Everyone with an allergy knows the feeling of uncertainty. You’re halfway through a big bite of your meal when you hear someone say, “are you sure…”
Even writing about it I feel that tightness in the pit of my stomach. The tell-tale calling card of anxiety. No matter how experienced I’ve become with managing my food allergies, I still make mistakes, and those mistakes are scary.
I always try to remember that I’m not perfect when someone else is the one making the mistake. I try not to blame servers at restaurants, they’re usually very helpful. I’ve noticed one single thing that I appreciate more than any other when it comes to servers. But first a quick story.
In the middle of a meal at a banquet the server abruptly took my plate away, without explanation.
My friends at the table were confused but I knew what was happening. I had just eaten peanuts. I’m allergic to peanuts and I’ve had anaphylactic reactions in the past. Just like that I’m starting to freak out.
The server returned a moment later looking flustered and politely asking me to come to the manager’s office.
“What’s going on?”
“Just come with me.”
I’m losing it. This is the end. I’m taking a mental inventory of my symptoms. Nothing yet, but how long will it take? When will it start?
I walk into the office and I’m shocked to find it full of people.
As I sit down I’m bombarded with questions from a red faced and angry manager:
“How do you feel?
Tell us if you’re feeling bad!
You can’t sue me, you have to tell me!
How do you feel?”
This interrogation lasted ten minutes. The only response I gave was a simple,
“What did I eat?”
She never answered. For ten minutes she lectured me about lawsuits but refused to tell me what, if anything, I had eaten.
Finally a server in the corner told me that they were worried about contamination of my meal by pine nuts. I’m not even allergic to pine nuts. But they never asked me and were reluctant to answer my questions. I was fine, but my night was ruined and I’ve never been back to that restaurant.
The one thing I appreciate most in servers is direct honesty. Tell me what I’m dealing with and let me make my own decision.
Whenever you hide something from me, we risk a very serious situation.
How about another story? This one is the best experience I’ve had at a restaurant.
A big group of us went out for lunch. In the restaurant I calmly explained my food allergy to the server. His response is among the best I’ve ever had. He suggested I look through the menu and see if anything caught my eye, in the meantime he would talk to the kitchen manager and ensure that he could tell me EXACTLY what I could and could not order.
When he returned he took my order and then said:
“Thank you for joining us today. Before I place your order with the kitchen I want to explain our process so that you know we have you covered and can eat your meal in peace. When I place this order, I will announce that this table has a peanut allergy. Every staff member in the kitchen will wash their hands and until your order leaves the kitchen everyone will remain at their stations to avoid any chance of cross contamination. Our manager has assigned one cook to your order. He is working at a clean station that hasn’t been used since it was last cleaned. He’s cleaning it again to be safe. He will clean all your food and re-wash your dishes. When he’s ready to send the meal I will wash my hands and he will hand me the food, it will not touch the service counter at all. Once I pick up your meal I will not touch anything until I place it in from of you. Someone will open the doors for me, everyone will stay out of the way. Nothing will come into contact with your meal AT ALL. If anyone touches it for any reason we’ll start all over again. Is that OK with you?”
I was floored. This server just spent five minutes with me and all I ordered was a $10 lunch special!
That is the ultimate experience for me. I had no doubts, no anxiety, and I would go back in a second.
What I need from the people around me is the truth. I’ll take care of the rest!
– Jason B.