is completely free of specific food types which can have an impact on customer’s health and having to change dishes are just two of the ways businesses have been affected.
Heath Ball, licensee of Top 50 Gastropub, the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London, said: “You want to give the customer what they want and for them to be happy and have a nice experience, but recently, demands have been relentless.
“People don’t admit to not wanting gluten because they believe it makes you fat, everybody says they have got an allergy because they think you will take it more seriously.
“Our chefs are having to check and change things around, meaning the kitchen slows down because of the customers with allergies. The knock-on effect of that is diners then are asking where their food is.”
Ball explained how he believed this problem could be solved – through a card system, given to those customers with severe allergies after being diagnosed by a medical professional.
He said: “The customer would come in, give us this card, we would write their details down and we can then make 100% sure that we deal with it correctly.”
It has even got to a point where pubs are considering having an EpiPen on site, just in case an incident with a customer suffering a severe allergic reaction could occur.
Spanner in the works
Top 50 Gastropub the Parkers Arms, in Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire, is one pub where operators have looked in to this option.
Chef-patron Stosie Madi said: “We haven’t got an EpiPen on site, but this is something we would really like to do in case someone does go into anaphylactic shock. At least we can try and do something.”
Though she asks those diners with allergies to let the pub know in advance, if they don’t, this can cause issues in the kitchen.
Madi added: “It throws a spanner in the works because if the kitchen is busy, it slows everything down.
“Once people have to stray out of their normal work pattern, you’re having to compensate and it can be quite difficult.
“If we know about it in advance, we can accommodate it, as long as it is reasonable, but it can be quite annoying.”
Fellow Top 50 Gastropub, the Longs Arms, in South Wraxall, Wiltshire, also found ‘fake’ allergies frustrating, but does its best to cater for all.
Chef-patron Rob Allcock said: “It’s really difficult because you do spend so much time creating a menu and if people say they are allergic to something, we do everything we can to ensure it is not in their food.
“But, the problem for us is the pure stupidity of some people. For example, they come and have three courses but when it comes to eating the free chocolates at the end of the meal, they will tell us they have a nut allergy yet, they failed to mention this previously."
Impact on diners
He added: “You have to laugh at it and when it comes to money and profits, as long as my pub is full with these crazy people, it doesn’t matter.
“I understand how people are pulling their hair out over it, but you have to laugh.”
However, Allcock also outlined how this can impact those diners with serious allergies, as it can mean they aren’t taken as seriously.
Allergy UK nurse adviser Holly Shaw highlighted the importance of raising awareness around the needs of the food-allergic consumer and for pubs to understand that food allergies can be life threatening.
She said: “The most severe type of allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. This type of reaction is unpredictable in severity and could be fatal – therefore, any reference to food allergy should always be taken seriously.
“It is also important to be aware that consumers may have individual requests based on non-allergy related dietary related requirements, which could be necessary for health, cultural or religious reasons.”
Shaw outlined how there is an increasing demand on the catering industry to be able to provide accurate allergen information for food-allergic customers, based on a rising prevalence of allergies in the UK and new legislation regarding the provision of allergen information.
She added: “An example of how food businesses can demonstrate their commitment to meeting the needs of the food-allergic community is by enrolling in Allergy UK’s Allergy Aware Scheme.
“More information can be found at allergyuk.org/aas.”