Allergic Living’s Guide to Smart Dining with Food Allergies

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: April 11, 2011

See related: Step-by-step guide to eating out safely with food allergies and celiac disease. [Read more]

In a few short years, there have been huge strides in restaurant awareness of allergies and intolerances. Welcome to the brand new era of dining out safely.

One day in my early 20s, I went to brunch with friends at a new restaurant in a tony section of New York City. I didn’t call ahead to alert the manager to my food allergies, nor did I tell the server of my severe allergies to nuts and fish. My purse held a few antihistamines and my asthma rescue inhaler, but no emergency epinephrine auto-injector. It was the roll of the dice approach to food allergy management – and it didn’t pay off.

I ordered the plain pancakes. An inviting triple stack arrived, dusted with powdered sugar and a sprinkle of something quite unexpected. Pistachios had been artfully arranged on the plate and tucked between each layer. Immediately I flagged down the server, telling him I was allergic to nuts and couldn’t eat the pancakes. He whisked the plate away, returning it seconds later.

How did they remake an order of pancakes that fast? They didn’t. Peering under the top pancake, the pistachios were still there. The server had just scraped off the garnish and top layer. I flagged him down again: “I cannot eat this. No pistachios – anywhere,” I intoned, as my friends happily ate.

The same pancakes arrived a third time; between the second and third pancakes was still a sprinkle of pistachios. It was like the movie Groundhog Day: I kept getting the same wrong order over and over. The scene ended when the server stopped approaching our table. Instead, he glared at me, the “crazy” customer, from the safety of the bar.

I hailed the manager, who halfheartedly offered to make a fresh batch of nut-free pancakes. I declined. By now I didn’t trust the management, staff or kitchen to serve me anything safe. I left feeling demoralized, distrusting, upset with them, upset with myself and hungry. I never went back.

That was then; this is now. Recently, out with friends, we settled on a restaurant that I know takes the needs of the allergic diner seriously. The online menu had at least three dishes that appeared safe; this was easy to confirm by phone with the restaurant manager. The manager assured me the chef would gladly handle my food allergic needs, and they would be happy to welcome me.

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