Dining Out with Food Allergies
Dining out is one of America’s favorite pastimes, but for people with food allergies and intolerances, the experience can often be frustrating and stressful. Paul Antico, founder of AllergyEats, an online source for finding allergy-friendly restaurants, understands these challenges firsthand from dining out with his three food-allergic children.
“Families with food allergies hope that all restaurants will cater to food-allergic diners, but some restaurants are far more accommodating than others. A growing number of restaurants have extensive food-allergy protocols in place, educating their staff about food allergies and procedures, avoiding cross-contamination, and sharing detailed information about the ingredients in each dish. Other establishments are unable – or unwilling – to prepare meals without diners’ allergy triggers, such as nuts, dairy, eggs, gluten, shellfish, and more,” Paul says.
“Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a completely allergy-safe restaurant. While many restaurants have gone to great lengths to be as allergy-friendly as possible, food-allergic individuals – or their caretakers – still need to take 100 percent responsibility for their own safety,” he adds. As the father of three food-allergic children, the founder of AllergyEats, and a proactive food allergy advocate, Paul offers the following advice based on his personal and professional experience.
Do some homework in advance.
Find dining recommendations from others within the food allergy community through an online resource like AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com). Check menus and allergen information on restaurants’ websites. Call the restaurant with any questions before you leave the house.
Once you arrive at the restaurant, ask your server how the restaurant will be able to accommodate your specific needs.
Try to dine at off-peak hours.
When restaurant staff is less harried, they will be better able to take the proper precautions with your order.
Inform the host and server about your food allergies.
Once you arrive at the restaurant, ask your server how the restaurant will be able to accommodate your specific needs. Be very clear, but polite. If you don’t feel completely confident after speaking to the server, ask to talk to the manager or chef. Most importantly, if after speaking with the restaurant staff, you don’t feel comfortable, leave and find another restaurant.
When you speak with the restaurant staff, you should receive confident answers to the following questions:
- What protocols do you have in place to serve food-allergic individuals?
- Which items on your menu are not safe, given my specific food allergies?
- How are diners’ allergies communicated to the kitchen and other staff?
- How is the kitchen set up to prevent cross-contamination?
- Is separate equipment used to prepare orders for food-allergic individuals?
- What kind of oil will be used in the preparation of my order? Is it safe, given my allergies?
- Can I see the list of ingredients for a given menu item?
Get reassurance about the safety of your food.
When you receive your meal, politely ask the server if he or she is sure that this food is safe for you and if there was any chance of cross-contamination.
Stop and look carefully at your meal.
Check to see if any of your offending allergens, such as grated cheese, pesto, or nuts, are present. This may sound obvious, but Paul has found that some restaurants follow all of the “rules” to accommodate a food allergy and then mistakenly do something as obvious as grating cheese on top of a dairy-allergic diner’s salad.
Show your gratitude.
If the restaurant answered all of your questions and accommodated your special requests, be sure to thank them, leave a generous tip, and let them know you’ll return thanks to your positive experience.
Whether your experience was positive, negative, or somewhere in between, log on to AllergyEats.com and rate the restaurant. Rating a restaurant is simple and helps other food-allergic individuals determine which restaurants to visit.
Source: AllergyEats, www.allergyeats.com
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2011-2012.