Conversations about food allergy risk with restaurant staff when eating out: A customer perspective

Julie Barnett, Konstantina Vasileiou, Jane S. Lucas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (SciVal)
53 Downloads (Pure)


A significant proportion of food-induced allergic reactions occur whilst dining outside the home, often due to failures in communication. This study aimed to examine the nature of conversations about risk that customers with food allergies have with restaurant staff when eating out. A secondary analysis of qualitative data, generated through interviewing 39 consumers with severe food allergies across three primary studies, was conducted. Thematic analysis was used to process the data. Conversations with staff about risk were commonly initiated under circumstances of uncertainty, unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge and information. Re-establishing a ‘contract of care’ with familiar food venues and perceived shortcomings in early interactions with staff were further drivers of initiating risk conversations. Two major constraints to risk conversations were identified: being seen as ‘fussy’ or as a ‘nuisance’. To avoid them being perceived as ‘fussy’ by asking questions about food, consumers framed their conversations with staff in terms of risk, revealing their allergy and its possible impact on health to validate their enquiries. Paradoxically, declaring the allergy and seeking staff acknowledgment of the severity of the condition could make participants feel that they were perceived by staff as a nuisance. These dilemmas sometimes limited conversations and constrained customers' risk management. Experiencing trustworthy interactions with staff was not only contingent on evidence of their knowledge about the food contents and understanding of food allergies but was also based on manifestations of genuine customer care. When managing a food allergy outside the home, establishing risk and safety are products of, and are embedded within, relations and interactions with others. Risk conversations seek to establish trustworthy interactions as the basis on which safety can be maximised and risks – both health and social – minimised.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106858
JournalFood Control
Early online date31 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Conversations about food allergy risk with restaurant staff when eating out: A customer perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this