Restaurants in Britain are not catering for Britain's millions of food allergy sufferers and dieters, according to research from Mintel.

As many as 12 million British consumers now suffer from some sort of food allergy or intolerance, a figure poised to double over the next decade, the market research company said.

A further 8.3 million adults are currently on a diet. Around three-quarters of adults will at some point be on a diet.

"As a result it is perhaps not surprising that as many as 16% of adults believe restaurants should offer low fat and low calorie meals, with almost one in ten (8%) looking for low carbohydrate options," Mintel said. "What is more, some 15% are keen to know where the ingredients come from, while one in ten would like to see the nutritional content and ingredients of meals displayed on restaurant menus."

"When eating out, consumers desire choice, a choice not only of dishes to fit their dietary needs, but also a choice of exactly what goes into their dishes.  A large number of customers also want to know where their food comes from in order to make informed decisions, said Linda Haden, Catering Analyst at Mintel. "It seems that people today are looking to tailor their meals when at a restaurant, something that has been commonplace in the US for quite some time,"

In 2004 the diet and special dietary needs eating out market was worth almost £5bn, however, Mintel believes, that much of its potential remains untouched.  Indeed, as many as 2 million dieters and allergy sufferers are not eating out as often as they would like to because of the lack of restaurants catering for their special needs. Furthermore, it would seem that price is not an issue, with some 3 million Britons prepared to pay more for a meal which satisfies their food requirements.

"It seems clear that Britain's restaurants are not catering for this lucrative market.  There is enormous business potential among these consumers who are clearly more than willing to pay extra for their special requirements.  Keeping as many as 2 million consumers away from restaurants means these establishments are losing out on significant business.  What is more, as most consumers do not eat out alone, restaurants could in fact be missing out on still more trade," said Linda Haden.

"In order to tap into this lucrative sector, operators need to make sure that their staff are very knowledgeable about the ingredients and foods included on their menu, allowing staff to advise and make informed recommendations.  Most diners with special dietary needs are very aware of what they can and cannot eat and will not expect restaurateurs to be dietary experts," she said.

The apparent lack of interest in the needs of Britain's 20 million dieters and food allergy or intolerance suffers is even more pronounced when compared to Britain's vegetarian market.  Today, vegetarians are actively catered for in the restaurant industry and yet there are just six million.  Although there are far fewer vegetarians in Britain than food allergy or intolerance suffers, nearly every menu has a vegetarian option.