Eating Out: Allergy-Aware Restaurants

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: June 12, 2013


Red Robin

Burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, appetizers
474 locations across the U.S. and Canada

Their red and yellow neon can be spotted in almost any American drive-through town or destination, plus several Canadian locations in B.C. and Alberta, which makes Red Robin’s food allergy awareness a treasure for special diet travelers.

“We are in the people business serving burgers, not the other way around, so we do what we can to make sure our guests get what they want when they dine at Red Robin. That includes taking care of and accommodating our guests with food allergies,” says Robin Hamm, Red Robin’s director of quality assurance, U.S. operations.

Going the extra mile, Red Robin’s restaurants are peanut-free, and each location receives an allergen menu update once a month to ensure accuracy. To safeguard food-allergic guests, a restaurant manager oversees the entire order process, serving allergen menu items in designated yellow baskets as visual confirmation.

Red Robin also offers a complete gluten-free menu and a made-to-order structure that allows diners to customize their meal. The chain’s kitchens can easily modify more than two dozen gourmet burgers by holding the cheese or the mayonnaise or enclosing the burger in a lettuce wrap or gluten-free bun.

Alongside, Red Robin’s Bottomless Steak Fries (ordered without seasoning) and sweet potato fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer using highly refined soybean oil. If you would like a lighter accompaniment, their staff will swap a salad with pleasure.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Varied restaurants with steak, sandwiches, soups, salads, pastas and more.
60+ properties worldwide; 20 in Canada and 19 in the U.S.

You don’t need to be a hotel guest to enjoy the many allergy-friendly restaurants on Fairmont properties. All locations have the Lifestyle Cuisine Plus initiative, which offers special menus for people with dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free or vegan. And when a server is informed of a severe food allergy, the kitchen staff steps up their game.

“As soon as we get an allergy of that kind, myself or one of the sous chefs will immediately go out and speak to the guest,” says executive chef Geoff Carkner of the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. “We go through all the risks and let them know exactly what we’re working with.”

To prevent cross-contamination from occurring, separate equipment is used. “We’ve even gone so far as to pull new, never-used equipment out from our storage,” says Carkner.

Whether you want to enjoy a Sterling Silver 10-ounce steak (Fairmont Vancouver Airport) or locally sourced Ontario Rack of Lamb (Fairmont Royal York, Toronto), the kitchen staff will do whatever they can to provide a safe dining experience. To ensure sufficient education and awareness, chefs and sous-chefs at Fairmont are required to take and pass a special course, which includes food allergy training.

“We have a duty of care – when a guest comes in and says, ‘I have this’, their life is in our hands,” says Carkner. “You can’t take chances with someone’s life. We treat it very, very seriously.”

The Old Spaghetti Factory

Pasta, salad and grill items.
14 locations in Canada, 40+ locations in the U.S.

Though it isn’t a large chain, The Old Spaghetti Factory is positioned in vacation hot spots across the country, including Whistler, Banff, Victoria and Toronto. Each location offers a warm, family appeal and a comfort zone for those with food allergies.

“To make sure our guests feel secure, we address each and every food allergy with the utmost importance,” says Andrew Buckley, the marketing and promotions manager for The Old Spaghetti Factory Canada. For many restaurants, the gluten-free boom was the catalyst for food allergy awareness. But Buckley says The Old Spaghetti Factory established “strict” food allergy procedures long before the diet of celiac disease gained a wide following.

When a customer indicates a food allergy, a manager steps in to handle the order personally and communicate with the kitchen. In the food preparation, a separate space is cleared to help prevent cross-contamination, and the chefs are trained to consult their recipe book to verify ingredients; they will even provide a copy of the recipe upon customer request. Food allergen orders are then served on a separate tray to ensure their own safe space.

About two years ago, this pasta-heavy establishment added a simple gluten-free menu. It has since expanded to include popular dishes, like Roasted Garlic Grilled Chicken served over corn-based noodles. Nonetheless, special-diet patrons are encouraged to order off the main menu at The Old Spaghetti Factory. The chefs prepare the food from scratch, and can accommodate ingredient swaps or omissions.

Buckley declares: “Our mission has always been to provide an exceptional experience for anyone who walks through the doors, whether they have dietary restrictions or not.”