By Colleen Cross
In the restaurant business, the term “limited service” usually means diners won’t be served at a table but must come to the counter.
What if limited service meant you could choose from only one-tenth of a restaurant’s menu? Those who suffer from food allergies, intolerances and chemical sensitivities face this reality every time they decide to eat away from home.
For these folks, the prospect of eating out can turn into a monumental quest at the end of which may lie disappointment, discomfort and outright danger.
According to Health Canada’s latest numbers, food allergies affect as many as six per cent of young children and three to four per cent of adults. An often-cited 2015 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology says 7.7 per cent of adults and 6.9 per cent of children report having at least one food allergy.
In Canada, the 10 priority food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts), sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood (fish, crustaceans and shellfish), soy, wheat, sulphites (a food additive) and, more recently, mustard.
A growing number of restaurants are catering to customers with special dietary needs. As these restaurants become more food allergy friendly, they appear on lists from websites like Allerdine.com, Godairyfree.com and Theceliacscene.com that have sprung up to help diners find a restaurant that can accommodate their dietary needs.
The push to be food allergy friendly is at the root of a broader “free-from” movement that also encompasses customers’ other health concerns, their craving to get back to basics and desire to eat foods that reflect their ethical beliefs.
Chains like A&W, Earls Kitchen, Pizza Hut and Pizza Nova are spending big money to answer a demand for food that ticks the boxes of clean, natural or ethical. Whatever their goals and motivations, given the sheer number of companies making clean-label food a priority, it’s wise to step back and take a look at what’s driving these marketing campaigns. Whatever you call it – free-from, clean label – this broad trend seems to reflect people’s desire to live simpler lives and some have speculated it may be a reaction to the swift technological changes of the last 20 years.
As independent pizzeria operators, you need to be aware of health conditions and dietary trends. You have a vested interest in finding affordable ingredients and ways to meet the very real needs of these underserved customers.
You answered the call for vegetarian pizza years ago, and many of you offer gluten-free dishes. A growing number are exploring dairy-free and vegan-friendly options. Make it your business to learn more about these allergies, intolerances and dietary choices.
Try introducing a specialty option, even if it’s just a feature of the week. Every time you expand your menu to meet a need, you remove a roadblock. When customers dine in groups, they make decisions based on inclusion. In other words, if one member of the group has a dietary restriction, the group will choose your pizzeria only if your menu can accommodate that member’s needs.
It’s not only about customers missing out on your food; it’s also about your business missing out on potential customers.
Make it easy for them to spend their money with you.