Tag Archives: Eating out with allergies

Addressing the “Allergy” in the Room: Communicating Your Allergy to Others

Going out for dinner, whether on a date, with colleagues from work, or with your closest friends, you are likely to experience some common elements: loud music, clinking plates/utensils, crowded tables, and multiple wait staff running around, each server striving to satisfy the multiple tables under their supervision.

Sometimes in this environment, it is easy to feel anxious or feel like it is a burden to mention your food allergy to the wait staff (or to the company you are with) when you go to order your meal, because it is one more thing they need to worry about. Growing up with a severe peanut/tree nut allergy, I’ve struggled with how to handle situations like this. As a child, speaking to any “stranger” is scary enough, let alone to inform them of a possible life-threatening reaction to occur under their supervision. It took me a long time to find my confidence and even still, it is not always easy. However, the reality is, we should all feel safe going out to eat and be able to enjoy an anxiety-free meal with the company we are with.

OK, so let’s say you are now at a table with friends and the waiter is making their way around the table taking orders, and you are next up. Instead of being anxious and overthinking everything in your head, start thinking about what questions you can ask the waiter to ensure you feel comfortable eating there. For example, you can ask questions about food preparation and the risk of cross-contamination to prove that you are quite serious about the safety of your food. Or you can ask what their process is for handling tables with allergies. It is important to communicate that this is a life-threatening allergy; this is not an intolerance or a preference, this is an allergy. Another tactic is to get in front of the issue by pulling the server aside before ordering and asking them what dishes are safe or easy to prepare to accommodate someone with a severe food allergy. You will find that most of the time the servers are educated to handle this scenario and more than happy to offer recommendations as well as assist in finding you a meal that you will safely enjoy. If there is ever an instance that the response you receive is not entirely confident, I would recommend speaking with the chef themselves or choose somewhere else to eat since nothing is worth the risk of having an allergic reaction.

This above scenario not only applies for the wait staff, but also for the people with whom you are enjoying the meal. Some people are not accustomed to dealing with food allergies, or never grew up in an environment with someone that had a severe allergy. Have you ever been out for lunch with a friend and they decide to order a dish with the allergen you are severely allergic to? How do you address this without hindering their dining experience and avoid the rest of the lunch being uncomfortable? I have been in this situation and to be honest, the first time I definitely could have handled it better. I was extremely uncomfortable and anxious knowing that the allergen I have been conditioned to avoid for the majority of my life is in the dish right beside mine. However, once you confront the issue the first time, the rest is a breeze. One possible solution is to simply ask your friend to slide to another seat at the table to minimize the cross-contamination risk. Allergies are so common now and being able to speak about them with your friends, family or the waiter should never feel uncomfortable.

So next time you go out for a bite to eat, check the menu beforehand, read the reviews, and make sure your company and the waiter are informed of any food allergies. This is your safety, your life, your allergy and most importantly, it is YOUR responsibility to communicate.

– Phil Greenway

 

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University/College Top 3 Tips Series: First Week of School

You’ve made it! The decision has been made, your bags have been packed and now it is your first week of school! The first week of school is usually an orientation week where you get to take part in lots of fun activities and get familiar with the layout of campus. Here are my top 3 tips for getting through your first week of school with your food allergies!

  1. Talk with your roommate(s) and your floor mates

In your first week, it is important to try and make those who you will be living with aware of your food allergies. If you have a roommate and haven’t communicated with them beforehand it is important to let them know about your allergies and work out what you are comfortable with in terms of managing your allergies in your room and common areas. It is also a good idea to talk to other people who live on your floor as well so they are aware and cognizant of your allergies.

  1. Go to the grocery store

Your first week can be overwhelming and very busy. Having limitations on what you can eat and not being familiar with the cafeterias and food options on campus means it is always a good idea to have your own food and snacks on hand. Make a quick trip to a nearby grocery store during your first week so that you always have safe foods on hand and you won’t get hungry!

  1. Get involved

Usually classes haven’t started during your first week and it is just a time to have fun and meet new people. There are also usually lots of club fairs and promotions of different activities for new students. Take this time to get to know what kind of ways you can get involved on campus whether it’s through sports, clubs, activist groups, etc. There might even be opportunities to work with hospitality services or start your own club – like one for students with food allergies!

Hopefully some of these tips will help you get through your first week of school safely and with lots of fun! If you have any other tips for the first week of school with a food allergy, I’d love to hear about it in a comment below!

– Lindsay S.

The Best and Worst of Food Service

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.

My Dream for a Standardized Allergy-Friendly Menu

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order
Dining out with friends and family is always something I look forward to. Having to worry about my food allergy, however, takes some fun out of it, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. I always get a sense of relief when I find a restaurant that is allergy-friendly and has a detailed spreadsheet listing allergen information for their menu items across the board. I often dream about what it would be like if there was a standardized allergy-friendly menu at every restaurant I went to.  Here are a few reasons why a standardized allergy-friendly menu would benefit those of us with food allergies:

It would reduce the anxious feelings that often come with dining out. Having a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the burden I sometimes feel when discussing and planning a night out with friends. For example, I often find myself saying to them, “sorry, we can’t check out that restaurant because I think there are nuts in many dishes” or “I didn’t feel comfortable there last time.” Also, it would eliminate the constant back-and-forth of asking about ingredient info with the wait and kitchen staff. I would still notify them about my allergies so they know it’s severe, and to be cautious of cross-contamination.

It would make the planning process quicker and easier. Knowing a restaurant has a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the amount of time I spend researching restaurants before choosing or agreeing to dine there.

menuIt would make me feel more comfortable and safe when dining out. It would show me that the restaurant’s dishes have been dissected to highlight what allergens are within. My hope would be that these recipes would never change, which is another reason why it’s important to still mention your allergies. An allergy-friendly menu doesn’t necessarily mean that the food service staff are completely allergy aware, which is why I would still double check that they have strict kitchen protocols for accommodating allergic diners beyond providing ingredient information.

It would highlight safe options on the menu for my allergies. Having a detailed outline of potential allergens and ingredients for each dish served would not only give me a clear list of safe items, but it would also provide me with options I would have never thought I could have. Knowing I would find a standardized allergy-friendly menu at any restaurant I went to would also allow me to discover restaurants that I never thought I could eat at before.

Fortunately, the restaurant industry in Canada is well aware of the seriousness of food allergies, but there is much room to improve. There are a fair number of food chains that have a standardized menu and provide an allergen information sheet, but it isn’t required across restaurants nation-wide. It would be a dream to be able to check out a new restaurant knowing that when I get there, they would provide me with a menu of safe dining options to leave me worry-free.

– Michelle D.

Valentine’s Day with Food Allergies

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Valentine’s with an allergy?

Well, I got you!

Valentine’s Day is one of the most romantic days of the year. Maybe you and your long-term partner are planning a weekend getaway to relax and enjoy each other’s company or maybe you and your girlfriends are planning on celebrating ‘single ladies’ style. No matter what your relationship status is, you can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday. I didn’t really start celebrating Valentine’s Day until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember being very nervous the first Valentine’s Day we celebrated together because I had actually no idea what I was going to be able to eat. I was so worried that we would get to the restaurant and then be forced to leave because I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. So my advice? Don’t be like me! Be confident and take initiative! Over the last four years of dating my boyfriend, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to master Valentine’s Day:

Valentines day hearts on wooden backgroundPlan ahead! – Going out for dinner? Think ahead. My boyfriend and I already contacted the manager of the restaurant we are thinking of trying this Valentine’s Day, two weeks in advance. Valentine’s Day itself is a very busy day/night at most restaurants, so don’t contact the restaurant the day of. Contact the restaurant maybe two, three, or even seven days in advance and speak to the manager. The majority of classier restaurants usually also do special “Valentine’s Day” menus and these menus are typically different from their usual menus. Just because you’ve been to a restaurant before does not mean it’s going to be safe for you on Valentine’s Day. The manager will be able to give you the best advice on what is going to be safest for you. Once you get to the restaurant, request to speak to the person you’ve already contacted. I’ve had amazing experiences at The KEG, Baton Rogue, and Copacabana on Valentine’s Day.

Laura Secord – If you’re allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and have never had the opportunity to try Valentine’s Day chocolate in a box because of the enormous amount of nut products in these chocolate filled boxes, Laura Secord has your back. The 100-year-old Canadian chocolate franchise has an assortment of peanut-free and tree nut-free chocolates in both bars and boxes. They even have a special Valentine’s Day nut-free chocolate assortment box. I picked up a box the other day and it was incredibly delicious. Start making hints to your date that you’re craving some delicious Laura Secord nut-free chocolate this Valentine’s Day. Go Canada!

Keep it simple! – There’s honestly no need to go out for dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Keep yourself safe (and save yourself some cash) by inviting your Valentine over to your place this Valentine’s Day. Make an allergen-safe dinner at home together and watch a cool movie. You will not only have a great time, but you and your Valentine will bond by being able to share with him/her your allergen-safe secrets. You (and your wallet) will be grateful that you’re not out on arguably the busiest dining out night of the year.

Don’t make Valentine’s Day revolve around food! – Who said Valentine’s Day had to be associated with food? Celebrate the day with your loved one by doing something or going somewhere that you wouldn’t usually go to; take a trip to Niagara Falls, go skiing, or take out those skates and go to the nearest ice rink. You make your own fun!

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to enroll your loved one. Share with your Valentine your worries and come up with a game plan in advance together. Get asked out on a date and you’re told that the restaurant is a surprise? Immediately take the initiative and share with your date that you have allergies and you’d love to be a part of planning so that you two can find a suitable destination for you. My boyfriend now takes initiative even before I do! It’s not supposed to be a scary or stressful night, so find a way to have fun with it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

– Giulia C.

Checking it Twice: Adventures in Dining

It was a beautiful Saturday in July. The sun was shining, there was a breeze in the air, and Ottawa was looking particularly beautiful.

It had started off as a great day, and when a group of friends and I decided to venture down the street to one of my favourite restaurants in the city, I thought nothing of it. I usually call ahead to most places to ensure its safety, but this particular restaurant was consistently safe, I had even had discussions with the owner about allergens, so I felt confident just showing up on a lazy Saturday to have drinks and appetizers.

Business Celebrate Cheerful Enjoyment Festive ConceptAs we were seated I immediately noticed new menus and the twinge of anxiety chimed in; maybe I should have called ahead. As our server took our drink orders my heart sank and my stomach lunged into my throat. Staring me in the face was a burger compiled of pure nuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans encrusted with sesame seeds. Literally a burger constructed of all my worst, most severe allergens. I almost dropped my drink in shock. This was a safe place, my favourite place to eat in the city, literally down the street from my home! it had always been safe and now without warning it all changed. I had several emotions stirring inside me: Guilt because I choose this place. My friends had just ordered their drinks and barely had a second to enjoy them. Fear because of cross-contamination and the idea that those allergens were lurking around so openly. Anger because a place I trusted and felt confident in had let me down. It took my trust and broke it. And lastly, disappointed, not in the restaurant but in myself. I allowed myself to be lulled into a sense of security and familiarity and let my guard down.

Luckily, I was with people I trusted and who knew my food allergies well and noticed the burger a few seconds after me. I asked the server about the food preparation and she informed me that it wasn’t prepped in a special area and cross-contamination was a very real possibility. My friends asked me what I wanted to do, and we collectively paid our bills and left.

I could have let that experience ruin my attitude towards restaurants and new experiences, letting myself become bitter or scared of new things, or even places I felt safe. Instead, I let it be a very stern reminder that it’s okay to have trust, but you constantly have to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Even though I may have eaten there a million times or been there before, you always have to ensure it’s still safe. I now try to always call ahead or check their website before going out. It may be tedious but it’s a small task to do to ensure a safe meal.

– Arianne K.

Food Allergies at Hockey Games

Being Canadian and growing up in a family that both plays and loves hockey, I have been to my fair share of hockey games throughout my life. Whether it is at a local rink watching my brothers play or watching the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, I have always enjoyed the classic Canadian sport. At most hockey arenas, food is typically served, which brings an inherent risk for those with allergies, but if you make sure you play it safe you can enjoy a hockey night in Canada live in action.

I can only speak to my NHL game experience here in Toronto so make sure you check out your local arena before attending a game!

  1. There are a lot of options for food

Most arenas will have a wide variety of fast food options for you to choose from. They can range from your classic hot dogs and pizza to poutine and gourmet burgers. There are typically stands that are owned by the arena itself and often common fast food chains will have booths there as well. Therefore, you should have lots to choose from and might have some familiar brands that you know are safe to eat from.

  1. Plan ahead

If you know you won’t have a meal at home prior to attending the game, take a quick look at the website of the arena you are going to. Most of them will have information on their food services and will list what food vendors are there. This can help you plan an allergy-friendly meal in advance.

A bowl of popcorn with a glass of soda at a sports game.

  1. See if you can bring your own food

A simple internet search should give you some helpful information about food allergies at the arena. For example, the Air Canada Centre has a page on their website stating that fans with food allergies are permitted to bring their own food in and warn that they do sell peanuts in the arena.

  1. Be on the look out

Peanuts are not only a very common allergen, they are also commonly found at sporting events. Since most venues will likely not be peanut-free, if you are allergic to peanuts make sure to take a quick scan of the area around you to see if anybody is eating them. You are attending any game at your own risk, but if you are with a group of friends you can ask to switch seats to keep you away from any nuts.

  1. Have fun!

Going to watch the good ol’ hockey game is all about having fun and supporting your home team. Don’t let your food allergies limit you from attending a game!

– Lindsay S.