Applebee’s contacts us directly – a good sign
Thanks to the amazing show of support our members and Facebook fans demonstrated after our last blog post (Applebee’s responds to criticisms in AllergyEats Blog post… weakly!), Applebee’s decided to proactively initiate a phone conversation with me. This call was greatly appreciated and, in my opinion, a step in the right direction for all of us.
Late Wednesday, I spoke to the Executive Director of Communications. Let me say in advance that this call wasn’t the last – we’ve decided to follow-up next week.
In any case, the main message she wanted to emphasize was that Applebee’s had in fact added allergen info to their website last April. (You can find it on this page of their site – bottom left.) The decision to add this info was driven by an increasing number of calls from guests demanding it. The process took quite a bit of time as they had to check with every vendor on every food product brought into the restaurants and then had to work with their nutritionists to organize this list, showing which menu items are safe for individuals with each specific food allergy. She did state what a lot of our readers said in their comments – this list is constantly changing as their menu does, so it needs to be centrally managed. Given that, she admitted that they might need to remind restaurants to print out the list more often and keep it readily available. The problem as I see it, however, is that restaurant managers are currently not informed when the list changes; thus, the list they have on hand may already be obsolete… and this can be dangerous. Applebee’s should find a way to “push” the new lists to the units as they are released.
For my part, I expressed my sincere appreciation for her willingness to open the lines of communication and also shared my gratitude that they made the decision to post allergen info on their website (which will soon be on our main AllergyEats site as well) – this was a good first step.
Of course, in order to represent our constituency, I stressed that the main issues our readers have had were not so much with the menu itself, but with the level of knowledge and training of the staff in the restaurants. While having the list available is important, it doesn’t replace proper training about cross-contamination, substitutions, understanding the customer’s exact needs, the severity of a potential mistake, etc. I shared with her my belief that it would be beneficial for all of us to take this conversation further, and I know most AllergyEats followers would agree.
We still want to understand more about the efforts Applebee’s has in place to increase their allergy-friendliness. Frankly, as a former restaurant analyst, I think they would benefit greatly from our input as well! I expressed my desire to run an interview with a senior member of management and/or have a representative write a guest post here with more detail about their plans and efforts. (I prefer the interview so we can be sure the key issues are addressed as fully as possible. That said, I hope to work WITH Applebee’s on this, not attempt to dictate terms. This should be a friendly, albeit direct, discourse aimed at benefitting all of us.) Thankfully, the Executive Director of Communications had already been looking into having me speak to a member of the operations team.
And for now, we left it at that. We plan to follow-up in the middle of next week.
I give Applebee’s credit for rising to the occasion and opening a direct line of communication with us and I look forward to keeping this dialog open for the benefit of all parties. And while many key unanswered questions have yet to be addressed, I am cautiously optimistic that our concerns will soon be discussed in more detail.
And meanwhile, please continue to share your thoughts as this dialog continues. By posting, you are helping me best represent our community, and you’re helping Applebee’s learn more about our real concerns.
Also, please consider sharing these blog posts widely (via your own blogs, others’ blogs, message boards, support groups, Facebook, etc.) as I believe this is an important conversation that would be of interest to a much broader set of our community. How often has a large food allergy constituency had the ear of one of the largest casual-dining chains in America? The more input, the better.