Many restaurants are missing a huge opportunity to improve the dining experience for folks with food allergies.
What is this, you say? More attention to our gluten-free and “that shellfish will kill me” friends? Yes, because this one is easy for restaurants to fix. Seriously, easy.
Let's take a closer look:
Some fellow Design Thinkers and I decided to hit a local restaurant recently for dinner after a long day of coaching. The restaurant we chose was no slacker: the chef is a 4-time James Beard nominee, there’s valet parking, and the wine menu rocks. We knew we were going to have a good time. We piled into the car and start talking vino, so we’d be ready. What could go wrong?
Great table, good lighting, wine on the table, and we can easily converse without yelling. So far, perfect. Are we ready to order?
Yes, sir! Lo and behold, everyone has a food allergy except me. First order: Can I get this without shellfish?
Waiter looks peeved but responds, "I’ll ask".
Second order: Too many allergies to list - and all of them deadly.
Waiter looks increasingly annoyed.
We continue - and there are more allergies and special requests. (I round things out with my own custom order, because I’m freakishly finicky.)
I assure the waiter I won’t go into anaphylactic shock. He’s not amused.
Off he goes. And we realize as we’re chatting about our put-out waiter - we're just as peeved with the experience. And not because of his attitude - we can handle that. It's the fact that he didn't write anything down.
So being design thinkers, we dig in. Observation and curiosity - how will he manage to remember it all?
Someone observes that he might have an excellent memory - but if he gets her order wrong, she'll die.
Then the zinger: “What if he'd just written it down? Would that make us feel more confident about leaving here alive?” They conclude yes. (I refrain from voting because regardless, I’ll survive; I just don’t want onions anywhere on my plate.)
The simple act of writing down their requests when they could die would help them have a better dining experience. That’s it. Our eureka moment.
So, if you have a restaurant and you think it’s super cool for your wait staff to commit orders to memory, think again. The moment someone starts talking food allergies that could leave them in the bathroom for days – or, worse, land them in the ER -- just grab a notebook.
Put them at ease with a flourish of the pen. Give them the gift of a less anxious dining experience, one where they can put that epi-pen back in their bag and focus on a great night out with friends and colleagues. But without shellfish. Or gluten.
Or worse, onions.