Kansas State U shares “Dining Out with Food Allergies” survey results summary with AllergyEats

A few months ago, I was asked by Junehee Kwon, an Associate Professor in KSU’s Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics, if I would notify AllergyEats members of a survey their department was running focused on dining out with food allergies.  In return, they agreed to share summary results with us as soon as they came out.

That summary was released last week.  Some of the results will seem fairly obvious, but others may surprise or at least cause you to stop and think.

The 3 main bullet points and some of my thoughts on each follow:

1) People dealing with food allergies are much more aware and knowledgeable about food allergy issues than hospitality management and dietetics students (who will be running commercial foodservice establishments in the future).

I doubt that anyone would be surprised that those of us who deal with food allergies on a regular basis are likely more knowledgeable about these issues than those who do not.

That said, there are and will always be experts who do know more than each of us.  So why not tomorrow’s restaurant managers?  Should we simply accept that they won’t know as much as we do because they themselves may not have food allergies?  Or should we push them to try and achieve a level of understanding and expertise that’s on par or greater than our own?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I think they’re worth posing.  Of course, maybe it’s all moot since none of us should ever rely on others for our safety when dining out.

Junehee did go on to state in her email to me that “This fact alone concerns our hospitality educators as we need to make sure consumers are protected properly.” I’m conforted that they’re concerned.

2) People dealing with food allergies have low expectations about restaurant employees.  This may be due to prior negative experiences, but it seems that food allergic individuals simply accept and cope with the inconvenience and ignorance of employees.

I believe this is changing as more and more restaurants become allergy-friendly and hope that the results of this question would be more benign in the future.

3) People dealing with food allergies try to protect themselves by taking preventative measures, but they could be more aggressive and informed about how they may further influence restaurateurs.

This is a tricky one.

On the one hand, as loyal readers of the AllergyEats Blog and my posts about Applebee’s know, some restaurateurs seem to resist being influenced (though I expect that will change with time).  On the other hand, I agree that many food allergic individuals are surprisingly not vigilant enough when it comes to protecting themselves.

Now before too many of you say “Are you kidding?  Not vigilant enough?  Do you know what I do EVERY time we eat out?,” please remember that the mere fact that you read about food allergies online makes you much more likely to be knowledgeable, vigilant, and cautious – basically, smart – about dining out.

Plus, many of you are likely parents of food allergic children, and as the study also notes, parents/guardians of children with food allergies are much, much more likely to carry Epi-pens with them than individuals who have food allergies themselves.  A shocking number of individuals with food allergies don’t carry Epi-pens, even to restaurants!

I have read way too many stories about these individuals who don’t take Epi-pens when they eat out (and the sometimes horrible results) or just don’t take other basic precautions.  Many of you would be horrified.  My personal concern stems from how often I read about teenagers deliberately leaving behind their Epi-pens AND eating at known “unsafe” places because they don’t want to be labeled “not cool.”  My oldest will start High School next year.

So yes, I think many within the food allergic community could be more cautious and vigilant.

The survey summary also included some other interesting points and tables, a few of which I’ll share here.

  • Individuals with food allergies are most likely to visit independent restaurants versus chains, with casual (table service) dining more likely than quick service (fast food)
  • Parents/guardians of food allergic children are least likely to visit non-ethnic, casual dining chains “like Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc.” based on perceived risks and past dining experiences
  • Thankfully, many of the respondents avoid buffet restaurants due to the risk of cross-contamination and due to the fact that they can’t identify the ingredients in each item.
  • Almost all respondents agree that it is the customer’s responsibility to tell restaurant employees about their food allergies and always carry an Epi-pen.  [Yet some DON’T agree!]
  • Given my recent AllergyEats Blog post about the Massachusetts restaurant food allergy law, I found it interesting that almost all respondents believe that EVERY restaurant employee should be trained about food allergies.

I want to thank Junehee and the team at KSU’s Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics for allowing AllergyEats to provide this “summary of their summary.”  I’m glad that we were able to play our part by referring many individuals to them for the survey.

Meanwhile, what do you think?  How do these results strike you?  What caught your attention most?  Do you agree or disagree with my comments?  Share your thoughts by clicking on Comments or Reply below.

I also want to remind everyone, as always, that the value of AllergyEats increases every time you or someone else adds another restaurant rating on the main site.  Our ratings growth is accelerating and we hope you are, or will want to be, part of this solution too.  It only takes a minute, so please click here (www.allergyeats.com) to go to the main AllergyEats site and rate any recent restaurant experiences.  Please consider doing so now, while it’s on your mind and you’re at your computer.

Also don’t forget to use the “Refer a Friend” link on the right side of the AllergyEats home page.  Again, the further we build the AllergyEats community, the more we’ll all benefit.


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