Serving in Today's Restaurants: Dietary Sensitivities

Working in the dynamic hospitality industry is an exciting venture. A big part - if not the biggest part - of working in this industry is about providing the best service and taking after your guest(s). Especially if you’re working in a Sydney restaurant, you’ve probably experienced an infinite amount of personalities, service preferences, and expectations within any given venue.


You’ve also likely noticed that there seem to be a large number of dietary restrictions. Whether it’s food sensitivities, dietary restrictions, or anaphylactic allergies, it’s important to be aware of all levels of dietary differences in order to carry out your hospitality positions successfully and, above all else, safely. We’ve rounded up some common dietary restrictions, sensitivities, and allergies to help you navigate through your hospitality shift and career.


People have food allergies now more than ever, so it’s vital to be aware of all kinds of food sensitivities, restrictions, and allergies if you are working in the hospitality industry. And while these dietary restrictions vary in severity, they should all be taken with equal seriousness. Failure to listen to guests’ restrictions can lead to hives, difficulty breathing, and even death.


Like just about every aspect of your hospitality job, the more you know the better. While there are hundreds of types, we’ve rounded up the most common allergies and restrictions to help you better understand and deal with dietary restrictions in your hospitality job.


Food Allergies and Intolerances


According to Food Allergy Research and Education, a food allergy is “a medical condition which exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response.” The immune response or allergic reaction occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens. The most common allergies include milk, shellfish, eggs, nuts, wheat, soy, and fish.


While there are many types of food allergies and intolerances, we find it necessary to mention coeliac/gluten-free diets since they’re fairly common. Gluten is a combination of proteins that are mostly found in wheat, barley, rye, and similar grains. Typically found in bread, baked goods, pasta, cereals, soy sauce, and beer, gluten intolerances and coeliacs reactions vary from mild to extremely severe. Because of this, it’s important to ask your guest how severe their intolerance or coeliac diagnosis is so that you can ensure that you’re not poisoning them. And after you’ve spoken to the guest, you should always check with the kitchen if they are able to safely cater to their needs.

Serving in Today's Restaurants: Dietary Restrictions

Typically, guests with allergies will let you know when ordering food or beverages. Obviously, it’s imperative to listen very carefully when taking orders down. If you misheard them or you’re not sure what their allergy is, ask for clarification. If they didn’t mention the severity of their allergy, ask for clarification. And after they’ve let you know, repeat their allergies back to them just to be safe.


The most severe case of an allergic reaction or intolerance can result in a serious trip to the hospital or even death. For information and advice surrounding allergies and anaphylaxis, call 1300 728 000. And if you find yourself or someone around you in an emergency, call triple zero (000).


Special Dietary Requirements

Common special dietary requirements include vegetarian, vegan, and paleo. While each individual can differ with their definitions of each diet, we’ve broken down a typical definition for you. 

  1. Vegetarian. Vegetarians don’t eat meat but still eat foods that have come from animals. For example, this means that they won’t eat chicken or beef, but they do eat eggs and cheese. Somewhat of a grey area, some vegetarians still eat fish (technically called ‘pescatarians’).
  2. Vegan. Unlike vegetarians, vegans don’t eat any animal products. In addition to not eating meat, vegans do not consume any dairy or poultry products. Meaning, no butter, eggs, cheese, chocolate, and so on.
  3. Paleo. Commonly referred to as the “caveman diet”, paleos eat everything aside from processed food, sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes. Meaning they do consume vegetables, meats, fruits, nuts and seeds.


Just like food allergies and intolerances, it’s crucial to ask and verify with your guests if they have any special dietary requirements. Treat every individual with care and attention to detail.


Religious Reasons


Another form of special dietary restrictions can come from religious, cultural, and individualistic beliefs. Many religions have restrictions surrounding food. For example, Muslims eat halal (lawful) foods. Halal includes fruit, vegetables, and eggs and any meat or meat products they consume must be from a halal slaughtered animal. Muslims will not eat pork or crustaceans, for example.

Hindus are mostly lacto-vegetarian, meaning they avoid meat and eggs but some may consume lamb, chicken, or fish. Some individuals who practice Sikhism are vegetarians and they do not consume alcohol. As another example is Judaism requires to be kosher, which means that the food must be suitable and pure, as determined by the standards of the kashrut or Jewish laws about food.


Of course, there are many other religious and cultural denominations that involve special dietary requirements. As such, it might be helpful to familiarise yourself with some of them. Just like any other allergy or dietary requirement, always listen carefully and ask for clarification if you’re not sure. Never assume what someone can or cannot eat and drink since it’s a very personal choice. Instead, remain open-minded and ask questions if you find anything is unclear.



The bottom line: Treat every dietary restriction, allergy, sensitivity, and requirement with respect. Rather than risk making someone sick or worse, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Meaning, take every dietary variance seriously and ensure that you’re listening and communicating to the best of your ability.


Looking for further tips to help navigate your way through the hospitality industry? Visit our Candidate Learning Centre for free resources below.

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About the author Carlyn Shaw

Drawing on 12 years of hospitality experience and coming from a Communications background, I am passionate about all things hospitality.


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