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Diners’ Dietary Requirements: How Much Is Too Much?

Food sensitivity is said to be on the rise, having grown tenfold in the last 25 years, and restaurants need to be more adept at catering for it. These days, one in 100 adults is known to suffer a food allergy that can cause a severe, critical reaction on the diner. Food intolerance, although generally less risky than food allergy, is regarded almost equally as the latter since it is more difficult to diagnose. It is said to comprise about 25% of today’s restaurant consumers.

The increase in cases of food sensitivity is brought about by today’s modern diet, mostly consisting of toxic cocktails in food additives as well as its colorings and flavorings. It is also said to be caused by stress and the detrimental lifestyle that people live. Because of this, diners are now increasingly on the lookout for restaurants that could give them delicious allergen-free dishes.

And many restaurants rise to the occasion. A lot of them now offer allergen-free food as their main specialties, and several chefs in cool, quality chef pants and coats allow specific dietary requests from diners, highlighting the offer in their menus and websites. But then again, the volume and variety of dietary requirements surged at a rapid pace, with some of the diners’ specifications becoming too convoluted, hard to negotiate or are requested with time constraints; sometimes even demanded at the last minute . Preparing dinner for the guests is not a simple task—a simple dinner, that is. That complexity is doubled when a customer comes with a dietary condition, and restaurants have to tread really carefully in handling it.

So now restaurateurs are left to ask with regards to customers’ dietary requirements—just how much is too much?

The chef at Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg, Ca., once received this dietary card from a diner: “no wheat, no nuts nor oil, no dairy products coming from cows, no chocolate. If this is not adhered to, the result could be life threatening.” Chef Douglas Keane was left with a predicament—he was not prepared for the request, since the online reservation only came that afternoon; he wants to keep his diners happy, but he was scared to hurt (or kill!) the guest. The restaurant ended up obliging to the request, which was not easy—Keane said that he was anxious and extra careful not to hurt the guest the whole time that he was cooking for her, which took away his attention from the other guests.

There was also a time when a prominent restaurant in Bay Area got a dinner reservation for eight guests, with a three-paragraph letter noting all their dietary requests— no carbs, no dairy, no wheat or gluten, no alcohol or vinegar; green vegetables are the only veggies that can be served; for fruits, the chef in cool chef pants and coats can only serve grapefruit; the fish, meat, poultry and shell fish should be fresh, plain, without butter and not marinated; no preservatives or additives; and no canned ingredients. The chef, as staggered as he was, was still gracious to call the guests, chatted with them, researched the diet, prepared a special menu, even bought a “few particular things.” After doing all the prep work, they were aghast to receive a call around mid-afternoon—the dinner was cancelled.

While most restaurants say that they really want to try to accommodate everyone, an important question needs to be asked: is it worth it? Yes, a lot of them guess so—that is, if the restaurant specializes on these kinds of diets. But how about if it’s a restaurant with an otherwise different concept?

Chef James Syhabout of Commis in Oakland, Ca., can be quoted in saying, “It’s a very touchy matter, because we do want to give every diner the attention they deserve, but we are also running a business. What makes our diners happy is being able to experience the restaurant in full, and we just can’t do that if we have no control on the dietary requests.” That said, restaurants should probably need to realize when to give in, and when to ask the big question: is this worth doing, or is this too much?