Top 6 Things Restaurants Need To Know About Food Sensitivities

Mar 15, 2023

With skyrocketing rates of digestive health conditions, diabetes and pre-diabetes, and autoimmunity, restaurants are fielding more special food requests than ever. This article is for restaurant owners, managers, and staff to better understand how to elegantly navigate this reality. 

Here are the TOP 5 things you need to consider:

6. Decide whether you want to entertain special foods requests, food sensitivity needs, and substitutions.

You don't have to do it.

If it's not your jam, just be clear about it. Post it on your website. I have seen this done and really appreciated being able to make a choice about going to that restaurant because they clearly told me it wasn't a good fit. This is so much better than disappointing customers who do show up. When my food needs changed, I was thrilled to try that place out. 

If you DO decide to accommodate food sensitivity requests, do it well.

  • Doing it well means saving yourself and your staff time and frustration.
  • It means having a clear and efficient plan.
  • It means feeding your customers foods that feel good in their bodies and don't make them sick, exhausted, in pain, and inflamed for days, weeks, or months to come.  

5. Understand that customers asking for special food accommodations are NOT doing so because they enjoy making your life difficult.

They are probably struggling quite significantly with their health and have been eating home alone way too often because they have to be so careful just to maintain some semblance of stability.

Your food sensitivity customers just want a fun night out and they don't want to have to make some big deal about ordering. They want it to be simple and discrete. 

They also don't want to feel like crap the following day.

You need to know that flare ups they may be experiencing can be scary for them. They want to stay healthy as much as possible and have probably been ion quite a journey to even get to a place where they feel comfortable try gin a restaurant. They might have flareups of they symptoms that can take days, weeks or more to calm down, so the situation really is important. 

If you as the restaurant owner or staff have animosity and lack compassion about these issues, it shows. Learn more about why people are making all of these special requests these days and you will really understand more about how to serve them better in ways that make your life easier as well. 

Also know, that many people will recover. They are on a healing journey of some sort. They are committed to improving their health and their lives.

This is something that our entire society should celebrate and support. So many of us are struggling with our health largely due to a broken Food Culture. Wouldn't it be amazing if the structures of society, including restaurants which I think are SUCH an important part of the fabric of society, were better versed in meeting these needs that so many people seem to have right now?  

4. Label your menu to note whether dishes have or do not have the main allergens including gluten, dairy, soy, corn, nuts, egg. 

Clear allergen notations will save your staff SO MUCH TIME and your customers so much fear and frustration! 

When your menu does not list allergens, your staff and customers are forced to engage in those torturous Q&A sessions every single time someone needs to order. It's terrible, time consuming and unecessary. Restaurants often say <with a smile>, "We don't have an allergen menu, but, we're happy to discuss it with you."

No one wants to do that. Just spend the time to investigate your ingredients and just put notations on the menu. (You can hire us to help you do that).

Some customer swill certainly have food sensitivities that are not those top few like gluten, etc. This might always take some extra thought or investigation. However, noting those top allergens will save so much time!

Do include a complete list of ingredients upon request. This must include ingredients in your products including additives and colorings. 

Do include menu notations like gluten free available, or dairy free available. No tall menu items make it possible to make such substitutions. To avoid endless questions, just clearly note where it is possible and where it is not. 

Do include a notation that this is not a gluten free restaurant and cross-contamination cannot be guaranteed. Your customers already definitely know this but an notation on the menu makes it so your staff doesn't need to bother with this statement over and over again.

3. Lesser known allergens, Hidden allergens, and knowing what your customer is REALLY asking for

You also need to be well versed in the ingredients in your foods. There are many lesser known chemicals and food allergens that people on a healing journey ,ay really need to avoid. These will be persons specific and could be real foods like pineapple or cabbage or anything really. It could also be weird chemicals in processed foods like colorings, preservatives of flavorings. 

Consider, do you know if your coconut milk or the wine you are serving contains potassium metabasulfite? Read your labels. 

Do you know if the premade soup stock has onions or MSG? Read your labels and note that "Natural Flavors" can include MSG, gluten, dairy or anything under the sun. That is a very vague term and can include hidden allergens. 

Customers asking for special accommodations or about specific ingredients REALLY want just some wholesome real food. They don't want a highly processed chemically laden gluten free alternative for example. Consider a potato offering instead.

2. Train your staff on how to correctly answer customer special requests. 

Your customer does not want to have a discussion with a server about their health conditions! Do not ask, "Are you celiac or is it just...?" This is a big no, no and it happens way too often. The customer question was, "Does it have gluten?" or other allergen. The answer needs to be a clear yes or a no, not a question about the customer's health. 

Your servers should never respond to a query about whether a certain ingredient is in a dish with, <crinkled brow> "Hmm. It shouldn't be." Your customer needs to be sure the server is giving them the correct answer and this shows utter lack of awareness about the issue. That's the owner's fault, not the server's. 

Avoid this customer-losing mistake by first you yourself deeply learning about the ingredients in the foods you are serving. Then train your staff accordingly.

Each staff member does not need to have extensive knowledge of ingredients, however there should be a system for looking it up or consulting with one designated expert in this area.

1. Consider 1 or 2 menu items that are AIP compliant or that have very clean ingredients.

This takes care of a huge percentage of your customer special food needs.

Learn what AIP Compliant means and commit to it.

Alternatively, create a delicious menu item that meets a lot of needs and is focused on wholesome real foods that are also gluten and dairy free or flexible on these issues. Think an abundance of meat or fish and lots of vegetables. Optional add ons of gluten free grains and legumes. 

This isn't that hard with the right knowledge and support (We can help. Get in touch if you need to consult on these issues!) and might even be able to be accomplished with ingredients you ready use in your kitchen, though some accommodations might need to be made.

Don't fudge it though. Your customers with delicate health situations are relying on your good faith efforts.


Well, good luck! As the summer busy season ramps up, I encourage restauranteurs to seek help to dial in this important side of their customer service. Thanks for feeding the world.