Step-by-Step Guide to Dining Out with Food Allergies
Continued from previous page.
Step 3: At the Restaurant
Upon entering: Ask for the manager by name. Since you’ve already spoken to him, this should be like meeting an acquaintance; approach it that way. You want to make a connection with the staff. Get them on your side, and naturally they will want to ensure you are taken care of. Remind the manager of your food requirements, give him your chef or food-allergy card, and ask to speak to the chef if available. (If it’s early, the chef can usually spare a few moments).
What you’re looking for: There are a few things I recommend watching for from the chef and manager: great eye contact, complete attention, appreciation of the seriousness of your request, transparency about ingredients (no “secret sauce”), a hospitable attitude and an understanding of allergens and cross-contamination among foods. A few places you want some extra assurance from the chef:
• The grill (Is it used for meat and fish or just meat or just fish?)
• The fryer (Just used for fries? That would be rare.)
• The salad station (Ask that they change gloves and use a clean bowl.)
Friendly but assertive: Aim for honey not vinegar with staff. An aggressive stance or righteous anger will neither make for a pleasant dining experience nor guarantee your dietary restrictions will be better met. On the assertive side, gauge the attention being paid. Are the staff listening to your diet concerns with full attention, even if it’s busy? You have some special needs; it’s OK to expect some extra attention.
At your table: Never assume the manager or chef you spoke to has relayed your needs to the server – that’s your job. Repeat your needs after every course if you need to. Remind the restaurant staff to use a clean pan or clean gloves. It is your right to know what you are eating and it is the restaurant’s obligation to know the ingredients in everything they’re serving.
Dessert and other minefields: I almost never eat dessert out. I recommend skipping it as a rule since there is a lot of potential for unknown ingredients in cakes and pies. Even sorbet can be contaminated if a communal scoops is used, or an almond cookie shows up as the garnish.
Use caution with drinks, as well. Mixed drinks have been going retro and that includes a “flip”, a frothy head that’s made from egg whites.
A final minefield: romantic lighting. You need to see your meal order. If the room is too dark, there are free downloadable flashlight apps for your smartphone – use one. Don’t eat what you can’t see.
Let them know: If the meal had problems, or if you began to get mild symptoms, let the staff know. Within 24 hours, write a note or e-mail detailing the issues. Management should respond quickly.
But in most situations and with your advance and onsite communications, the dining experience will have been a success. The only eventfulness? The great food and conversation. Be sure to thank the staff for attentive and hospitable service, and pay the ultimate compliment: tip well.
Step 4 Follow Through
Send a thank you note: It’s old-fashioned, but I often send a handwritten note for an excellent and safe meal. E-mail works fine, too. Any thank you is welcome, and encourages accommodation for others.
Review online: If you had a terrific experience, your online praise will help others to locate a gem. A review on Allegicliving.com’s Forum or on an allergy-safe or gluten-free restaurant site helps fellow community members to find a great, safe meal.
Become a regular: The best thank you is to become a loyal patron. Besides, the rewards of dining regularly at a restaurant are many. I call it creating the Cheers experience (from the 1980s TV show). Once you become a fixture, like the character Norm, all kinds of special things can happen. They may even name a drink after you. Don’t laugh, that happened to me; it’s called the Simply Sloane!
Sloane Miller is an author (Allergic Girl: Living Well with Food Allergies), blogger and advocate who coaches food-allergic individuals. Learn more about her at www.allergicgirl.com.
Related Reading: Allergic Living’s Guide to Smart Dining
First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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