Although much is known about food intolerances in the west, there remains a knowledge gap about the prevalence of food intolerance in the Middle East.
However, we are seeing that food allergy awareness is starting to attract more consumers in the Gulf, particularly among women and the youth. This is due to a steady increase in children and infants experiencing allergic reactions, starting with formula milk (lactose) but also spreading to other food ingredients.
Increased tourism is another factor influencing the rise in food intolerances, especially in the UAE, which receives a staggering number of international guests. Food establishments must tighten their food allergen protocol, as a lot of people who visit have allergies.
In addition, our beverage trends of 2016 report that Gulf residents are becoming more aware of healthy eating options and the need to incorporate healthy eating habits into their lifestyles. As they become more health conscious, awareness of food intolerance will follow suit.
For more information on food allergens and common intolerances, check out BBC Food Middle East’s Are you Intolerant?
Managing food intolerances
Customers with food intolerances are not going away any time soon. While their requests can be tricky for your business, if you cater to them they will be more likely to become loyal to your establishment.
Many restaurants find it too difficult to deal with special requests and menu changes, especially during busy periods. If this is the case for you, make it a policy by adding a clear but friendly note on the menu.
The easiest way to accommodate intolerances is to add one or two clearly marked options for dishes that are gluten free, dairy free and meat free. Ask your customers for their feedback to find out what they prefer and how to improve your menu to suit them.
For both food intolerances and allergies, it is up to customers to communicate their concerns and ask if your dishes contain ingredients that will cause bad reactions. However, it is also important that wait staff understand the risks of allergies and food intolerances and that they know the ingredients in each dish.
Keep your kitchen staff informed about intolerances and trained in safe food preparation and you'll be able to create a restaurant that caters to everyone.