A father of two boys with food allergies has launched a website listing restaurants across the US where visitors can leave a star rating and a comment about the "allergy-friendliness" of restaurants they have visited so others can use this information to make choices about where to eat.
Finding a restaurant that clearly displays major problem ingredients each dish on the menu contains and also provides an adequate selection of allergy-free foods is a major hassle for those who themselves, or whose family members, have food allergies or intolerances.
Paul Antico of Cohasset, Massachusetts, a former financial analyst and portfolio manager, decided these people needed a comprehensive and easy to use reference at their fingertips to take the pain out of choosing where to eat - putting the enjoyment back into dining out. Antico's website, AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com), lists more than 600,000 restaurants in the United States.
The site is very user-friendly, being searchable by location, providing maps and directions, and listing phone numbers. For some restaurants it also includes menus, industry certifications andfurther information where available to make the food allergy/intolerance sufferer's life even easier.
Another key feature is that visitors are able to search the site with respect to the major food allergens. Ninety percent of all food allergy reactions are caused by only eight foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
The inspiration for AllergyEats came a few years ago, when Antico spent two hours driving around looking for a restaurant to take his two food allergic boys for dinner. It was a Saturday night and there were waits everywhere. What he needed was some form of guide to inform him of restaurants in the area that were known for their allergy-friendliness. Fast forward a few years and it is Antico himself who has come up with the solution.
Speaking to GateHouse Media reporter Nancy White, Antico said: "So many more people out there are being diagnosed with these allergies and (the restaurant industry) is beginning to understand they need to know how to deal with this. Too many people are being diagnosed with food allergies, and it is especially prevalent in young children. As a parent with a child who has food allergies it's a really scary thing," Antico continued. "But people shouldn't be scared to eat out, and this gives them a good starting point."
It seems web users with food allergies and intolerances agree. The website debuted three weeks ago and has had a good initial response. In this short space of time ratings for restaurants in the greater Boston area have risen from just a few to around 80 restaurants. There are also reviews being posted from locations throughout the United States where word of the website has already spread.
"People who have allergies and parents of kids with allergies have a bond, and with this website they are all trying to help each other," Antico said. He expects the site to be useful to people without food allergies as well, adding, "Everyone knows at least one person with a food allergy and they can be the veto vote [for a restaurant]."
The ratings system at AllergyEats.com has been designed to really quantify the information provided by the site's users according to Antico. As such, visitors are asked to rate restaurants where they have eaten and have specifically told the restaurant about their food allergies and/or intoelrances. They are then asked three questions about their dining experience, which is then used to develop a star rating for the restaurant in question.
Antico envisions people using the website both to find a place to eat in their own area and also while away on vacation/holiday. He is planning on spending the next few months promoting his website and striving to the critical mass of users needed to really make it a valuable resource. He has earned endorsements for AllergyEats from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association as well as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America so making a success of the site can only be a matter of time.
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