Expectations when Eating Out with Allergies

Waitress

When talking to other people about my allergies, a common topic that comes up is how hard it must be to eat out at restaurants.  For the most part, however, I have had nothing but positive experiences when it comes to eating out. I will admit that there have been some less than positive incidents, for example where it was not detected that the menu item I ordered contained food allergens. And only once did a restaurant refuse to serve me because of my allergies. While these are not positive events, they for the most part are preventable by having my own routine for how I inform servers about my allergies along with the responsibility I expect to see from the restaurant for serving someone with allergies.

The expectations I have when eating at a restaurant include always making sure I get confirmation that the chef is going to be informed about my allergies and that whatever I ordered is going to be prepared in an area where no cross-contamination will occur.  When I order food, I also expect waiters or waitresses to be investigative to ensure that the meal I am ordering is actually free of any possible allergens. One of the incidents where I had an allergic reaction in a restaurant occurred because the waitress misread the ingredient label for a veggie burger, which actually contained egg.  Therefore, I always prefer when a restaurant has a binder that contains a list of what ingredients are in what menu items. Since this is not always possible at every restaurant, I also find that it is a good sign when a waiter/waitress comes back to the table to verify ingredients with me— as this signals they actually have been looking into the food I have ordered.

Overall it is my hope that restaurants will be very accommodating when serving someone with allergies since they want to encourage business but also don’t want to trigger an allergic reaction in one of their patrons.  The incident where a restaurant refused to serve me occurred at a restaurant in Toronto. This restaurant had all of their food shipped in from an outside supplier and could not verify all the ingredients in their food and then could not guarantee any food items were definitely allergen free.  This was obviously a frustrating incident. But it was the right call since no food item could fully assured to be safe. Some incidents where restaurants get ‘brownie’ points for their service in regards to managing food allergies include when the chef comes out and personally talks to me about menu options and what is safe for me.

This exceeds my expectations for eating out and completely reassures me that my meal will be safe. Furthermore, the more flexible a restaurant is with altering their menu options to make safe meal choices also puts a restaurant in my good books.  This gesture is obviously much more work for a restaurant kitchen but is a testament to their commitment to providing an allergy- safe restaurant experience for their guests. It is a shared partnership between myself and the restaurant I eat out at to ensure that the food I eat is allergy friendly. For the most part, however, I must commend restaurants for the steps they take to make my experiences eating out safe and enjoyable. What have your experiences been like eating out at restaurants with allergies?

Caitlyn P. 

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2 thoughts on “Expectations when Eating Out with Allergies”

  1. My best experience was when my husband took me to a really nice expensive restaurant for a special dinner out about 20 years ago – before food allergies were common so were rarely accomodated. When he booked the reservation, he explained my allergies. When we were seated at the restaurant, the chef appeared and explained that I could order anything – ANYTHING – on the menu! He had seen it as a challenge and created an entire menu around my allergies. Everyone at the restaurant that night had the same menu; it just met all my restirictions! I had a really lovely dinner and dessert, great company and I encouraged everyone I knew to go there for special occasions!

  2. My list of allergies has grown to include 13 different food triggers, two severe (cucumber and cherry- but of course all the rest *could* become severe).

    I eat out quite a lot, to be honest… Likely a lot more than I should! Most of the time I feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette, but there are too many instances where I otherwise wouldn’t eat. McDonald’s is usually fantastic, but one late night after work I accidentally forgot to tell them to change gloves, and ended up in emerg the next day with my leftovers. Generally the big chains are very helpful, though many many restaurants simply say “sorry we can’t guarantee”. It’s one thing to avoid my nut allergens… But cucumber is in every restaurant. Goodness, it’s even in my house!

    And then last summer I went to Angola. Limited options for safe restaurants! So here are some of the lessons I learned to use, and they’ve been working pretty well!

    1) Allergy cards. If you have multiple food allergies… Oh my word do you need these. Before I travelled internationally I designed a simple business card with my name, picture, allergens, pictures of the allergens, and a very blunt explanation that chefs should wash EVERYTHING or else they could kill me. I made it double sided so that one side’s English and one’s Portuguese.

    Since I had a ton of extra when I came home, I started using them at every restaurant, and friend’s houses too. Staff love them, since remembering 13 allergies is a little excessive. My friends claim “you can tell who’s friends with Janice by whether they have one of her cards”. Best 15$ I ever spent on preventing allergic reactions!

    2) Snacks/Food. I eat out because I get desperate. No reservations, usually I’m just too tired from chronic back pain to deal with cooking… So having freeze dried meals from MEC and safe snacks with me to keep me from getting desperate is totally key. Of course, calling ahead is SO much better. I do that with caterers, and the last wedding where I sent in my photo- the bar staff recognized me on sight at the end of the evening. They were SO pumped to meet me and try to accomodate my allergies I was almost sad to be the designated driver! Felt like a rock star. Now I always send in my photo for wedding caterers. Just in case.

    3) Multiple options. I have a lot of allergies, so sadly I get turned away from a lot of restaurants. So when I’m out and about, I ask about allergies first thing in the door. Then if I’m not comfortable with the answer, I leave and try the next restaurant. Usually I find one fairly quickly, though it does make dates a little less settled…

    4) Once I do find a restaurant, I pick two items on the menu that look safe and that I may like. I give both options to the wait staff with my allergy card- that way if option A isn’t safe, they can check option B right away and get it started.

    Lately I’ve also been mass cooking and freezing it all so I can avoid restaurants and have a healthier budget… But that’s another story.

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