An open letter to restaurants (from a customer with dietary requirements)

Dear restaurant executive,

I’ve noticed you’ve got some new decor.

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No, I don’t mean trees and tinsel. The big red signs that have popped up in your venue adorning shelves and countertops are flashing ‘danger’ to me; and as you have requested, I am alert.

The thing is, I am always alert. I know only too well that eating out is a risky affair – it could result in me becoming seriously ill, if I choose unwisely; or if you make a mistake. I have friends, and friends with children who could lose their lives for the same.

You see we used to have a deal – you’d tell me what was in your food, and I’d decide if I thought it was safe enough for me to eat. That was my decision. If I thought your temp staff member wasn’t quite sure on the menu, I’d move on. If I could see wheat flour flying about in your open kitchen or a shared fryer, I’d choose somewhere else. If you messed around with faddy terminology like ‘low gluten recipe’ or ‘gluten friendly’ I knew you hadn’t made your dishes with me in mind. That decision was mine. My health, my choice about my tolerance for risk.

I know, you’re worried about the worst case scenario – the Pret thing. The problem with that, is that Pret didn’t hold up their side of the deal – they didn’t adequately tell us what was in the food.

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Now I can’t help but feel you aren’t really worried about keeping me safe at all. Politely, I might suggest, your new red signs, ‘we can’t guarentee’ disclaimers and zealous staff blurbs are about keeping you safe. Safe from getting sued, or dragged through the press. A little freedom for you to not try quite so hard to include customers with different needs.

Where you could have responded to recent high profile cases by giving me more information, more transparency about your ingredients and what you do so I know whether to take the risk or not; instead you seem to have chosen less; by giving me blanket statements and ‘may contain’ disclaimers. Yes I know you handle food allergens in your kitchen, I’m not stupid. And no, I don’t believe for a second you regularly use all of the top allergens, especially not lupin.

I’m really sad about this, because I’ve eaten safely with you so many times before, and now I don’t feel I can. You’ve taken away my ability to make an informed decision for myself, and I don’t feel welcome.

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When we chose somewhere to eat, yes we worry about choosing somewhere we consider to be ‘safe’; but at the end of the day we’re just customers and choose based on all of the same things that other customers do too – is it easy to get something to eat? Do you offer something tasty? Do I have a choice? Can I order a meal without being made to feel ashamed, embarrassed, awkward or humiliated, am I welcome? Oh no, wait, most people don’t even have to think about the last one, it’s just a given if you have money to spend.

So my ask is this: when you consider what to do next to prevent a tragic accident in one of your venues due to allergy; look at it through your customer’s eyes – no one cares more about keeping a customer safe than the customer themselves. Instead of rushing out signage and press releases, maybe think about how to help customers make the risk assessment we have to every day to keep ourselves safe. In light of full information we might decide it’s not safe to eat with you, and that’s ok, no hard feelings; but perhaps you could consider making us feel welcome, as well as safe. It might take a bit more effort to get it right for us, but plenty of venues do; and those that do win very loyal customers – in fact better than that, they win vocal advocates. And in that sense, we are better customers than anyone else who might come through your doors.

Awaiting your response,

4 responses to “An open letter to restaurants (from a customer with dietary requirements)

  1. Hope you get this

    WP won’t let me post as I can’t remember my login even though I do know it.

    Tried to reply:

    Thank you for writing this. I want to write a very different letter but I can’t right now. I actually think that eating out has just become a whole lot more dangerous recently for to Pret and other tragedies. All I want is honesty and balls to admit that perhaps nothing on your menu is safe. And perhaps you don’t conduct adequate training so your kitchen isn’t safe anyway. All I want is this. I don’t get this simple request. For the second time a restaurant had failed me so for now I’m not eating out. I’m missing out but at least this means I’m not missing out on this amazing thing we call life! Grateful and happy to still be here despite the mistakes that nearly cost me my life. Thank you for writing this! 🙏❣️

    Ruth Holroyd


  2. Another insightful and timely article Carly . . .are you taking on blogger mentees? :-)

    I observe an increased trend towards these “all dishes may contain all allergens” warnings. I regard them as an absence of any useable information. They do not even tell me that the venue lacks the will or skill to cater allergen free as I sometimes discover when asking the manager, chef or staff that they are confident to cater gluten-free in contrast to the umbrella warning.

    Similarly, whenever I engage a new place to eat to ask about their will and skill to cater gluten-free I always explicitly tell them I do not expect a guarantee and do not ask for a guarantee and instead ask them to tell me how confident they are to cater safely and why. I do this to avoid that I get responses telling me they cannot offer a guarantee! I already know this! Tell me something useful! :-)

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