Red Lobster testing new allergy menu!

“After recently disclosing nutritional information for every item on all of our menus, the allergen menu is a natural next step in our commitment to transparency and our belief that guests benefit from access to information about what’s on our menu.” – Mark Jaronski, Darden Restaurants (owner of the Red Lobster chain)

I must admit, it was driving me nuts! With new restaurant labeling rules included in the Health Care Law recently passed by Congress, why wouldn’t they consider allergen info as well? It doesn’t seem too onerous, especially after what the restaurants will need to do to comply with the new rules. And it could save lives! I kept wanting to write a blog entry about it, but felt I hadn’t studied the new law well enough.

Well, given the quote that I used to start this story, it seems Darden Restaurants agrees with me.

According to an Orlando Sentinel article published today (,0,2547957.story), Red Lobster has “begun testing a menu that lists major allergens.” “At Red Lobster in Sanford, diners with food allergies can get a printed-out chart that notes the major allergens in its dishes. The information also points out items at risk for cross-contamination through frying or grilling.” (I found this last part particularly surprising!)

Some other points of interest:

• The menu is only in a few Red Lobsters right now; HOWEVER, it is currently being rolled out more widely
• Darden won’t say whether their other chains are testing a similar menu; HOWEVER, if it is “successful” at Red Lobster (increasing customer satisfaction), recognize that Darden also owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze, and Capital Grill. This is nearly 1800 restaurants!
• Allergen info is still NOT available on Darden restaurant websites (which now seems very odd).

This is obviously a great “first step” for our food allergy and intolerance community – a virtual “Allergy Bible” at your fingertips. And again, if successful, it would seem likely that Darden would roll it out in all Red Lobsters and then into its other chains. If that were to occur, I can tell you from my old days as a restaurant analyst in the finance industry, other restaurant companies would follow.

Could you imagine food allergy information on menus at Applebee’s, Chili’s, TGI Friday’s, and many of your favorite smaller chains and mom-and-pop’s? Perhaps this is a first step toward that reality a few years down the road.

What do you think? Am I overenthusiastic or realistic? Have you seen one of these menus at a Red Lobster (and can you upload a copy)? Do you have more info about Red Lobster’s actions here? Do you know a knowledgeable Darden or Red Lobster rep that would be willing to be interviewed for our community?  Click on the Reply or Comments button below and share your thoughts.

I’ve said before that restaurants make changes in order to boost profits (even the “pay what you want” at some Panera Bread stores… but that’s another story). There is nothing wrong with that – it means they are providing a service that diners want. So it would make sense that Darden is starting to believe that there may be profits in addressing our community.

We need to send the same message elsewhere. Part of the mission of AllergyEats is not just to provide a restaurant-finding service for our users, but to help pressure restaurants to accommodate diners dealing with food allergies or intolerances. To that end, I have to once again strongly request that you go to the main AllergyEats site and rate all of your dining experiences. As our site grows, we will prove that we can influence diners (and dollars) and have a great chance at positively influencing more restaurants to address our community’s issues.

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