Chefs Admit Kitchens Take ‘Soft’ Policy On ‘Free From’ Options

  • Saladone in five chefs say ‘free from’ dishes on the menu will contain small amounts of restricted ingredients
  • one in seven chefs admit diners at their restaurant have to ask which dishes best suit their dietary needs
  • 95% say their restaurants cater to both food intolerances and healthy eating
  • gluten is the number one intolerance taken into consideration

A new study reveals 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 (18%) have worked in kitchens that operate a ‘soft’ policy on food intolerances.

This means that many of London’s fast paced eateries sometimes serve food prepared with small amounts of, for example, animal stock in vegetarian meals or of wheat in dishes labelled as gluten free. This is not a deliberate policy – this happens accidentally because of the speed with which employees have to work in busy and often understaffed kitchens.

One in seven (14%) 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.

The survey of 102 chefs working in fine dining establishments in London was undertaken by luxury hospitality recruiter, The Change Group.

Gluten is the number one intolerance that restaurants take into consideration, mentioned by almost nine out of 10 chefs (87%). Other food intolerances and allergies accommodated include dairy (50%) and egg (43%) 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 chefs (37%) 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 (15%). Only 5% of chefs claim to have had no formal training on nutrition and diet at all.

As many as 48% of chefs working at fine dining establishments say their restaurant offers vegetarian options, and 42% offer vegan dishes. A third of chefs said their restaurant took part in ‘Veganuary’, a campaign that encourages people to try vegan food during January.

While many restaurants use menu icons (42%) and separate menus (21%) to indicate suitable dishes, 44% of chefs indicated that, it is front of house employees responsibility to ask about food allergies and to explain which dishes will be most appropriate.

The majority of chefs (69%) 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 (60%), such as for ‘paleo’ diets, as well as for food intolerances (61%).

In order to support more healthy eating, chefs are also cutting down on a number of key ingredients sometimes associated with less healthy diets, including gluten (36%), salt (34%), fat (33%), sugar (30%), dairy (26%) and meat (15%).

“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,” said Craig Allen, Co-founder and director of The Change Group. “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 under-staffed 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.

“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.”