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Dining out? When is the best time to mention your food allergies?
Your bestie has made a reservation at this cool new restaurant down the street and you have been dying to go! The excited builds but then reality hits…HOW DO YOU DO THIS AND STAY SAFE?!
For many of us with food allergies, eating out can cause anxiety that can make going out with your family or friends very difficult, even debilitating. Many thoughts go through our minds:
Will they have something safe for you to eat?
Are they good with food allergies?
Can the chef make me something special?
When you are little your parents are there to order for you but what happens when you are in your teens and “getting together” often revolves around getting a bite to eat or a quick coffee? Should you wait until you get to the restaurant and see their menu, or should you could call ahead. We have been to many different restaurants over the years and we would like to share with you the methods we find most successful when ordering out with food allergies.
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WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
This is a question we struggled with when we first found out about food allergies and like many others, we just learned the hard way, as you go along.
Since we were new to this process and this was before many of them started listing their menu items on their websites, we very seldom called ahead. This was a struggle for us, and we didn’t like to eat out often because of the menus were always a surprise. We also found that many of the restaurants weren’t transparent about their ingredients and very few servers or even chefs were certain of which items we could or could not have at their restaurant. We walked out of many restaurants after finding nothing safe to eat.
YOU KNOW THIS FEELING!
And you know THE LOOK. Eyes glazed over as soon as you start rattling off your allergies or the servers having difficulty writing them down, or maybe just the cold shoulder. With our long list of unsafe food such as dairy, eggs, peanuts, nuts, sesame and chickpeas they often did not listen or they move on to the next person ordering.
As someone with food allergies this happens all too often. We found this out the hard way on a family reunion trip to Custer State Park in South Dakota. There are only a few dining options in town, and we picked a BBQ restaurant that we all thought was the safest option available. As we were ordering we could tell the server was not listening. Since we weren’t comfortable with his response or lack thereof, we went back to the kitchen and spoke to the chef. Even after all that, a few bites in we immediately knew we had to go to the ER. Thankfully, the hospital was nearby even if it was so small there was only enough parking spots for 6 cars. Thankfully, they were able to get the right meds so we could be on our way. The only cool part of the story is we got to meet a real 6-foot 5-inch native American Indian in his denim blue shirt, Levi’s jeans, cowboy hat and cowboy boots. A real cowboy!
Fast forward to 2023 and dining out has gotten much easier. Nowadays. restaurants seem to be so in-tune with the higher incidence of food allergies and the larger number of people who want vegan and gluten-free options. This is good news but there can be confusion on what is the safest way to order out with food allergies. We’ve put together a list for you of what we think works
Here are the STEPS to eating safely while dining out with food allergies?
Check the On-Line Menu
Most restaurants have their menus listed on-line and some also have allergen menus for you to look at. If the restaurant doesn’t list their food menu, chances are they are not great with food allergies and it’s better to skip them for another restaurant.
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Call the Restaurant
While you are looking at the menu, pick out 2-3 items that look safe for you to eat. Call the restaurant and let them know you have food allergies and would like to speak to the head chef.
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Once you have them on the phone, tell them when you are coming in and your food allergies. Explain to them the menu items you were hoping to eat. This way you can gauge whether they have a good understanding of how to navigate food allergies. And as an added bonus, they may even make you a special dinner or dessert that’s just for you and everyone else will be jealous!
Tip: Be sure to call after the lunch hour and before the dinner service when they will be less busy.
When You Are Seated
It is always best to let the server know as soon as you are seated. If you have called ahead, let them know who you are and that you have looked at the menu and talked to the chef and you have your 2-3 food safe items to check whether you can order them.
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Here is a list below of what we do when order at a restaurant.
- Verbally list out your food allergies.
- Show them your food allergy card or ask them if they would like to take it back to the chef.
- Ask them what menu items they would recommend and which ones to avoid.
- When the food arrives, gently remind them of your allergies to make sure it is safe to eat.
Now that you know what to do you can relax, enjoy your meal, and talk about the season finale of Succession!