Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eating Out with Food Allergies

Is it possible to eat out with food allergies?  Yes, technically it is possible.  I'm not sure it's exactly advisable, but it sure is nice to entertain the thought of having someone else cook dinner for you and then clean it up.

So, if you're brave enough to eat out with food allergies, here are my suggestions:

Call first-Eating out with allergies takes planning ahead and should not be a last minute venture.  Always call the restaurant ahead of time to discuss options and make sure they can accommodate you.

Talk with the manager and the chef-Don't pose your questions to the hostess or even a member of the wait staff.  Ask to speak directly to the manager and also the chef.

Have your allergen list handy while you talk to the restaurant-Go over each item on your list and ask the manager and chef if there are menu items that would be safe for you or if they can prepare something especially for you.

Stress proper preparation to avoid cross-contamination-I always mention to the manager that the food must be prepared using clean and dedicated cookware and utensils.

Ask questions-If the manager mentions that steamed vegetables are safe for you ask exactly how they are prepared.  (What seasonings are used?  Is butter used?)  If they mention a certain meat dish ask questions about marinades and spices and sauces.  Think about how you would prepare that particular dish at home and question the manager to make sure he's not forgetting an ingredient or a step in the preparation process.

Be prepared to educate the staff-You might need to give the manager or chef a crash course in food allergies and safe preparation.

Take notes-Write down the menu items that are mentioned as well as any special steps the restaurant said they would need to make in order to prepare the meal for you.  Make sure you keep names of each person you spoke with over the phone.

Usually you can get a feel for if the restaurant can truly accommodate your dietary needs just through the responses of the manager and chef.  If they seem clueless, take the hint and try somewhere else.  If they seem educated and willing to work around some obstacles, you might be brave enough to give that place a try.

If you do head to a restaurant you might want to consider a few tips:

Take wipes to wipe down the table and chairs yourself-If the person before you ate something with your allergen, you don't want to take the chance that the table might not be clean enough for you.

Bring a typed list of your allergens-Keep a list of your allergens with you at all times to give out to anyone who might be preparing food for you.

Speak directly to the manager and the chef-Remind the manager and the chef about your phone conversation and about the menu items available for you.  Go over your allergens, safe preparations, and your order with both.

Keep your wait person in the loop-Make sure the wait staff is aware of the allergies and inform them that you have already discussed your order with the manager and chef.  When they bring your food, ask questions to verify that your order is correct.

And if you are able to find a few safe places to eat, cultivate a relationship with the managers and staff, maybe even bringing them some allergy-free cupcakes as a thank you.

We have been fortunate to find a couple of restaurants with knowledgeable managers, helpful chefs, and a wait staff willing to work with us.  It is such a blessing to be able to eat out on occasion and not worry because of we have excellent communication with the restaurant staff.

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