Living life on the Edge: Dining out with Allergies

Most servers are trying their best to make the dining out experience as nice for you as possible. This becomes a little difficult when you have certain food requirements. I have some things that you may want to keep in mind (from a servers perspective) when dining out with an allergy.

Server’s do not want you to get sick.

Putting aside the assumption that your server wants to make your evening pleasant a server can get in a lot of trouble from not taking care of your allergy correctly. If you decide to sue the establishment or even complain about an order that has made you ill that will get traced back. Here I would like to note that this should not stop you in the case of being effected by an allergy from eating out. If you are unsatisfied with your service for a good reason you should always mention it. Allergies are always a good reason. My point is that if it comes to fruition that the place is being sued because a server didn’t make note of your allergy- understandably – that worker is going to be in a lot of trouble. Due to this any good server who has their own interests at heart will be ready to take care of you.

Know what you can eat

If you have a specific food requirement, no matter how newly diagnosed, you need to figure out what it entails before you have other people preparing your food. A simple example is if you are deathly allergic to onions you need to know if shallots will affect you as well and that they are the tops of onions. As stated this example is fairly basic and most servers will ask you about it if you mention the allergy. However, hospitality places have a high rate of turn over. Especially fast-food establishments. Details like that will slip a new workers mind. It becomes even more complicated when the allergy is to something you can’t see like lactose or gluten. If you don’t know what is safe for you and your unique allergy to eat, how can you expect a person without any knowledge that that allergy exists in the world to know. Waiters in higher class establishments will have received more training on the matter than the teenager at the local takeaway place. But for your own safety, I suggest you are aware of what can and can’t go into your food and not rely on the waiter. Better safe than sorry.

Cross – contamination

Please be aware that at the end of the day you are taking a risk. The kitchen is not just preparing your meal and while everyone is trying to protect you accidents happen in such a busy environment. Again specialised and higher class kitchens will be better at preventing cross contamination than the bar set up of some fast food establishments. Despite this please know that your server and the kitchen combined can do everything within their power and still have the order have to share space with something that will contaminate this. The best example of this is gluten free options which ideally need to be completely separated from everything as a few crumbs will contaminate the entire dish.

Make it very clear

Always tell the waiter if you have a special requirement. That way if you’ve missed anything the waiter has the chance to pick up on it. It also gives the waiter a chance to warn the kitchen to be extra careful about cross-contamination. Most kitchens have certain procedures in place for treating food with requirements. Also make the severity of your requirement clear. Health fads such as ‘gluten free’ foods obscure the extremity of coeliac people. If you treat an allergy casually a server will as well- they don’t know if you feel a bit “off” from it or go into anaphylactic shock. If it’s the second please make that clear. There are currently discussions in the hospitality and health industry about the dangers of not knowing the difference between allergy and intolerance. Using the specific words associated with your requirement may help. Servers are trained to recognise words like halal, gluten-free and allergy whereas if you just ask to remove the topping it may not immediately click that the kitchen needs to treat the meal carefully.

I really encourage everyone to click through the links which have much more info than this post. As always tell me what you think and on Facebook and twitter. Any horror stories or tips and tricks for those of you with food requirements?



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