A Story About a Guy Working in Hospitality with Anaphylaxis
I have anaphylaxis and I have worked in the hospitality industry my whole life.
Maybe a dicey career choice some might say. But one well worth the journey.
This journey, however, did not come with its fair share of close calls and included three uses of my Epipen and enough trips to hospital that I wish they had some sort of loyalty program in place.
(Just for the record, that picture at the top of page terrifies me!)
My story is for the following curious individuals.
– Those that have someone they know with anaphylaxis, special dietary requirements and/or allergies.
– Those that work in hospitality or any food related industry and want to help train their team in understanding and assisting their customers with health concerns.
– Those that would love to see more awareness of these health conditions in the public.
– To highlight that it’s not something to be afraid of but merely a case of more education required.
Finally, to anyone who would appreciate a different take on this touchy topic.
If this is you, then please read on.
My condition is pretty close to as bad as you could get when I was born – a very ‘lucky boy’ mum would say. I was blessed with –
– Chronic asthma.
– Severe Eczema from birth.
– Allergic to cats, dogs, dust-mite, grasses, pollen, wheat, eggs, dairy, soy, mustard, legumes and lentils.
– Anaphylactic (the big one) to all nuts (except almonds) including pine nuts.
A bag of liquorice all sorts you could say.
This also meant a complete redesign of our kitchen (to prevent cross contamination) and what was stored in our pantry. I’m sure a lot of parents out there can relate to this.
Not knowing it at the time my Mum, Dad and sister all had to change the way they prepared and ate food. They didn’t draw attention to it, they just accepted it and understood that this was the way it had to be. Mum researched and looked for answers wherever she could. They did not have access to a range of food alternatives, the internet or support services such as Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia and Anaphylaxis & Allergy Awareness Support.
Personally I think this is why I don’t feel any different to anyone else out there today. Though my Mum and Dad did what they could to protect me, they never actually closed me off from the world but wanted me to live a normal, fun life.
For this I am eternally grateful.
I definitely was the ‘special kid’ back in the day. I knew no-one in the same situation and there was next to no awareness about anaphylaxis & allergies – like I’m talking zero!
Every sleep over, school camp and social gathering I came pinned with a set of written instructions, which included an ‘in case of emergency call….’ section at the bottom of the page – much like an Ikea instruction booklet
People’s reactions vary when I say things like – “If I eat a peanut I will need to use an Epipen and go to hospital, or if not treated could die.” Most just don’t get it (a select few do and I take my hat off to them), some are scared by it and others find humour in it- God bless them!
Today I’m nearly 30 and despite the odds – and with a few very close calls, I’m here to share my story – ‘lucky’ me!
A few of my allergies have diminished but my anaphylaxis to nuts has remained (and probably will remain my whole life)
My Plan for Hospitality Businesses Australia wide
I share my story below for two reasons:
1) To highlight the impact people with anaphylaxis, allergies and dietary requirements have on the hospitality industry and why the industry (or any environment where food and drink are sold) needs to really wake up and take these health risks a hell of a lot more seriously.
2) Why it can be used as a competitive advantage for any food and beverage business if you’re smart about it.
I’ll share with you the reasons why people like me could be your ticket to a highly reputable business later on in the article AND I’ll teach you the most effective method to train your team in dealing with well, people like me. Trust me I’m your favourite type of customer – works in the industry AND has dietary requirements).
I have worked in and managed nearly every type of business in hospitality from cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, events and functions. I now operate a coaching and mentoring business called MasterHost which mentors business owners to create better customer experiences for their business.
The good news is there is awareness now
A lot of it!
And I’m very grateful for that. These business which are an invaluable resource are an example of this awareness
These groups keep the education and awareness happening for families, schools, business operators and government bodies and I hope they can continue their great work.
It’s safe to say that this is a huge health issue affecting a lot of people. It’s tough and scary and I take my hat off to them all.
So how do businesses become more educated on this critical issue?
Here are my top tips on business preparation:
– EVERYBODY is trained….
Not just the head chef or a couple of front of house employees – but everyone. Trust me when I say that it’s not as hard as you think. If you sell products that come with an ingredients list, scan them and place the lists into a folder. If you buy products such as cakes or muffins, ask your suppliers for an ingredients list and add them to the folder.
As for the kitchen, have a meeting with your chef and categorise your nut free, gluten free, dairy free etc products. Make sure your staff know which products fall under the different categories. Most people understand that there is always a chance of cross contamination and unless you’re confident, suggest another option.
– NEVER second guess
If you’re unsure about what’s in a product or how it’s prepared, even a little, get a second opinion. Sometimes there isn’t a second chance.
– Have a SUBSTANTIAL number of options available
Unless you have a good variety of nut, dairy, gluten and vegetarian options available, you are making it very hard on yourself to stay competitive. You may think this health related market is a small one but it’s growing very fast. More importantly if these specific customers find a great product for their needs, they will spread the word and reward you with their patronage.
Just having gluten free bread isn’t enough..
– LISTEN, empathise and create options. It’s a simple message but one that I can personally relate to. If I feel like my condition is taken seriously and validated – it’s an instant relief. If I’m then checked up on and asked how it all went then bonus points for your team.
If you can promote a food and beverage business that actively promotes healthy options and caters for all special dietary considerations, you are tapping into a fast growing market and your sales will reflect it.
At the end of the day it doesn’t have to be just about luck.
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Thanks to all!