There are so many fabulous restaurants around these days, all types of cuisine and styles of food. Food is very “in” right now, from the movies to books to the Food Network. However, when you or someone in your family has a food allergy, a lot of the pleasure goes out of dining out, and it’s most often replaced with worry. However, with a little research and a little explaining, restaurants can be part of your dining repertoire.
Though certain restaurants may raise definite red flags depending on your allergy and severity, like Thai or Chinese with peanut allergies, many restaurants are becoming more and more accommodating; it just takes a little more work. Sometimes it may be just safer to stay away when there’s a high likelihood that the food can be contaminated by an allergen; it’s not really worth the risk. But with food allergy awareness issues on the rise, it usually only takes a little research, and some peace of mind can be found.
Many of the “chain” restaurants and fast food companies list all ingredients on their websites. It’s easy enough to check beforehand and see if the restaurant will be safe for you. Higher end restaurants may not list ingredients, but they usually have some of their menu published online, and you can gauge an idea of how frequently your allergen is used in the kitchen. It’s also worth a phone call beforehand to ask about your allergic food and to see what accommodations they can provide for you.
Whether you call ahead or not, it’s a very good idea to speak with the manager as well as your server when you arrive. Explain your (or your family member’s) allergy and clearly let them know that not only can you not eat the food, but it cannot be near your food, including utensils and serving ware. Most often, restaurants are happy to accommodate if possible; if you get a bad vibe, you can always leave.
It’s important to be conscious of food contamination. For instance, sometimes fried foods are all fried in the same oil, so if you are allergic to shrimp, your fried chicken could be possibly cooked in the same oil as the neighboring diner’s fried shrimp. You may feel safer choosing something that has less of a chance for cross contamination.
I remember hearing a great tip if, for instance, your ice cream sundae comes with the nuts on it instead of being left off. Instead of sending it directly back, have your server bring another one and then take away yours. This prevents the kitchen from simply scraping off the nuts and reissuing the contaminated sundae to you.
You will find your safety zones and your good standbys, and you’ll also gain confidence in asking about and explaining your allergy. It is your job to be thorough and proactive, and then, well, bon appetit.
– Heather Legg