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National Restaurant Association - Create memorable dining experiences for guests with food allergies

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Create memorable dining experiences for guests with food allergies

What are you doing to improve the dining experience for guests with food allergens? Most people’s best memories are shaped by food and beverage occasions, and diners with food allergies shouldn’t have to have different expectations, says Chef Gary Jones.

Jones, the culinary dietary specialist for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, should know. The company’s 565 food and beverage locations serve 78 million meals a year. Last year, it received 650,000 special dietary requests.

To ensure diners with food allergies have as “magical” experiences as any other guests at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Disney uses a high-touch, custom and individualized approach.

The first step: a dietary-request process. Disney encourages guests to share any food allergies when they book dining reservations at one of its parks or resorts. It also encourages them to speak with a chef or manager when they arrive.

Disney asks some guests to contact the resort by email at least two weeks before arriving and making all dining arrangements. That includes guests with several food allergies, as well as those with allergies or intolerances not listed under common food allergies, metabolic disorders and phenylketonuria, or PKU. People with PKU have dangerously high levels of an amino acid found in high-protein food, such as milk, cheese, nuts or meat.

Here are other steps Disney takes to serve guests with special dietary needs:

  • Put information at guests’ fingertips. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, guests can look up ingredients in any menu item at an allergy kiosk. Allergy menus also are available at several Walt Disney World and Disneyland test locations. And menus for special events, such as Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, include icons to indicate gluten-friendly items.
  • Seek guest feedback. By asking guests what they really expect when dining at its parks or resorts, Disney learned that people with food allergies wanted to make their own choices and not be singled out. “You can learn a lot from the guests by talking to them,” Jones says. “They’re probably more in touch with latest research than we are.”
  • Pilot, test, adjust and improve. Disney chefs continue to identify how to best address allergens in many existing menu items.  In the coming months, the company will implement allergy-friendly menus in many quick- and tableservice restaurants at Walt Disney World Resort (Florida) and Disneyland Resort (California). Its aim: to create craveable items with taste that also are allergy-friendly.
  • Ensure buy-in from cast members and leadership. Disney believes its critical success factors are leadership focus and priority; cast training (on-the-job, online and in-person classes), process champions, and property engagement. Part of its training is teaching employees how to say yes.
  • Don’t overlook guests with religious food restrictions.
  • Protect your guests – and brand. To meet the needs of the guests with allergies, Disney makes reasonable efforts not to introduce allergens through its sourcing, preparation and food-handling methods. Disclaimers on allergy-friendly menus note allergens can be introduced before Disney receives the food, or inadvertently through preparation or handling. Disney also acknowledges it doesn’t have separate kitchens or dining areas for guest with allergies.

The company believes its attempts to avoid introducing allergens while providing great guest service advances its mission to make every guest feel special.

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