How do we define an allergy-friendly restaurant? A look at the survey results

What IS An Allergy-Friendly Restaurant?

A short while ago I made a request on this blog.  In order to help me represent the food allergy community as effectively as possible on a government working group, I asked if you would send me your ideas about what makes a restaurant allergy-friendly (“Urgent request for support to help impact REAL, impending food allergy legislation!”).  Your support was great!  Your comments equally valuable.  Further, the results were very well-received by the working group.

While the working group’s process continues, I wanted to share with you the summary results of your comments as I shared them with the group.  The full text of all of your comments was attached to the summary I gave to the group, but for space reasons I did not include it here.

One other point before I share the summary.  The results were not surprising to me, nor should they have been.  My comment to the working group before I asked for your help was that I could (and did) tell them on the spot how to define an allergy-friendly restaurant.  However, as a means to support my points and give them comfort that I was truly being representative, I knew I needed your input.  And as I said, it was a real eye-opener for the group.  You definitely made a difference!  Thank you!

Survey Says…..

So, here is the cover I gave to the group followed by the summary results: 

Members of the [name withheld due to privacy purposes]:

Given the wide breadth of the discussion last meeting regarding what would constitute an allergy-friendly restaurant, I decided to run a quick, unscientific survey of some AllergyEats members and social media fans.  I asked one simple, open-ended question, “How would you define an allergy-friendly restaurant?”.

I received 49 responses [it grew to be greater than that after my tabulation of the opinions] with results that I do not believe would be generally surprising to most individuals dealing with food allergies every day.  While 49 is hardly a statistically-significant number, I would contend from first-hand experience, as well as enormous second-hand experience via AllergyEats, that the major results are an excellent reflection of how the food-allergic population would respond if 100 times that number of individuals were surveyed.

Attached are the results of this survey in a page-and-a-half summary, as well as 19 more pages showing the raw consumer comments.  I would point out that translating written comments to specific bullet points that can be grouped together is not an exact science, though I feel I fairly represented each commenter’s opinion.  In addition, the differences between some bullet points are extremely subtle, which is why I grouped together related comments.  Finally, given that every response included more than one quality of an allergy-friendly restaurant, the results obviously do not add up to just 49.  In fact, comments on Staff alone are greater than 49.

I would note from the start that while this Working Group seemed to focus greatly on restaurant menus at our last meeting, the results of this survey substantiate my belief that staff training and knowledge, restaurant protocol, and cross contamination issues are even more important to the food-allergic diner.  I can explain the rationale tomorrow, if asked.

I ran this survey with the belief that it would be a valuable reference tool for the group to use at tomorrow’s meeting.  Having completed the survey, I do believe that this is the case and I hope that our group can take these results under serious consideration when determining how an allergy-friendly restaurant should be defined.

I will be present at the meeting and can answer all questions (publicly or privately) about how I conducted this survey, the differences between seemingly similar bullet points, how I translated some of the comments, or anything else deemed important.

Respectfully submitted,



And as I mentioned, these results were extremely well-received.

Here is the compilation of statistics that followed this letter:

Total responses:  49


Staff: (71 responses)

Courteous staff that takes food allergies seriously and treats patron with respect:  21

Training staff to understand food allergies:  19

Staff knowledgeable about food allergies and restaurant procedures:  13

Mandatory training for ALL employees:  6

Confident staff:  5

Formal training program (w/ periodic re-training):  3

Certification program:  2

Employee answering phone needs to be knowledgeable:  1

Training of staff to use epinephrine auto-injectors:  1


Protocol: (46 responses)

Staff knowledgeable about food allergies and restaurant procedures:  13

Clear, communicable restaurant food allergy policy and procedures:  9

Manager or chef willing to go to patron’s table to discuss:  9

Clear protocol for communication of allergies (particularly from house staff to chef):  8

Means of indicating that a specific dish is holding the allergy-friendly meal:  2

End-to-end single person accountability for a food allergy order:  2

Notes on receipt to show how the allergy order was passed to kitchen:  1

Standardized method of food allergy alert at the table:  1

Staff willing to take guidance from patron about how to prepare food if necessary:  1


Cross contamination: (42 responses)

Understands and avoids cross-contamination:  21

Separate and cleaned prep areas and cookware:  20

Should wash hands:  1


Accommodating: (38 responses)

Willingness and ability to make alternatives to accommodate patron:  19

Manager or chef willing to go to patron’s table to discuss:  9

Requirement/dedication to do whatever necessary to ensure customer safety:  3

Restaurants that don’t use specific allergen:  2

Knowledge about when restaurant is least busy / most able to discuss allergies:  1

Treats ALL allergies the same, not just the Big 8:  1

Does not use peanut oil:  1

No nuts strewn about the restaurant:  1

Allergy-free seating:  1


Menus: (33 responses)

Specific allergen menus available in-house (not just online):  13

Allergen symbol list on menus:  12

Online food allergy menu:  4

Menus that include “may contains” and “manufactured in a facility…”:  2

Menu suggests alternatives to make items allergy-friendly:  1

Menu includes type of cooking oil:  1


Ingredient knowledge: (33 responses)

Understands what is in their food / ingredient list on site:  21

Ability to print out all ingredients for customer / show labels to customer if necessary:  11

Standardized recipes:  1


Miscellaneous: (6 responses)

Willingness to admit an item isn’t safe or that they can’t accommodate at all, if so:  5

Good tasting food:  1

Obviously, not every one of these smaller points should be addressed by the working group, but the major points are crystal clear, in my opinion, and will be the focus moving forward.

So, are you surprised by the results?  Or do you, as a food-allergic individual or parent, find them somewhat predictable?  Any specific thoughts you want to share?  This was a great effort on the part of so many individuals.  I’d love to keep the discussion going with your opinions.  Click Reply or Comment below.

And as always, please remember to visit our AllergyEats parent site at and rate all restaurants you’ve recently visited.  Thanks to your ratings and support, this tool is growing stronger and stronger every day in helping members of our community find allergy-friendly restaurants AND it is giving AllergyEats the credibility that allows us to get a seat at the table, such as this one, to represent food-allergic individuals.



    I am thrilled to see you had such a great response from your group. I think most important in all of this is that people are talking about it. With every conversation comes the opportunity to educate and improve, one server, one restaurant at a time. Thank you for all your efforts here, you are making a HUGE difference in my life and the lives of my kids (even if they don’t know it yet!)


    Paul, it looks as if you did some extremely valuable work and represented us well to the working group! I hope you can reveal more about these meetings at some point. Thanks for sharing our opinions!


    Thank you for your commitment and passion on this subject. If our kids (and others) entered restaurants “appearing” to have a life-threatening condition, I believe that the issues at hand would be so different. Unfortunately, food allergic people are not branded. Hopefully, someday, ALL restaurants will take this subject as serious as it is. In fact, it would probably make all of America a bit more healthy and less obese!


    A million thank yous for all you do.


    I think it shows what people with allergies are asking for is not outrageous. I personally consider these requests commonsense but this comes from the perspective of someone who understands one wrong bite could mean a life threatening situation. I guess then it all comes down to making sure restaurants and their staffs understand this threat is very real and not just a dislike. Thank you many times over for all your hard work.

    Kelly Morrow

    This is terrific!! Thanks for putting all of the info together and presenting it to the group.

    Joyce Anderson

    That’s a great list of things to watch for. I had never even thought of some of those things. Thanks!


    I thought I had commented here, maybe I didn’t hit submit?

    I blogged about these results here:

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