Food Allergies: Challenges & Opportunities for Your Restaurant or Café

Blog > Coffee Shop & Restaurant Operations > Training

Whether you operate an upscale restaurant or a casual cafe, food allergies can affect your success. But when it comes down to it, providing customers with good food that they can eat and friendly service will go a long way.

Some of your customers inevitably have food allergies or intolerances— you’re probably seeing more requests for allergy-free offerings these days. Allergy issues are on the rise due to growing awareness of adverse reactions to shellfish, eggs, nuts, diary and wheat. While they can pose special challenges, they can also be a great opportunity for upping your customer service game and building repeat business at your restaurant or coffee shop.

“People with food allergies may be a small percentage, but they're still our customers,” beloved Chicago-based chef Tony Priolo told food-allergy app maker, Spokin, in an interview. “If you address their needs and gain their trust, they keep coming back.”


Get in touch with our coffee shop strategy experts


To welcome a broad customer base, restaurants and cafes that cater to food allergies should proudly display this information on menus, pastry cases and even the front door.

You should also prepare your kitchen and other areas where food is prepped:

- Designate an allergen-safe food preparation area, and follow procedures to prevent allergic reactions and cross-contact of potential food allergens during food preparation and service.

- Keep current information for vendors and supplies so you can access food-ingredient information.

- Ensure that vendors alert you of any product substitutions so they can be vetted for potential allergens.

With nut allergies in particular, coffee drinking has become riskier. (Of course, it’s always been a hassle for people with dairy allergies.) However, those who are allergic to nuts, soy, coconut or rice are now part of the complicated-coffee club. While it’s great that more milk options are out there, cross contamination has become a more concerning issue in the coffee world.

Because the steam wand goes into a variety of different milks to heat them up for making lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, steamers, etc., cross contamination is a big risk. During the morning rush it’s all too easy to steam up some dairy milk, followed by soy or almond mild. Occasionally coffee shops have one wand specifically used for alternative milks, but that isn’t common, so cleaning them after each use is critical.

Baked goods with nuts or gluten should always be kept and handled separately from each other and all other foods. That means separate storage containers, separate shelves in the display case, and separate tongs.

It’s simply a best practice in the restaurant business to make all guests comfortable, including those with food allergies. By making sure allergy management is in your food-safety training and practices, you can confidently serve customers with food allergies and sensitivities. You'll also gain a following among customers with dietary restrictions.