Allergy-Friendly Restaurants

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: March 24, 2011

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Eating out with food allergies or celiac disease isn’t always easy. It takes careful planning, flexible restaurant staff and good practices in the kitchen – a combination that doesn’t always come together. However, some restaurants are more than willing to accommodate those with special dietary needs. We highlight some of our favorites below.

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (U.S.): This restaurant chain is a leader in catering to the diner with celiac disease and food allergies.

P.F. Chang’s chef Jim McCurley

One of the many steps it takes to ensure a safe dining experience is an ordering system called The Matrix. “Anytime a guest with a food allergy requests a menu item, a manager will print a special menu with all menu items that guest can order that fit their specific allergy profile,” explains P.F. Chang’s chef Jim McCurley. “P.F. Chang’s has created a program that filters our menu and provides [allergic] guests with several options for a meal.” To address the issue of cross-contamination, only freshly cleaned pans and utensils are used for “allergy” orders.

McCurley advises allergic guests visiting one of his restaurants to make it “perfectly clear” that they have a dietary restriction. “Ultimately, it is the guests’ responsibility to inform the server and management of their particular allergy,” he says. His chain takes such accommodations in stride: “We value all of our guests, regardless of their specific allergy needs, so our ultimate goal is to try to provide them with as ‘normal’ a dining experience as any other of our guests.”

Moxie’s Classic Grill (Canada): Moxie’s allergen protocols were created years ago, since the company founder has children with severe allergies. Moxie’s says: “Your best defense is communication. If at any time anyone makes you feel like they are not listening or taking your concerns seriously – ask to speak to a manager.”

Pizza Pizza (Canada): This chain’s best tip: “Customers should look out for whether or not a restaurant willingly discloses their guidelines and information about the ingredients they used. Based on the way the restaurant answers, the patron can find out a lot about whether the person serving them knows what they are talking about and is aware of procedures.” We agree – transparency is key! Note: Pizza Pizza does not “guarantee” a 100 percent peanut-free kitchen.

Uno Chicago Grill (U.S.): Famed for its deep dish pizza, the chain has nutrition information kiosks located in most of its restaurant lobbies that list the top allergens for every menu item. Guests can also view the entire breakdown of ingredients for any menu item on the website. A great before-you-go option. Note: Uno does not “guarantee” a 100 percent peanut-free kitchen.

Boston Pizza (Canada)
Cooks and servers at this family pizza joint and sports bar consult a manual that explains food allergies, symptoms of allergic reactions, hidden ingredients and common allergens. The chain also demands detailed information from its suppliers about any allergens their food products may contain. Staff have access to charts that show menu items and list whether any of eight common allergens and three potential irritants are in dishes.

Outback Steakhouse (U.S.)
This Aussie-inspired restaurant’s website has a list of allergy dos and don’ts that indicate which menu items to avoid if you have milk or nut allergies. The guide also lists dishes that can be made safe by asking, for example, that the food be fried in a separate pan without butter, or that a salad be prepared without nuts. There are no peanuts or peanut oil in the restaurant, but there is a peanut sauce and peanut butter on the premise. Newest is their gluten-free menu which operates in the same way as the guide for those with allergies, suggesting substitutions or items to avoid.

Chili’s (U.S)
It’s not just sizzle and spice at this family restaurant. There are plenty of menu options for those with allergies, and they’re all listed on its website. The restaurant breaks them down by eight common food allergens, and updates the lists monthly to keep up with any changes from food suppliers. The company does point out that cross-contamination in the kitchen is possible. Allergic customers are advised to avoid fried foods, and inform their server of any allergies before placing an order.

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar (Canada)
When visiting any of The Keg restaurants across Canada, ask for an “Allergy Aware” booklet. It lists the eatery’s more popular menu items, and points out the dishes that contain any of 10 common allergens. The restaurant suggests you tell your server about allergies off the bat so the cooks can take precautions. Kitchen staff will clean the grill and change cooking methods to prevent cross-contamination.

Red Robin (U.S)
Allergic diners at this burger palace will be referred to a manager who will help them to choose a meal. The manager will inform the kitchen staff, who will in turn use different utensils to prevent cross-contamination. Red Robin recently began offering diners information in the restaurant and on their website about which meals contain any of eight major food allergens. Staff also get allergy awareness training.

Milestones Grill & Bar (Canada)
As the title suggests, this restaurant is the place to celebrate all your special occasions in a warm and cozy atmosphere. Allergic diners are invited to review the restaurant’s online allergy chart, which is updated often, as well as to advise their server about their allergies upon arrival.

Panago Pizza (Canada) The folks at Panago Pizza pride themselves on offering pizzas made from fresh and natural ingredients: no MSG, no artificial flavors and no artificial colors. “We’re all about authentic, chef-inspired cuisine that goes back to the simple basics of what food was meant to be,” they say on their website. Guests can find an allergy chart on the restaurant’s website.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill (U.S.) This Italian restaurant is ready to address different dietary needs. Its core wine list is gluten-free and it has a gluten-free menu with omissions and substitution ideas to tailor-make a specific dish in order to make it safe. People with allergies are invited to contact the restaurant about their specific needs, which can be done through the contact section of the website.

LongHorn Steakhouse (U.S.) This steakhouse has a general awareness of special dietary needs. It also has a gluten-free menu but reminds guests with celiac disease to request that separate cooking tools be used for their food since the kitchen itself is not gluten-free.

Qdoba (U.S.) This Mexican restaurant puts an emphasis on fresh food, healthy eating and customizing their dishes for those with special dietary needs. So it’s not surprising to find that it has an allergen chart available online for wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and soy. What’s even better is that the chart is color-coded to indicate which dishes actually contain those allergens as well as which may have come into contact (such as the brownies, which don’t contain nuts but may have been contaminated by them).