Catering for different needs

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The hospitality industry has seen an upsurge of both allergy and intolerance requests when people dine in restaurants. Judith Blincow, co-owner of The Mermaid, has worked at the inn for over forty years and has had to adapt the menu accordingly. Surprisingly, she has noticed that when parties or weddings are booked for foreign visitors there are rarely requests other than vegetarian or vegan.

Lactose, wheat, gluten, caffeine, and additives such as artificial sweeteners, colouring, and other flavourings are some common types of food intolerance and although they are unpleasant they are not life-threatening.

The Mermaid Inn’s menus

However, food allergies are the body’s immune system reacting to something that is normally harmless to most people, such as the proteins in milk, eggs, or nuts. This reaction can be life-threatening and needs immediate attention from a qualified medical practitioner.

The Mermaid stocks six different types of milk for breakfasts, afternoon teas or just coffee requests. Allergen sheets get longer and longer and every ingredient has to be carefully listed. They have toasters specifically for gluten intolerant guests so there is no cross-contamination.

Judith said: “It is a significant problem these days and we take everyone’s needs seriously and communicate with our guests before they arrive to make sure we have everything they might need. Types of requests might include not using onions, garlic, tomatoes, strawberries, shellfish, gluten and alcohol. We have a specific section on the booking form for extra dietary requirements. All our menus have allergen notes including M Mollusc, C Crustacean, A alcohol included, N Nuts, V Vegetarian, Vg Vegan, DF Dairy Free, GF Gluten Free. All our staff are trained so that they have a good knowledge base about these intolerances and allergies, and this gives our guests confidence when they are ordering. We have a very careful cleaning procedure and have special chopping boards and utensils in separate areas of the kitchens. In fact we have nine sinks in total in our kitchen.”

“Staff have had a few interesting requests and comments including a lady who could not eat the lettuce as it was facing the wrong way. A guest from the southern hemisphere called the waiter over and asked why her bread was so hard. The waiter informed her that she was eating toast.”

The Mermaid Inn’s kitchens

Judith explains further: “The Mermaid is focused on developing the next generation of hospitality employees. The inn has been collaborating with East Sussex College in Hastings and Bexhill Sixth Form College.

“With Hastings College, three students from the Chef Course have been experiencing a one-day-a-week work placement developing skills for the kitchen in a busy working environment. In addition, a student from the Customer Service course enjoyed a 30-hour work placement as part of their course. Allergen training is a key part of their experience.

“Bexhill Sixth Form College and the Mermaid have hosted a visit to the hotel by a group of travel and tourism students. Following the visit we have set the students a business challenge to develop a marketing proposal and they will return shortly to present their proposals.

“The Mermaid is working with Bexhill Sixth Form College on the development of a training course for middle managers which, it is hoped, can be rolled out in the Rother area further to enhance the provision of high-quality hospitality.”

So if you dine or stay at The Mermaid  you can be certain all your dietary requirements will be fully met – and the food is sublime.

Image Credits: Kt bruce .

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