An interview with BJ’s Restaurants inspires
(This post has been guest written by Adrienne Walkowiak, a member of the AllergyEats team focused on public relations.)
We’ve been talking a lot on the AllergyEats Blog and discussion boards about the ongoing frustrations of restaurants that can’t (or won’t) accommodate food-allergic diners, so it’s truly refreshing to find a chain that’s going above and beyond to accommodate these special needs.
BJ’s Restaurants, a growing national chain, has recently added new practices to meet the needs of guests with food allergies or intolerances.
I recently had a delightful conversation with BJ’s Ashley Ceraolo, Director of Marketing, and James Drake, VP, Kitchen Operations, who talked about their new menu and their refreshing point-of-view about embracing the needs of the food-allergy community.
While we’re thrilled to hear about their new menu offerings, including gluten-free pizza, we’re most enthusiastic about their policies and procedures around food allergies and intolerances. First of all, they require mandatory training for all staff, which includes paper and video lessons, as well as a test to ensure comprehension and understanding. And then they ask every team member to sign a document promising to comply with these rules. (This, as you know, has been our battle cry for months – get restaurants to offer more training about food allergies and intolerances! FINALLY, someone is putting this into practice!)
The BJ’s team views gluten and other food allergens similarly, understanding that there are consequences if they aren’t extremely careful with food preparation. Whenever a BJ’s server encounters a food-allergic or gluten intolerant guest, their protocol is to alert the manager immediately. The manager, server and kitchen staff work together to ensure that every step in the process is executed correctly, to deliver a meal free of “trigger foods.”
When preparing and serving meals for food-allergic and gluten intolerant guests, the kitchen staff is extremely careful about the ingredients. Additionally, they take extra precautions not to cross-contaminate, always using separate kitchen equipment and tools for their food-allergic customers. They even have their kitchen equipment color coded, as an extra safety step!
BJ’s collaborates with industry organizations, such as gluten free groups, using their input to develop new menu offerings and staff training materials. The AllergyEats team finds this commendable and wishes more restaurants would consult with food allergy experts!
The BJ’s staff embarked on this new undertaking because they saw a need in the community. They’d received requests from guests for gluten-free meals, and many team members have friends and family members with gluten intolerance and other food allergies. This process has been in the works for awhile now, and customers are thrilled with these positive changes.
BJ’s staff thinks the key to success is to truly understand all of the ingredients in their meals, and to customize meals to meet guests’ individual needs. They also engage with – and depend on – industry experts, who have provided valuable input about the menu and the training materials throughout the process.
Hopefully, this will be the start of a new trend in the restaurant industry. As food-allergic diners, we’re hungry for this kind of change (if you’ll pardon the pun), and we applaud BJ’s for changing the industry landscape.
What do you think of this review? Have you been to a BJ’s? What was your level of comfort? Does this interview remind you of other restaurants? We love your comments and feedback. As you may be realizing, thanks to the support of thousands of members and fans, we are starting to be heard and our collective voice is making its way more broadly across cyberspace. So please continue to share your thoughts by clicking Comments or Reply below.
And please remember to rate any restaurants you’ve recently dined at on our main AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com). Now that the Summer’s unfortunately over, please think about where you have dined and whether you have taken a few minutes to share your experiences on AllergyEats. The value of our site is growing day-by-day, but there’s still so much to go – your ratings mean a lot to our entire community!
(As an aside, for those who are wondering if I’ve forgotten about Applebee’s, I have not. We’ve been in dialogue, though I must confess being frustrated with the current delay. You’ll hear more soon, one way or the other.)