Eating out last night for Mother’s Day reminded me once again just how difficult it can be to dine out if you have a food allergy.
Sistie has wrestled with a severe peanut allergy for years, but now she’s dealing with “oral allergy syndrome” because of her sensitivity to birch pollen (found in some fruits and vegetables)… and that’s on top of her sensitivity to lactose and high fructose corn syrup. Oy.
Even though GP spoke with the restaurant* before making the reservation and we mentioned her allergies to the wait staff, Sis still asked about every single item she thought about ordering.
Clearly, the wait staff was superbly trained. Not only did they patiently answer every question, but returned to the kitchen to double-check if there was the slightest doubt. That is amazing conscientious service.
We’ve also experienced the complete opposite: impatient, indifferent servers who, short of rolling their eyes, acted like we were just picky eaters. When that happens, we leave. Why risk it?
Here are a few tips if you’re dining out with someone who has a food allergy.
• Plan: Call during off-peak hours to see if the restaurant can accommodate you. Be honest about the extent of the allergy or sensitivity. Looking at online menus is a good idea, but when you speak with someone at the restaurant, you can discuss cross-contamination issues as well as food substitution possibilities.
• Communicate: Tell your server about the allergies, even if you’ve already made the phone call (and it’s noted in your reservation). You don’t need to be overly dramatic, but let them know the consequences of an allergic reaction (if necessary). One other thing… without becoming abrasive (something Mama continues to work on), watch the server’s body language to see if they “get it.” If you’re not comfortable, call a manager… or leave.
• Double-Check: Before digging in to eat, look closely at what is served. Did they put pesto on the vegetables? Are those breadcrumbs or just chopped garlic? If in doubt, point it out!
• Educate: Encourage your kids to understand their allergies so they’ll know how to plan, communicate and double check their restaurant meals when you aren’t around (and you WON’T be around for every meal as they get older).
• Finally, always make sure you have your emergency medicine!
There are a couple of really good websites that have lists of allergy-friendly restaurants. Allergy Eats not only has a great interactive website for all kinds of dietary needs, but also a cool App. The Living Without website has a huge list of restaurants that offer gluten-free menus and sometimes cater to those with other food allergies. Gluten Gurus is aimed specifically at those with Celiac Disease (May is Celiac Awareness Month, by the way).
*The restaurant we dined in was Spiaggia in Chicago. Kudos to Chef Sarah Grueneberg for making the evening so enjoyable… and safe!