Allergy-Free Dining

Over the past few years, eating out has become a huge part of the American diet. Many restaurants began offering reduced-fat and low-sodium items to cater to customers with special needs. And in the past few years, more and more restaurants have begun to cater to those with food allergies.

Melinda Beck, of the Wall Street Journal, recently researched several restaurants using allergy-free protocols to serve sensitive patrons. Some chains, like The Melting Pot, have specially trained chefs to complete a customized list of procedures for every gluten-free meal. Other restaurants rely on posted recipes for servers and chefs to refer to in case of an allergy question.

Even with careful preparation, trace amounts of allergens can trigger reactions. Beck spoke with a number of experts who advise careful planning when allergy-sensitive patients plan to eat out.

"The biggest thing is communication—between the guests and us, and between us with all of our employees, from the managers to the servers to the cooks to the dish washers," says Paul Sale, an executive chef with BR Guest Hospitality, a group of 25 restaurants, including the Atlantic Grill, Ruby Foo's and Dos Caminos in New York City and elsewhere.

Resources available on how allergy sufferers can eat out include the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America and the NFCA (National Foundation for Celiac Awareness), both of which have tested restaurants for allergy procedures.

AllergyEats.com and KidsWithFoodAllergies.org help families talk about allergy friendly restaurants around the country.

Beck also outlined some tips for restaurant professionals and patrons who are concerned about allergies.

For Restaurants

Some best practices in serving diners with special dietary needs:

  • Train all employees in allergy awareness.
  • Include as much information as possible on the menu, and post a list of ingredients to help the staff answer additional questions.
  • Clean and sanitize all utensils, cooking surfaces and pots before preparing allergen-free food.
  • Discard the dish and start again if a mistake occurs.
  • In case of an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately.

For Diners

How to ensure food safety when eating out:

  • Inform your server of your allergy and ask if your order is safe. Avoid fried foods—the oil may be used for many different foods.
  • Avoid buffets—serving utensils may be used in more than one dish; small bits of food may migrate.
  • Avoid stews, soups and pot pies—multiple ingredients make it difficult to identify each one.
  • Always carry epinephrine or other medication in case of an allergic reaction.

—Sources: Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network; Food Allergy Initiative
Write to Melinda Beck at HealthJournal@wsj.com