Business Insight

Catering for food intolerances and allergies

Public awareness of food allergies and intolerances is greater today than at any time in the past. In foodservice terms, this translates into a real demand for alternative menu offerings — and the smart foodservice professionals are taking up the challenge, ensuring they have (at least as far as is practicable) ‘something for everyone’. When you think about it, this strategy makes sound business sense.

At first you might think: what does it matter if I miss out on the odd customer because I don’t offer food that’s gluten free, or lactose free?

The answer is you may be missing out on more business than you bargained for. Because if just one person in a party of 12 has a food allergy or intolerance that you don’t cater for, it’s not just one meal you’ll lose — it’s the entire booking, because that party naturally want to eat together and if you can’t provide meal choices that suit everyone, they’ll take their business somewhere else.

If you extrapolate from this while bearing in mind just how many people adhere to some kind of special dietary regimen, it’s easy to see you could be missing out on a LOT of potential customers.

Of course no one can truly offer something for EVERY one. But you can certainly be aware of the most common allergies and intolerances, and provide alternatives on the menu that people with these requirements can safely order. The mention of ‘safety’ brings up another consideration: the need to protect against cross-contamination in the kitchen, and if you’re not thoroughly familiar with how to do this, you should check out our article on that subject here. Once you have your cross-contamination risk minimisation procedures in place, it’s simply a question of considering what meals you can offer.

Even the humble pizza need not pose an insurmountable problem to the lactose-intolerant customer. In fact, quite a number of people with lactose intolerance can manage to eat a cheese-laden pizza with no ill effects. Most lactose-intolerant people are familiar with what types of dairy products they can safely digest in what quantities, and everyone’s tolerance is different.

For those rare customers who can’t manage ANY dairy products at all, you can experiment with developing cheese-free pizza toppings. Use vegetables and fruits which contain plenty of moisture (for example capsicum, tomato, pineapple, artichokes soaked in olive oil) to compensate for the lack of cheese and to prevent the pizza from drying out.

Customers with gluten intolerance will not be able to eat a standard pizza base made with wheat flour, but preparing a gluten free base using 100% corn corn flour or cornmeal (polenta) is a simple alternative. Just make sure that this dough does not come into contact with any gluten-containing substances.

Really it’s a question of common sense, research, and using your imagination and skills to develop practical alternatives to foods which some people have problems with.

And always be sure to check the food labels on packaged products carefully. Australia’s Food Standards Code is one of the most strict in the world and all allergens must be declared on packaging.