It’s Friday night, you had a great day and it is time to relax and enjoy a nice meal with friends or family. The conversation is lively and an endless river of laughter flows. It feels good to be surrounded by these people and the moment is just perfect. The waiter appears and everyone starts to rattle off their orders. You’re up next. Your mind quickly starts spinning, “do I disrupt the laughter for serious life-threatening food allergy talk? Or ,do I try to maneuver through the menu by ordering things that should not contain my allergen”. Or even worse, do you just take the risk and pray for a good outcome without any consideration or thoughts.
Crazy as it sounds, I’m stunned when I speak to restaurant owners and managers when they tell me about how many of their guests do not tell the server about their food allergies. People will order food and then when it arrives, they explain to the server they can’t eat the food since contains their allergen as they did not realize this when ordering. My gripe here is two fold:
- The restaurant now loses out financial over the food that must be tossed out.
- The food allergic person placed the restaurant in a bad spot in the event of an allergic reaction. No one wants to experience a guest struggling to breathe, especially when it might be avoidable.
Bonus gripe: the person was taking an unnecessary risk.
I fully understand being the Debbie Downer in a group at a restaurant. I’ve been her for the last sixteen years. I have now been enlightened by my restaurateur pals that Debbie Downer is really Patty Prevention. I often asked to have my order taken last so that my request was fresh in the server’s mind and so that the group could continue on with entertaining conversation. Best case scenario, I would call ahead and have our menu selections ready (ordering for my kids) and I would simply advise the server of whom I had spoken and then I would share the details.
Restaurants truly want people with life threatening food allergies or celiac to speak up and share their needs. Once those allergic needs are explained the restaurant now has the opportunity to partner with the guest to find the best food choice for their health and well-being. Without sharing this information, nobody wins. The guest is taking a huge risk that could not only have a fatal ending, but could disrupt a business and quickly destroy a great evening for many, especially the food allergic person.
In Bon Apetit’s article, Where Do People with Severe Allergies Go To Dinner?”, the author, Katie Okamoto, who has a peanut allergy, brought forward a delightful piece to read while educating the rest of us food allergy types. She shared a simple request from the many restaurants she had reached out to for her article: please tell please always tell your server about your allergy, and be honest about its severity.
The restaurant stories told to me include restaurateurs using their own personal epinephrine auto-injectors on guests who were not carrying their rescue medications and also who also never mentioned their allergy to their servers. We are often so focused on our health and well-being we forget about the impact we might be creating for a restaurant. When I hear the stress in their voice, their concern for another human being is real. Even thought we might believe we are helping by staying silent. We are not.
Allergy Eats recently published their 2017 List of Top Ten Restaurant Chains in the US. This website and App is my go to to help me sort out which eateries might fit my family’s needs. I appreciate their hard work in keeping their APP up-to-date to no end. When we travel, the App is our new best friend in finding allergen aware eateries. The lists and restaurants featured are great and are not a get-out-of-food-allergy-talk card. Even when my family visits a Chipolte, they ask for allergen details. Recipes change and often times, restaurants end up with substitutions when their supplier runs out of a particular ingredient. This is why it is key to always check to make sure there are no changes to the food you believe is safe for you.
Over the years, we’ve learned to order last in the group, call ahead and review the menu over the phone (our favorite tactic), research the area, especially if traveling, to identify safe dining options and of course, always be prepared by carrying rescue medications.
I can’t agree anymore with the restaurateurs in the Bon Apetit piece, be honest. I know it is uncomfortable, but those few moments of discomfort might save your life and ensure the rest of that enjoyable evening stays marvelous.
Disclaimer: Before changing how you handle eating out with food allergies or celiac, consult your physician as to what food environments are considered safe for your or your family. I adore Allergy Eats and they did not pay me to write lovely things about them. In my admiration for them, I host a link to their website and receive a nominal fee. I am a ridiculously huge fan of Bon Appetit for so many years that it spans a lifetime. They are kings and queens of the culinary arts. They too did not ask me to write about them. My goal is to share as much as possible in hopes of our community finding things that might work for their unique lives.