Eating Out: Allergy-Aware Restaurants

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

Moxie’s Grill & Bar

Steak, pasta, burgers and salads
60+ locations across Canada

Many restaurants are just learning to accommodate food allergies, but Moxie’s has welcomed food-allergic guests with open arms for years. The chain’s founder has children with severe food allergies and understands the desire for families to safely eat out. As a result, Moxie’s encourages people with food allergies to dine at its restaurants and the company expresses pride in its allergy awareness and guest protection procedures.

Moxie’s management believes “the best defence is communication” for food-allergic diners. When a server is informed of a severe food allergy, a manager visits the table to ensure the allergy is properly understood, and to clearly explain Moxie’s allergen processes and any potential risks. Once conveyed to the kitchen, allergen orders are prepared by the chef in a separate area with freshly washed equipment to prevent cross-contamination.

To help plan your meal, Moxie’s offers a common allergen guide online and at each location. Depending on the food allergies at hand, the varied menu can provide a wide range of options, from grilled top sirloin to kid-friendly chicken tenders with fries. It’s also fine to inquire about ingredients or make a special request – Moxie’s menu items are routinely modified to accommodate allergy requests.

Boston Pizza

Pizza, pasta, burgers
340+ locations across Canada

The first Boston Pizza opened in Edmonton in 1964. Despite its name, this family pizza joint and sports bar is 100% Canadian, with locations found coast-to-coast. In fact, when Vancouver faced Boston during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoff finals, all Boston Pizza locations in B.C. were temporarily rebranded as ‘Vancouver Pizza’ in a show of support.

For those with food allergies or celiac disease, pizza may seem untouchable – it’s covered with dairy-containing cheese, crusts are traditionally made from wheat, and soy can be found in the pepperoni. But at Boston Pizza, food allergy awareness and accommodation are toppings provided free of charge.

Upon arrival, guests will notice a notification on the menu which tells them to inform staff of any food allergies or sensitivities. Cooks and servers have read a manual that explains food allergies, symptoms of allergic reactions, hidden ingredients and common allergens. The chain also requires detailed information from its suppliers about any top 11 allergens their food products may contain.

Staff also have access to charts that show menu items and list whether any common allergens are present. Beyond these standardized precautions, extra steps are taken whenever a guest informs the restaurant of their food allergy:

“When an allergy alert comes into our kitchens, we have specific actions that the kitchen needs to take to reduce the possibility of cross contamination,” says Perry Schwartz, the company’s director of communications. Hands are washed, new aprons are put on, and the food is prepared using newly opened ingredients. A separate area of the kitchen is used, away from the other, non-allergy alert foods. Anything that will touch the food, from tongs to ladles, cutting boards to knives, is pre-washed and sanitized before being used to prepare the meal.
Boston Pizza also offers gluten-free items, including pizzas and pastas, via their “GlutenWise” menu.

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar

Steak, ribs, seafood, salads
90 locations across Canada

Canadian readers of Allergic Living have been praising The Keg for years for their allergy aware policies and practices. The first Keg location opened in North Vancouver in 1971. Since then, it has grown to include 90 locations across Canada, as well as several south of the border.

Every Keg location has a special allergy guide, which is also available online, that lists menu items and whether or not they contain 13 of the most common allergens. As is the case with many other similar menus at different establishments, customers with severe food allergies are urged to not rely solely on the allergen menu, but to use it as a starting point before notifying a staff member.

“At The Keg we want to make sure our guests can enjoy a great dining experience with us while feeling confident that we take their food allergies and sensitivities seriously,” says Karyn Byrne, director of marketing for Keg Restaurants Ltd. “When a guest notifies their server that they have an allergy or sensitivity, a Keg manager will visit the table to help the guest make a selection”.

After the allergy is brought to the attention of the server or manager, the server will ring in the order with an “allergy” notice to the kitchen. The manager will also follow up directly with the kitchen to ensure no miscommunication occurs.

Once the kitchen receives an order marked as “allergy”, special precautions are taken to avoid cross-contamination. These include the use of sanitized cooking vessels and utensils, as well as thoroughly cleaning surfaces which will be used to prepare the meal. Orders for people with severe food allergies are also prepared in a separate area of the kitchen, away from items which may contain the allergen.

When the dish is ready, the manager oversees its delivery to the table in order to make sure everything is correct, for both the person with the food allergy as well as for everyone else who is sitting at the table.

The Keg encourages guests to inform their server of their allergy upon each visit, so that they can have the most up-to-date information available as ingredients and recipes can change on occasion.