When I operated a full service restaurant daily, I could never shake the nagging fear that our food might make someone ill. We worked tirelessly to keep our kitchen and prep environments clean and we took seriously the needs of our guests with allergies.
However, I could never quite eliminate all of my concerns. With food safety there is only so much control an operator can exert, but when it comes to allergy concerns you are in total control. So, when I heard about Ming Tsai’s Food Allergy Reference system, I had to investigate it.
If don’t already know him, Ming Tsai is a celebrity chef, born in California, who came to New England to attend Yale University. He then went on to earn a Master’s in Hotel Administration and Marketing from Cornell (as we Bostonians say…he’s wikkid smaht).
It seems he was following in his mother’s footsteps as she too was in the industry. He has since published multiple successful cookbooks, hosted cooking shows and most importantly owns and operates multiple restaurants including Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon in the Boston area.
Coming from Experience
Among the many things I learned about him was, his son was born with multiple allergies. This inspired him to take systematic and proactive approach to managing allergens in his restaurants.
On his website he says, “At Blue Ginger, I developed a low-cost but highly effective way to keep diners safe since day one. We call it the Food Allergy Reference Book.”
This reference book is an internal document that is an easy reference to any recipe and potential allergy reactions that occur for those whom contact is dangerous. This allows a diner to state their allergy and after choosing their food order the server can quickly and easily check to see if there are any dangers.
A Simple System
Tsai makes three documents available for download from his site which make the process of creating your own Food Allergy Reference Book very straight forward.
The first is a list of instructions that will guide you to creating your own book and some tips on how to improve your guest allergy safety. For example, he suggests that any dish that contains nuts should be garnished with those nuts to alert the guest of their presence. The instructions are accompanied by a form and a sample recipe to demonstrate how to create each of the entries in your own Food Allergy Reference Book.
The very act of creating this type of recipe allergy guide will improve your performance with regard to guest allergy safety. Making it available to your FOH staff, updating it regularly, and following through will transform a potential issue into a managed aspect of your business.
Not so ironically, this approach was so successful that it actually influenced legislation in Massachusetts called the Food Allergy Law.
A Public Responsibility
We have a serious responsibility to ensure our guests have a safe and enjoyable experience in our restaurants. By completing the task of building a Food Allergy Reference Book, you demonstrate to guests your commitment to that task.
In today’s world of exotic and pervasive allergies, the time you spend creating and deploying will be worth the return you get in piece of mind and guest satisfaction. The hard work need only be done once and then updates take little time, but return great value.
Let’s eliminate the risk and fear a guest with allergies brings to your restaurant table and replace with confidence and a great safe meal.