As a manager or operator of a foodservice business, ensuring the safety of your customers is a top priority. So what happens when a customer has a severe allergic reaction to a dish on your menu? Food allergies can pose serious, even life-threatening, risks to people and a reaction can result in significant consequences if a foodservice establishment is found responsible.
If a customer has a reaction after coming into contact with food from your business, it could damage your reputation and result in legal issues, negative publicity, and financial losses. It is important to understand the risks of food allergies so you and your staff can take the necessary precautions to prevent anyone from having an allergic reaction on your watch. Let’s examine some scenarios where an allergic reaction occurred and the impact they had on customers, staff, and the business.
Our first example covers one of the worst case scenarios. A customer suffered a near-fatal reaction in a restaurant and this led them to pursue legal action. A man in Quebec, Canada experienced a life-threatening reaction after being served seafood instead of beef, due to a waiter’s mistake in documenting and communicating the order to the kitchen staff.
The man filed a complaint and the waiter faced fines and jail time. The restaurant also faced legal action when they failed to reach out to the customer after the incident.
These types of dangerous errors and gaps in communication can be easily prevented by ensuring your business has set strategies and guidelines in place for serving customers with allergies. In the case of a legal dispute, it is even more critical to proactively reach out to the customer and make amends to avoid fines, legal action, and loss of business.
This next example shows how the consequences of a severe allergic reaction can extend far beyond the immediate medical emergency. Unfavorable publicity can be a significant blow to a restaurant's reputation, as was the case when a child suffered a life-threatening reaction after being served a smoothie containing peanuts at a Connecticut smoothie shop.
The staff claimed they omitted peanut butter but were unaware of the customer’s severe allergy. The incident resulted in the father verbally abusing staff and throwing the smoothie at a team member, leading to criminal charges and negative publicity when the incident was filmed and viewed millions of times online.
While it is fair that people get upset sometimes, you can help your staff manage their customer’s behavior and keep tense situations from escalating by teaching your team what to say to people about foods with potential allergens involved.
Our last example explores how negative press and legal action can compound and create devastating financial consequences, such as medical treatment costs for the affected customer, potential lawsuits, and loss of business. The tragic death of a 19-year-old tourist who suffered a fatal reaction to sesame demonstrates the sober reality of how serious food allergies can be.
Despite communicating in both English and Spanish his allergies to sesame, milk, eggs, and peanuts and confirming that there were no sesame seeds in his vegetarian burrito, he still experienced a fatal allergic reaction. The staff at the establishment declined to take his reaction seriously or call for medical attention even after he informed them he was having a serious reaction. This ultimately led to his death and the restaurant had to halt operations indefinitely.
This sad turn of events could have been avoided entirely if the establishment’s team had been trained to understand the severity of food allergies–and that their individual actions can have an incredible impact on someone's life. It is the mark of a well-run establishment when everyone on staff knows how to provide an inclusive and safe experience for anyone who walks through the door.
Protecting the well-being of your customers is essential to your business, and food allergies pose a significant threat to them. Empower your customers and your business by providing allergen-free options, transparent allergen labeling, and in-depth allergen awareness training for your team. These kinds of precautions will help you minimize the risks of food allergies, ensure a safe customer experience, protect your reputation, and avoid the adverse legal, social, and financial consequences of severe allergic reactions.