How Can Your Restaurant React to Food Allergies?


Have you ever experienced a diner’s allergic reaction in your restaurant? It can be terrifying and, sometimes, deadly. Sadly, food allergies are a growing concern for restaurateurs—in fact up to 15 million Americans have food allergies—that’s approximately 4.7% of the U.S. population. And avoiding allergens is the only way consumers can protect themselves. So what do restaurants need to know? Read on!

Why Cater to Allergies?

Not every restaurant will make adjustments for allergies. Yet those that do create an opportunity for food-sensitive diners to return—frequently.

Also, the law might insist. Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island, Virginia, Maryland, New York City and St. Paul, Minneapolis all require restaurants to take measures to promote food allergy awareness. (1) These laws require restaurants to take a variety of actions, from labeling menus, and posting posters to train staff.

autumn salad

Know the Major Allergens

Whether you adjust your dishes (or mark your menus) or not, it’s good for your staff to know where the major allergens appear on your menu in case a diner has a question.

The FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act) of 2004 (2) identifies the major food allergens as:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
  • Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
  • Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

Read Your Labels

Food manufacturers and distributors (a.k.a. your vendors) are required to call out any of these ingredients. Which makes it easier for you to know where the major allergens appear on your menu.


Know the Symptoms

An allergic reaction to food can range from a mild response (such as an itchy mouth or sour stomach) to severe (and sometimes fatal) anaphylaxis, which can come on in just few minutes or even a few hours after ingesting the allergen. (3) The more visible symptoms of anaphylaxis include skin reactions (like hives), constricted airways, nausea and dizziness. (4)

Take Action

Start by educating your staff. A recent survey found more than 10 percent of restaurants servers, food workers and managers falsely believe that people with food allergy can safely eat small amounts of the food to which they’re allergic. (5)

Mark your menu. Noting the major food allergens—particularly online—can help diners know what they’re eating. Many restaurants have a separate menu that accommodates food allergies.

closeup chef

Understand the Consequences

Labeling allergens right can save a life—and keep you out of jail. In England, a diner had a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts, after advising the wait staff of his allergy and ordering a menu item that was marked “no nuts.” Unfortunately, the restaurant, in an effort to cut costs, had changed the item’s ingredients—and one included peanuts. The diner suffered a severe anaphylactic shock and died hours later. Even more, the restaurant owner was sentenced to 6 years in prison for manslaughter for negligence. (6) While this is an extreme example, it’s a sobering lesson for restaurants.

To find the right approach for your restaurant, we encourage you to learn more about food allergies by clicking through the links below and staying up to date on any local food-allergy laws.


(1) Restaurant Laws by State

(2) The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004

(3) American Allergy Asthma & Immunology: Allergic Reaction

(4) Mayo Clinic: Anaphylaxis

(5) New Study: Food Allergy Knowledge and Attitudes in Restaurant Managers and Staff

(6) Peanut curry death: Restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman jailed