An interview with Uno Chicago Grill about accommodating food-allergic diners
I remember when “Pizzeria Uno” was a new restaurant concept. I couldn’t get enough of their delicious Chicago deep dish style pizza. As a matter of fact, I still can’t get enough of it! Despite the fact that “Uno Chicago Grill” is much more than a pizza restaurant now, with wonderful pasta, chicken, steak, seafood, and other menu items, I still like going back to the deep dish pizza I can’t get anywhere else.
Fortunately, I can still do that – even with 3 food-allergic children. Thanks to a culture of accommodation for food-allergic guests, I can comfortably bring my family to any of Uno’s over 150 units. But don’t trust me – trust yourselves! On the AllergyEats allergy-friendliness scale of 1-5, Uno’s score an excellent 4.2! Uno’s also just signed on as a partner in the AllergyEats Great Gift Card Giveaway, once again highlighting their commitment to serving our community of food-allergic and intolerant diners (see prior AllergyEats blog entry, “Uno Chicago Grill becomes the newest partner in the AllergyEats Great Gift Card Giveaway“).
I recently had the opportunity to interview management of Uno Chicago Grill about their food allergy and gluten intolerance policies and procedures. Enjoy.
AllergyEats: Uno’s has a strong 4.2 AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating. What is your motivation to be so allergy-friendly?
Uno Chicago Grill: Uno’s has always believed in providing heartfelt hospitality to all of our guests, and providing food that all guests, even those with allergies, can enjoy is part of that mission.
AE: What types of food allergy protocols and procedures do you have in place in your restaurants? In other words, what steps do your staff members take to ensure that there are no “trigger foods” in a food-allergic guests’s meal?
Uno’s: We do everything we can to eliminate potential hazards, including special-request handling procedures as well as training every staff member and testing them on gluten and allergen awareness. We focus on best practices with our vendor partners to ensure the safety of our food supply chain. We are continually listening to our guest concerns and addressing those needs as quickly as possible.
Established systems require that a separate gluten and allergen-free preparation area is used in the kitchen. That area is cleaned and sanitized regularly, and also directly preceding any gluten-free or allergen-free meal preparation.
Our procedures include the use of fresh vinyl gloves, new aprons and newly sanitized utensils when preparing gluten-free and allergen-free dishes. Newly sanitized cutting boards, pots, pans, and plate-ware are also used to ensure a safe dining experience for each guest.
AE: Does Uno’s have menu options for those with nut allergies? Dairy allergies? Egg allergies? Which options are the most popular?
Uno’s: We urge all guests to educate themselves on any food issues of concern. Our nutrition information centers located in our restaurant lobbies list the most common potential allergens for every one of our menu items. These nutritional kiosks clearly label all of our dishes by ingredient including: wheat/gluten, fish/shellfish, soy, tree nuts/peanuts, eggs and dairy/milk.
Guests can also view the entire breakdown of ingredients for our menu items by visiting our website – www.unos.com.
AE: Do you offer gluten-free selections?
Uno’s: Uno’s has an entire gluten-free menu that we created in 2006. It contains a total of 40 gluten-free items including steak, seafood, pizza, chicken, burgers, sides, soup, salads, desserts, frozen drinks, non-frozen drinks, and beer. Some of the intensely flavorful options are Certified Angus Beef New York strip steak, herb-rubbed chicken breast, a classic Cobb salad, lemon basil salmon, the Uno burger, bananas foster dessert and an ice cold raspberry lime ricky.
AE: Do you find a growing number of your guests have food allergies or intolerances?
Uno’s: Uno’s has always made guest safety and satisfaction our priority. Celiac disease, food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities are serious concerns impacting millions of Americans and we try to get the word out whenever possible that anyone with intolerances and allergies can be comfortable at our restaurants. Because word spreads quickly throughout these communities that Uno’s is a safe place to enjoy delicious food, we are seeing more guests who have these concerns.
AE: Do you believe that you attract people with food allergies (and/or have them return after their positive experiences at your restaurants) because of your willingness to accommodate food allergies and intolerances? Do you think that your food allergy-friendliness is good for business?
Uno’s: Yes, we proactively provide information on every menu item through our website and kiosks in the lobby which list the most common potential allergens including: wheat/gluten, fish, shellfish, soy, tree nuts/peanuts, eggs and dairy/milk, for every one of our menu items. Guests can easily get the information they need to dine safely, and this provides a level of comfort and ease.
Uno’s offers our gluten-free menu because it’s the right thing to do. We wants our guests to enjoy intensely flavorful dishes and drinks worry-free. Doing everything we can to make all of our guests feel comfortable and welcome is naturally good for business.
AE: What advice would you give to other restaurants that are hoping to become more allergy-friendly/gluten-free friendly?
Uno’s: It’s critically important that you recognize the seriousness of this issue for your guests – for some, it’s a matter of life and death. Take the time to develop and put in place strong systems to educate, train, reinforce and communicate with your employees and your guests before you begin the program in your restaurant.
AE: How many restaurant do you have nationwide?
Uno’s: Uno Restaurant Holdings Corporation includes over 150 company-owned and franchised restaurants located in 24 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and approximately 9000 employees worldwide. Based in Boston, Uno’s mission is to deliver intensely flavorful, delicious and nutritious food in an environment of heartfelt hospitality, and was named America’s Healthiest Chain Restaurant by Health magazine. The company also operates a fast casual cafe concept called Uno Due Go, a quick service concept called Uno Express and a consumer packaged foods business which supplies airlines, movie theatres, hotels, airports, travel plazas, schools and supermarkets with both frozen and refrigerated private-label foods and Uno branded products.
AE: Given the large number of units in your chain, how do you insure that every restaurant is operating in an allergy-friendly manner?
Unos: Unos’ staff receives gluten- and allergen-free awareness training on a quarterly basis or when a new product is introduced. Staff includes everyone who works in the restaurant: hosts, servers, managers, dishwashers, cooks and the culinary lead, who is the kitchen manager. Our culinary leads have additional exposure to the dangers of celiac disease, food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, as well as safe food preparation standards during monthly culinary lead conference calls and video casts. Having standard operating procedures and protocols for addressing special dietary needs, which are understood by all personnel, is critical to providing a positive dining experience for each guest.
So what do you think? Are you impressed by Uno’s commitment to our community? If you are a Uno’s patron, do these words ring true to you? If you do not currently dine at Uno’s, would you be more willing to do so now? Please share YOUR thoughts by clicking Reply or Comments below. We want to hear from you!
And please remember to rate ALL your recent restaurant experiences on our core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) or via our mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones. It only takes a minute to rate a restaurant, yet each new rating increases the value of AllergyEats for our entire food allergy and intolerance community. We’re all in this together!