AllergyEats: A Great Dining Out Resource for Families With Food Allergies

An interview with the founder

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Families with food allergies are often plagued with great difficulty when it comes to finding a restaurant that can meet their needs. It is not as easy as pulling into the nearest restaurant and finding something on the menu that is safe for those with food allergies. Quite often the situation becomes stressful and hopeless, resulting in many families feeling defeated.

Not only is this a problem while families try to find a local restaurant, but it's a bigger challenge when they are traveling.

Fortunately, thanks to the developer of AllergyEats, a valuable guide of the allergy-friendliness of restaurants around the country has been created. AllergyEats can be accessed by their website or their app, bringing amazing resources right to your fingertips. 

Paul Antico is the founder of AllergyEats, launching the website in 2010 and the app in 2011. Below Paul shares the story behind AllergyEats, its mission statement, growth and goals.

Q: Where did you come up with the idea for AllergyEats?

The concept of AllergyEats actually came to me as I was driving around with my very hungry and food allergic kids back in 2006. Forgetting it was a busy Saturday night, I tried to stop into three of our different “allergy friendly” restaurants, only to find out the wait was too long. As we headed back to the car to try to figure out a back up plan, it dawned on me that I wished there was a guide listing restaurants that could handle my kids food allergy needs appropriately.

I realized that if I was having this experience, so must other families in similar situations. And it also occurred to me that it was not only a problem finding local places but an issue whenever we traveled. From there the concept was born, which started as a website and grew to include an app as well.

Q: What is your mission statement?

While I don't have a formal mission statement, I can say that our goal is two-fold. AllergyEats' primary mission is simply to help the community of food-allergic individuals dine out a little more comfortably with their friends and family. There’s no such thing as an “allergy safe” restaurant, but we believe that AllergyEats is by far the best resource to help food-allergic individuals easily find restaurants that are most likely to be accommodating, given their needs. We believe that dining out is part of the social fabric of virtually all people, so we want to help make this as easy and comfortable as possible.

Our secondary mission is to impact the rate at which the restaurant community becomes more “allergy-friendly” by getting trained, adding proper procedures and protocols to their restaurants, etc. By driving a market share shift of the significant food allergy community—and their dining parties—from those that are less accommodating to those that are more, we are appealing to their business judgment.

Outside of the core AllergyEats app and website, we educate restaurants on the significant economic gain they start to benefit by becoming allergy-friendly. 

Q: What trends do you see in the allergy marketplace?

Looking at the “big picture” the prevalence of food allergies continues to grow in children and adults. There is no known cause and unfortunately will likely not be a cure for food allergies anytime in the next decade at least. However, due to the growth of this community there are more resources (and understanding) available to make living with food allergies much easier than 10 and 20 years ago.

On the restaurant side, clearly more restaurants are “getting it” and taking strides to become allergy friendly. The training business is taking off, which is obviously good for our community. As a take-off from the restaurant front, colleges are also now quickly learning how to accommodate food-allergic diners. On the business side, there are a lot of entrepreneurs trying to develop products to help improve the quality of life for individuals with food allergies, which is great news. Whether new apps or new devices, great stuff is on the way!

Q: How do people find out about your app?

We try hard to get the word out in every way possible! Fortunately, the food allergy community is very vocal when they find a great resource. Thus not only is word-of-mouth excellent, but social media has proven to be a great channel. In addition, now that AllergyEats has become far and away the largest guide to allergy-friendly restaurants, our organic Google placement is excellent! We also aim to support many of the non-profits around the country, including the smaller local ones, so they sing our praises as well. We keep in close contact with other strong voices in the food-allergy community, as we all support each other in the common cause of trying to improve the quality of life for those with food allergies. We are excited to report that we share a lot of very interesting data that we collect to further help the food allergy community. For example, annually we generate a list of the AllergyEats Top 10 Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Chains in America. AllergyEats is here to stay and we will continue to do our best to serve the ever growing allergy community. 

Q: While your redesigned and redeveloped app and website have certainly been well-received with rave reviews, do you think you have a target audience?

AllergyEats is excited to say that the traffic in the first three months of 2016 is up over 50% versus 2015, following the December launch of our redesign. The number of restaurant ratings by individuals has also surged, adding more credibility and value to the site as well for our users.

While we have found that we have reached many different demographics, our primary user now is the mother of one or more food-allergic children, but mainly because that is the segment that most actively seeks new resources for their young child with food allergies. The design of the app and sit certainly isn't meant to appeal to any one group over another, and I do believe that the primary demographics will shift more and more, as the food-allergic individuals themselves— as the “first wave” of the recent surge in food allergy kids—grows into adults, making their own dining and life decisions.

Q: Any tips for restaurants looking to get involved as part of your website and app?

We have a very inexpensive partnership program that has been well-received by our earliest partners. It is geared toward those restaurants that already understand food allergies well and know how to accommodate food-allergic diners well and want to attract new business from the community.

By partnering with AllergyEats, a restaurant can increase their profile on the app and site by adding valuable information that food-allergic diners want to see and will make those diners more likely, all else being equal, to try that restaurant over another. And with the extremely loyal nature of this community toward those restaurants that serve them well, the opportunity for a significant return on investment is very high. We also run one-off projects with restaurant chains, leveraging our database and our tremendous reach into the community, and continue to keep open the possibility of further utilizing our database to provide restaurants with valuable information (no personal user information being shared, of course) or finding other unique ways to support their efforts. 

Q: How do you envision AllergyEats in 5 years?

I believe we’ll have many partnerships in the future with others in the food allergy “industry”, others serving the dining-out community, and others yet-to-be-determined, that will all be struck to help us improve the reach and usefulness of AllergyEats for our entire food allergy community. Lastly, as we collect more and more data each day, we will continue to be the most trusted source for information related to food allergies and dining out.

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