New research has found that ‘free-from’ options at some restaurants “contain small amounts of restricted ingredients”, according to London chefs.
The study by The Change Group revealed that, while more than 95% chefs report that their restaurant caters for food intolerances and healthy eating, and half are providing on the job training on diet and nutrition, almost one in five chefs have worked in kitchens that operate a ‘soft’ policy on food intolerances.
According to the research many of London’s fast paced eateries sometimes serve ‘free-from’ food prepared with small amounts of the ingredient it claims not to contain. Chefs say this is not a deliberate policy and added it happens accidentally because of the speed with which employees have to work in busy and often understaffed kitchens.
The survey of 102 London chefs found that one in seven chefs also admit that diners at their restaurant have to ask the waiter to check which dishes suit their needs, as this is not otherwise labelled on the menu.
Gluten is the number one intolerance that restaurants take into consideration, mentioned by almost nine out of 10 chefs. Other food intolerances and allergies accommodated include dairy and egg ingredients. Only 47% of chefs said their restaurant catered to people with a nut allergy, which is “potentially fatal”.
Almost 50% of chefs said they had received on the job training in diet and nutrition, and just over a third of chefs said they had learned about these topics as part of a formal chef training course or through attending a separate course specifically on diet and nutrition. Only 5% of chefs claim to have had no formal training on nutrition and diet at all.
While many restaurants use menu icons and separate menus to indicate suitable dishes, 44% of chefs indicated that it is the front of house employees responsibility to ask about food allergies and to explain which dishes will be most appropriate.
As many as 69% of chefs think that restaurants should provide diners with more nutritional information such as calorie count, sugar and salt content. The majority of chefs also think that restaurants should be offering alternatives to people with particular preferences, such as for ‘paleo’ diets.
Craig Allen, Co-founder and director of The Change Group, said: “Diet and nutrition are now key to what diners expect from fine dining and gastro establishments, and our data shows that restaurants are responding really well to this demand. Many restaurants are focusing attention on diet and nutrition, and there is a very high level of training, both on the job and externally, on diet and nutrition.
“The reality of today’s busy, often understaffed kitchens is that a significant minority of chefs are reporting that they work in restaurants that can allow contaminants in dishes that are meant to be vegan or gluten free. Equally, front of house, many diners may still need to check with the waiter that a dish is suitable to their needs as this may not be marked on the menu.”
He added: “This is further evidence of the pressures that restaurants face to deliver against customer expectations when so often they are struggling to get experienced help. We would advise diners with allergies and severe intolerances to check carefully whether there may be small amounts of restricted ingredients in their dish to ensure they choose something suitable.”