HOTELS Interview: Chef shares secrets of allergy-specific menus

Anthony Sicignano, executive chef at The Breakers Palm Beach in Florida since 2002, has been customizing menus for guests’ specific needs his entire career, but over the past few years, he and his F&B team have placed particular emphasis on creating menus addressing allergy-specific requirements and other dietary demands, such as gluten-free offerings.

Sicignano shared with HOTELS how his approach to these types of menus has evolved and how his experience has yielded lessons both for his operation and for the entire industry.

HOTELS Magazine: How much have you seen demand for allergy-specific and other special dietary menus grow in recent years?

Anthony Sicignano: I would say over the past 10 years allergy-specific requests seem to have almost doubled.

HOTELS: What do you believe sets your hotel apart in the way you accommodate guests with allergies and other special dietary needs?  

Sicignano: Overall we will make it a point to accommodate any specific need. We do not view this as extra work or any type of inconvenience; we view this as an opportunity to truly make someone’s stay here special and memorable.  

Having children of my own, I know firsthand what a family vacation entails. I could not imagine the extra stress on the parents when a food allergy is involved. We will customize any menu for any child or guest of any age with allergies. Either I or my assistant, Maren Bronkema, will contact the guest as soon as we are apprised and then obtain all specifics as to what they can or cannot eat. We will then build a customized menu and make sure that it is available in all of our outlets (we have nine restaurants and five lounges at The Breakers).  

I think we are most proud when we accommodate specific needs for children. On one occasion I recall myself and Maren meeting the child’s mother at 9 a.m. on the morning of arrival. By noon we had procured the specialty items needed and had actually drafted a written menu that was presented to the child when he dined with his family. The parents were very emotional and later explained to me that it was the first time in all of their travels when their son actually felt special and did not feel out of the ordinary. We were thrilled that we could help out in this way.

HOTELS: What lessons have you learned over time in accommodating guests with these types of needs, and how has your experience informed your current approach?

Sicignano: Over time we have learned that every request is unique and different and should be treated as such, but a systematic approach to each scenario is needed to ensure perfect execution.

HOTELS: Talk about the growth in guest demand for gluten-free menus. What kinds of unique challenges do these demands present, and how have you addressed them?  

Sicignano: Demand for gluten-free menus has significantly increased as well. We highlight items on each of our existing menus that are gluten-free, and with notice, we can customize gluten-free menus. We also feature gluten-free offerings on our children’s menus.  

The challenges are not as unique as one would expect, as in any given moment we always have many gluten-free items in house. The challenges are procuring great gluten-free breads and desserts, so we do make some in house; however these seem to be the items that are most challenging.

HOTELS: Going forward, how do you predict your hotel and the entire industry will evolve F&B programs to address guests’ ever-changing dietary needs?

Sicignano: I think that F&B programs need to understand that the very basic reason for their existence is to satisfy individual guests’ needs. I know that at The Breakers this is our top priority; unfortunately, I also believe there are too many operations out there that lose sight of this to a certain extent and treat food allergies and other types of requests as a nuisance. They are missing the whole point of it.

Anthony Sicignano
Anthony Sicignano