Serve Legal Insights: Allergen compliance audits show most customers do not feel fully confident in allergy safety information provided by UK food retailers.
Serve Legal recently tested 100 sites across 20 restaurant and food-to-go outlets to audit allergen safety compliance. These audits were conducted in March and April 2023 to investigate the UK hospitality sector and to provide insight into allergen safety checks across a range of food retailers. As part of Allergy Awareness Week 2023, we are now able to report on the findings of these undercover audits, which highlight both some positive and some concerning trends.
For each test, auditors were asked to order an item of food and state that they had either a gluten, dairy or nut allergy. Auditors were briefed to observe and comment on several key compliance metrics and report on how confident they felt in the service as a whole, from the perspective of a person with allergies.
Our key findings reinforce the need for customers with allergies to be provided with higher levels of support from food retailers to feel safe when eating out:
- 62% of customers didn’t feel entirely confident in the staff member’s allergen knowledge and the information provided.
- At 34% of the audits, staff did not retrieve the allergen information they provided from an official source (e.g. an allergen matrix or booklet, company website).
- 13% of customers had to wait over 3 minutes to be shown any allergen information.
- In 68% of cases, staff failed to mention the important risk of cross contamination.
- Only 1 in 4 auditors were proactively asked if they had any allergies staff should be aware of.
In a recent Serve Legal Survey to hundreds of people with allergies, 87.5% of respondents said they would leave a restaurant or food retailer if they were not confident in the allergen information provided. Therefore, with 62% of auditors reporting that they did not feel entirely confident in the allergy information provided, it is easy to see how customers with allergies can easily lose confidence in retailers if they cannot be assured of the safety of their food. Failure to take the experience of customers with allergies seriously can lead to loss of business and reputational damage for retailers.
As part of the research audits, Serve Legal Auditors were asked to provide additional commentary about their experience. The following comments highlight the significant differences in allergen safety provision which customers currently receive from the UK’s food retail sector:
- ‘The server was incredibly confident, helpful and reassuring throughout my visit. His knowledge of the dishes and the way he asked me immediately about any allergies made me very confident in the safety of my food.’
- ‘The staff member was a little uncertain to start with, but his colleague was much more confident and showed me the allergy chart in the booklet. They were both polite and happy to help, and didn’t make me feel like I was causing any annoyance.’
- ‘The server just ignored me when I said I had an allergy. Then when I proceeded to ask if the food was safe for me to eat, he didn’t confidently answer. If I did have this allergy I wouldn’t trust him.’
- Cashier seemed unphased by my allergy and didn't check with the kitchen or seem to be all that interested, instead showed me a folder with allergy information. This was all done in front of a queue of customers so felt I needed to look very quickly.
Serve Legal works with several hospitality and food-to-go clients and is acutely aware of the challenges the sector faces around high staff turnover and the impact this has on keeping customer-facing staff effectively trained on allergen safety. However, this allergen audit data confirms the importance of highly engaged and well-trained staff to ensure a consistent and robust approach to allergen safety is provided to all customers. Allergen safety must be taken incredibly seriously by all food retailers, both for the safety of the customers and the prosperity of the business.
Serve Legal are currently supporting many hospitality and food-to-go businesses in the UK with their Customer Experience Allergen Audit service which helps retailers to monitor and improve staff compliance with vital allergen safety polices. Our audit processes can be tailored to suit the individual needs of each business to provide valuable allergen compliance data insights. If this service could be beneficial to your business, please get in touch with the Serve Legal team via www.servelegal.co.uk/get-in-touch/business-enquiries