Only 17% of people with allergies/coeliacs trust waiting staff

Damning results from a recent survey suggests that “Only 17% of allergy sufferers and coeliacs trust waiting staff to give them accurate information about allergens or gluten in the food they are serving.”

A wake-up call to the food service industry, many of whom are only just now getting to grips with the new regulations that, as from December 2014, will require them to be able to tell any customer who asks about any of the major allergens in their offer.

The regulations do not require this information to be offered in a written format, allowing it to be provided orally by the waiting staff instead. But when such an overwhelming majority of consumers do not trust the waiting staff to give them the right information this could be a nightmare for both outlet and customer!
FreeFrom eating out awards 2014
This finding came in a survey conducted by the Freefrom Eating Out Awards team at the Allergy and Gluten-free show in Liverpool in October. Of those who filled in the survey:

  • 46% had coeliac disease
  • 20% suffered from wheat allergy/intolerance
  • 14% suffered from dairy/cow’s milk allergy/intolerance
  • 20% suffered from a range of other allergies/intolerances


1. Asked how often they ate out:
• 19% ate out twice a week and 18% only ate out once a week
• 25% ate out twice a month and 19% only ate out once a month
(*A recent survey – September 2013 – showed that, in the London area at least, people now eat out, on average, four times a week.)

2. Asked why don’t they eat out more?
• 67% said there was not enough choice to make it worth their while eating out.
• 53% said that they did not trust most restaurants to understand their allergies or special dietary needs
• 44% said it ‘was too much hassle’
• 16% said that they did not like ‘to feel different’

3. Asked which were the best and the worst places to eat if you have an allergy or coeliac disease:
• Best were fine dining restaurants and family run restaurants, scoring 3-5/5
• Worst were sandwich bars and Indonesian and Indian restaurants, scoring 1-2/5.

4. Asked what precautions they took to ensure that they get safe food:
• 53% phoned in advance to discuss their needs
• 50% asked to speak to the chef on arrival
(32% both phoned in advance and asked to speak to the chef when they arrived.)
• However, the largest number, 75%, whether or not they had phoned in advance and/or spoken to the chef, just chose to stick to simplest menus anyhow.

5. Asked what they thought would be the safest way to find out about potential allergens or gluten in any dish:
• 54% thought that talking to the chef was the safest option although many of those (45%) also wanted to see a written list of ingredients for each dish, or to be provided with an ‘allergen-free’ menu.
• Only 17% felt that asking their wait-person or the front of house staff about allergens would be a safe and reliable way to go!

The survey was conducted over two days among visitors to the FreeFrom Awards stand at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show in October in Liverpool.

* Survey of eating habits in London conducted for the Zagat Restaurant Guides in September 2013.
The FreeFrom Eating Out Awards, run by the team which also runs the very successful FreeFrom Food and FreeFrom Skincare Awards, will open in May 2014 with the presentation at the Food Matters Live exhibition at Excel in November 2014.

So what do you think? Would you agree with the results in the survey above? Are you brave enough ot put your trust in waiting staff and chefs?

What precautions do you take when planning a meal out? Or do you stay at home and cook your own?

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About RuthS

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She runs a support group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also writes regularly for Exchange, The National Eczema Society quarterly magazine.


  1. Cath Cook says:

    I’m totally done trusting any one who is involved in putting food in front of me. Yet again last night I paid £50 for the privelidge of puking in the establishments toilet because the waiter and his supervisors assured me the dessert was gluten and wheat free when it was chocolate sponge. I found this after 1 mouthful ….too late. They then tried to blame the kitchen for not telling them. I will eat before I go out in future rather than ruin another night out and spend the rest of the weekend feeling lousy.

    • Oh Cath I am so sorry. I do totally understand. We rarely eat out, something which I know my husband finds hard and that I find exhausting. When you cook or prepare EVERY meal you cook for fear of being made ill it can get wearing and take all the enjoyment out of cooking. What I do is make lots of batch meals, we have a large freezer, so if I am organised there is always a safe ‘ready meal’ in the freezer for me. Eating before is preferable, or at parties I take me own. Don’t care what people think, I am sure they would rather that than a puking guest or an ambulance arriving. There are new regulations coming into place in Dec 2014 which I plan to write a bit about shortly, these should mean that at least restaurants HAVE to provide full allergen information. This should help! Where were you eating by the way? I’ll make a point not to go there…

      • Managing food allergens in catering establishments is easy!!

        A rapidly growing number of restaurants, hotels, event caterers and public sector caterers are working with Allergen Register to provide their customers with accurate and up to date information on food allergens contained in the food they offer.

        It is free to sign up, easy to use and provides comprehensive information

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