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Working with food-allergic families makes good business sense

Submitted by on Sunday, 25 January 2009 No Comment

There is one, and only one, pizza place we go to in town.

We don’t even go there often, because we’ve cut back drastically on eating out. Still, the guys deserve a treat once in a while, and a trip every other week isn’t going to kill the budget.

The place is Pizza Hut, and a smart manager there earned my loyalty forever by being willing to work around Big Guy’s garlic allergy.

Several pizza places are off limits anyway because they use egg that Big Guy’s allergic to in the crust. Several others are forever on my “do not call list” because they wouldn’t make one small change I needed in order to have Boots’  birthday pary there last summer.

That change: Allowing me to bring my homemade garlic-free sauce, from which they would prepare a pizza, for which I would pay full price.  It used to grate on me to pay full price when I’m providing part of the ingredients, but I’m now willing to accept it as part of the cost of food allergies.

Why a pizzeria wouldn’t accept it, I don’t know. Yet the week before Boots’ birthdays, I made a half dozen calls trying to find a place that would agree. The first six refused.

I knew the restaurant that’s the site of Big Guy’s annual soccer party would work with me, but it’s way too expensive ($16 for a 12-inch pie) for me to want to feed a herd there.

I didn’t hold out much hope for Pizza Hut, figuring that if a mom-and-pop won’t do it, a chain surely would refuse.

I was wrong. The manager quickly agreed, encouraging me to bring the sauce ahead of time so Big Guy’s pizza could be ready with the rest of the order. An order, by the way, that approached triple-digits in dollar value by the time we included drinks.

As a result of this wonderful manager’s willingness to work it out, Pizza Hut has earned our repeat business. We were there for Big Guy’s birthday, too, and that’s where I made my covert Christmas Eve run for the Santa pizza Big Guy asked for. How’s that for an endorsement: Pizza Hut, the official restaurant of Claus. I could spin it into a highly effective December marketing campaign in roughly 3.6 minutes.

It’s where we go every other Friday, and it’s where we’ll continue to go should the glorious day arrive when Big Guy’s not longer allergic to garlic. In part, that’s because he equates “Pizza Hot” with eating out. But it’s also because the food allergic are incredibly loyal customers.

We remember places that make an effort to serve us, and we come back often.  Eateries that don’t realize that lose business. And they don’t miss out on the patronage of just one allergic little boy. The restaurants that wouldn’t work with us also evicted his entire family.

And all because they wouldn’t make one tiny, reasonable change that actually winds up giving them a slightly larger profit margin.

There’s a lesson many business can learn from Pizza Hut, and it’s a valuable one in this economy.

What small accommodations could you make to draw in guaranteed repeat business?

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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