USA Today survey suggests food allergy sufferers find socializing tricky

Food-Allergic Diners Share Their Views

USA Today ran an article January 7 that was the result of a survey they put out to readers with food allergies. In it, the writer focused on the difficulties of managing food allergies and social connections, but spent much of the article writing about dining out with food allergies.

The article included phrases such as “waiters and chefs can be surly,” “other food preparers just don’t care or don’t have time,” “woe to the waiter,” and “a server can be put off too.” While the article also points out that “more restaurants are becoming sensitive to special needs diets,” the tone of the article seemed quite sensationalistic about eating out with food allergies.

This is not to say that it is easy for those of us with food allergies or caring for children with allergies to dine out. However, I definitely do see a trend toward more restaurants trying to become allergy-friendly, and a number of incentives prodding them on.

The most important incentive for a restaurant is simple economics. While the argument can be made that “only” 4% of the population has food allergies and “only” less than 1% has Celiac Disease, smart restaurateurs (and there are many) realize that catering to these groups does not mean sales should go up 5%. Theoretically, the increase should be greater! While many of this 5% will always choose to dine-in, those who do dine out will generally come with a larger party, many of whom are in the “other 95%.” In my family of seven, two have food allergies. If you can’t serve the two, you’ve lost seven customers… and that’s without any extended family!

A Boston-area restaurant chain of a few units, Burton’s Grill, is run by a gentleman with Celiac Disease and he caters very well to this base. He claimed in an interview that Burton’s Grill’s revenues were roughly 8% to 10% greater due to its Celiac-friendliness. Having been a restaurant analyst in the past, I can tell you that an 8% to 10% increase in revenues is a very, very big deal that translates into a much greater percentage increase in profits. The lure of these types of increases is even greater in an economic downturn. Doing well by doing good!

Several factors are at work in favor of more allergy-friendly dining, given the profit motive of restaurateurs.
• An increased prevalence of food allergies.
• The introduction of certification programs that could help influence food allergic diner choices.
• Competition from other restaurants that are starting to “get it” and cater to those with food allergies.
• The loyalty of this customer base.
It all adds up to pressure for restaurants to become more allergy-friendly.

I hope AllergyEats ( helps in this trend by creating loyalty to restaurants that serve our community well. This will put pressure on those who don’t serve us well to learn more and make changes to accommodate us. Your ratings are key to this process and I thank you in advance for participating and helping all of us.

I welcome other views on this USA Today article or my comments. Please click the “comments” button below if you’d like to add your opinion.



    I read the USA Today article as well. What struck me the most was the comments on the story. Many of them were very mean-spirited. It’s as those these people don’t believe that food allergies exist.

    BTW, great idea for a Web site. I posted a link from my blog to it. Hopefully the peer reviews start rolling in!


    Thanks for the support Lyzz.

    And unfortunately your interpretation of the comments from this article seem to be applicable to almost every article I see in newspapers from around the US (and even the UK) related to greater consideration being paid to people with food allergies or intolerances. Even though individuals without food allergies aren’t being asked to sacrifice anything, there seem to be a striking number of people harboring an animosity that I don’t understand. And we haven’t even begun to mention those that think food allergies are all a myth anyway!

    Any psychologists out there that can help us understand these people?

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