Food Allergies And Intolerances: 4 Rules For Guests And Hosts

Food allergies and intolerances etiquette is the set of rules to appropriately plan a menu and manage the dining experience for guests with a food allergy or intolerance.

Who is food allergies & intolerances etiquette for?

Hosts must learn how to safely plan a menu that their guests will enjoy and how to avoid and manage risks. 

As a guest, food allergies and intolerances etiquette helps you to politely manage your food restrictions and deal with your hosts and the other guests.

Food allergies & intolerances etiquette micro-class

1) Hosts and staff must be prepared

To prevent health risks, every host and their staff should be educated about the basics of food allergies and intolerances and prepared to deal with them.

The difference between food allergies and intolerances

Allergies make our body’s immune system react when we ingest a specific food. They can lead to serious harm and even death. Symptoms can occur immediately after eating the food.

  • An itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat, or ears.
  • An itchy red skin rash.
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or roof of the mouth.
  • Abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing.

Food intolerances make our digestive system unable to properly process some foods. They can lead to significant physical distress and discomfort. Symptoms usually occur a few hours after eating the food.

  • Bloating, stomach cramps, wind, and diarrhea.
  • Skin rashes or itching.

The 8 most common food allergies

Any food can cause an allergic reaction. However, 8 foods account for 90% of allergic reactions. 

  • Milk and dairy products.
  • Eggs.
  • Peanuts.
  • Tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans.
  • White meat fish, such as bass, branzino, flounder, and cod.
  • Shellfish, such as crab, lobster, and shrimp.
  • Wheat.
  • Soybeans.

Some fruits and vegetables can trigger an allergic reaction too. Red meat and poultry meat rarely do.

The 8 most common food intolerances

A wide variety of food intolerances exists. They can be triggered by a food or an ingredient. These are the most common ones.

  • Lactose. Found in milk, yogurt, and soft cheese.
  • Gluten. Found in bread, grains, pasta, and beer.
  • Histamine. Found in mushrooms, pickled and cured foods, and alcoholic drinks.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Caffeine.
  • Alcohol.
  • Artificial sweeteners.
  • Artificial food colors, preservatives, or flavor enhancers.

Emergency plan

Every host should have an emergency plan in place in case a guest or customer experiences an allergic reaction.

Ensure that the staff knows how to call for medical assistance if needed.

2) Plan a safe menu and dining experience

Avoid food traces and cross-contamination

Even a small amount or trace of food can trigger an allergic reaction.

Intolerance symptoms usually happen after ingesting a large amount of food. However, people tend to avoid foods they are intolerant to. Thus, their body grows less accustomed to that food, and sensitivity increases.

Follow cooking etiquette principles to cook food safely. Designate specific utensils, cutting boards, and cooking surfaces for allergen-free dishes.Train kitchen staff on the importance of preventing cross-contamination, such as using separate fryers for allergen-free items.

Create an informative and transparent menu

Clearly list all major allergens present in your dishes on the menu. Include common allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.

Make detailed ingredient lists available to customers or guests upon request. Clearly label allergen-free dishes or menu items with a recognized symbol or statement.

Use separate plates, utensils, or serving trays for allergen-free dishes.

Serve each food on its dedicated plate

Allow your guests with food allergies or intolerances to pick the foods they can eat and avoid the ones they cannot eat. 

Avoid serving multiple foods on the same plate. Instead, try to separate them. Assign a plate to each food or ingredient. Serve condiments and sauces separately from food. Present each food with its serving utensils.

Include safe options

Some foods are allowed in almost every diet, such as vegetables and fruit. Similarly, some foods present a lower risk of triggering an allergic reaction or food intolerance. Plan some safe dishes that almost any guest will be able to eat. For instance, baked potatoes or salad are safe options for most guests.

If one of your guests has a food allergy or intolerance, it is best to completely remove that food from the menu.

Avoid risky foods

Some foods are not allowed in many diets, such as pork meat, alcohol, beef, or crustaceans. Moreover, just a few foods are responsible for most allergies or intolerances.

If you are unsure about your guests’ dietary restrictions, it is best to play safe. Avoid including high-risk ingredients in your menu or, at least, plan one or two dishes without them.

Be open to accomodate special needs and customization

Offer ingredient substitutions whenever possible to accommodate guests with allergies or intolerances. Be transparent about potential substitutions and any extra costs involved.

Be open to customizing dishes to accommodate allergies. For example, omitting allergenic ingredients from a dish. Clearly communicate any limitations in customization due to the nature of the dish or kitchen processes.

3) Politely ask your guests about their food allergies or intolerances

It is perfect etiquette to ask your guests about their dietary restrictions.

In written formal invitations, it is sufficient to ask guests to inform the hosts about any dietary requirements. In informal invitations, a simple “Do you follow any diet or have any dietary restrictions?” works. Another option is to ask if guests avoid any food. Never judge or question the answers you get.

Avoid asking additional questions, such as why someone follows a diet. Some guests may be uncomfortable sharing their food restrictions.

Hospitality staff should encourage guests to communicate their food allergies or intolerances when making reservations and upon arrival. Servers should ask about food allergies before taking orders, and convey this information to the kitchen.

4) Food allergies and intolerances etiquette for guests

Clearly communicate your food restrictions

Clearly state with your host if you have any food allergies, intolerances, or dietary restrictions.

Do not expect a change in the menu based on your needs. As a guest, you do not want to sound entitled. Instead, you can ask if there may be some safe menu options for you. 

Do not expect the host to accommodate your requests. However, any considerate host will feel compelled to adjust the menu to your needs.

Politely refuse food that you do not eat

If the host serves a type of food that you do not eat, simply avoid it. If the host or another guest explicitly offers such food to you, politely refuse it. It is enough to say “no, thank you”. 

Provide additional details only if someone asks you. Be brief and avoid annoying others with your dietary restrictions.

Do not force your diet on the other guests

Do not expect others to adjust their menu or diet to your dietary restrictions. Similarly, at a restaurant, do not expect the other guests to change their food order.

Food allergies and intolerances etiquette mistakes

The worst etiquette mistakes for a host are: 

  • Not accommodating your guests’ needs due to dietary restrictions, food allergies, and intolerances.
  • Using the same kitchenware with different foods.
  • Asking personal dietary questions.

The worst etiquette mistakes for guests are: 

  • Not communicating your dietary restrictions to the host.
  • Forcing your diet on others.
  • Sharing unsolicited details about your diet.

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