Birthdays are often synonymous with fun and excitement. Celebrating, relaxing, and catching-up with old friends are all things that we look forward to when we plan our own birthday parties, or get invited to one by our friends or family members. Food allergies may initially pose some complications to birthday party celebrations, especially if the party takes place over a meal, or at a restaurant.
This is an all too common, and potentially stressful, situation encountered by many adults living with severe food allergies. The initial excitement for the party that you were just invited to is suddenly overshadowed by doubts, and even anxiety, that stem from how to properly manage your food allergies in the given situation. Some of these doubts may come in the form of the following common questions that I ask myself:
- “Will there be a meal served at the party?”
- “What restaurant will my friend/cousin/significant other choose for their birthday?”
- “Should I call the restaurant in advance?”
- “Should I avoid eating at the party all-together?”
- “Will I be singled-out if I don’t eat anything? Will I feel awkward?”
This post will attempt to address some of these questions by providing you with some tangible tips that you can use either when planning your own party or if you are invited to a birthday party in the near future.
Scenario 1: Planning your own birthday party
This is the easiest scenario to face since you have complete control over every detail of the party. In this case, you can either:
- Plan your party around a fun activity (e.g., A karaoke party or informal get-together) that doesn’t involve eating-out at a restaurant.
- Plan a lunch or dinner party at a “safe” restaurant, which is a restaurant with a strong food allergy policy that you have eaten at before; a restaurant that you generally trust and feel safe eating at.
Reminder: If you do choose to hold your birthday at a restaurant, always call the restaurant in advance of the party day. This is an absolute must, even for restaurants on your “safe list.” Restaurants change their policies and menus all the time, so you should always be extra-cautious and call the restaurant staff in advance. It is also essential that you remind your friends that you have a severe food allergy (name your allergen) and what specific actions they should take in the event that you do have an allergic reaction. Always have your auto-injector with you, especially if you are dining-out. Make sure others know where you keep it.
Scenario 2: You are invited to a birthday party
In this case, you have less control over the details of the party. You can use my steps below as a broad guideline to handling this scenario:
- Call the party organizer in advance (your friend, colleague, family member, or significant other that is organizing the party), and confirm the restaurant name and location (note that different restaurant locations may have different food allergy policies, even within the same chain of restaurants).
- Call the restaurant well in-advance of the party (as soon as you get the location information) and inquire about their food allergy policy. Ask whether or not they have one, how they have handled food allergies in the past, and whether or not they can accommodate your specific allergies..
- Based-on the information you receive from the call, make a personal judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable eating at the establishment. Never feel pressured to eat at a restaurant by anyone, no matter what the occasion! Your health is much too important!
- If you decide to go ahead and eat-out, make sure you remind the wait staff at the restaurant (and the chef, if possible) that you have a severe food allergy, and that extra precautions should be taken in preparing your meal.
- As mentioned before, remind your friends that you have a severe food allergy, and let them know that you are carrying an auto-injector. Show them where you are carrying your auto-injector.
These are the steps that I most often revert to when planning, or when attending, a birthday party. The most important take-away from this post, is that severe allergies should never overshadow the fun and excitement out of birthday parties. By taking the proper precautions, and following some of my advice provided, you can face any birthday party (or special gathering) with confidence and ease.
– Saverio M.