Updated: Jul 9, 2020
So far we've given some tips on how to go out to eat and purchase food with confidence. When everything goes well and you discover a new food or a new restaurant, it's wonderful.
Let's talk about when things don't go according to plan.
Dietary restrictions limit where and what you can eat. No matter how prepared you might be when heading to the grocery store or walking into that new restaurant for the first time, we are never really prepared for everything that could go wrong.
What are you supposed to do when everyone in your office makes plans to go out to lunch and intentionally chooses a restaurant where you can't eat?
Or when a favorite restaurant's employees start rolling their eyes as soon as you step inside?
Or if your waitress has no idea what the protocol is for dealing with allergies?
We'd like to share some of our negative experiences with you so you know you're not alone.
Lunch with Co-Workers
Everyone wants to go to lunch "just because" or to celebrate someone's birthday at work. Maybe they're considerate enough to ask where you can eat. Maybe they're not. Either way, you're most likely going to end up at a restaurant that either you can't eat at, or perhaps isn't the safest for you.
This was the case for Katie a few months ago. Her office was planning on going out to lunch, and ended up choosing a restaurant she had not eaten at in years (due to her celiac). She went to the restaurant's website to look over their allergen information and read this statement in regards to guests with gluten sensitivities: Gluten-sensitive items are modified to be made without gluten-containing ingredients. Our menu items are freshly prepared in our kitchens, which are not free of gluten. Cross-contact with other food items that contain gluten are possible. While we aim to accommodate the dietary needs of our guests, we cannot ensure that those items meet the definition of "gluten-free."
This restaurant never claimed to be gluten-free. They claimed to be "gluten-free friendly." There is a difference between the two. Some restaurants have separate kitchens, areas, etc. for people with gluten intolerance (and sometimes for people with nuts too). All of that to say, "gluten-free friendly" means that the restaurant will do their best to make your food without gluten, but they can't guarantee that it will be entirely gluten-free. The decision is ultimately up to you.
Katie decided to give the restaurant a chance. Her office wrote down everyone's order in advance (she made sure to write "gluten-free order" on hers, and verified with the waitress at the restaurant.
Despite all her best efforts, Katie was still served a plate of cheese fries with bacon WITH a piece of macaroni mixed in.
I remember her texting me from lunch telling me about what happened. She picked it out of her food and ate around where it was. Neither of us were surprised when her stomach hurt later that day.
This is a classic case of cross-contamination. It can happen to anyone, and happens more often than you realize.
Simply put, restaurant workers don’t take dietary restrictions as seriously as they should. If someone says they have an allergy to something, they should take that concern seriously (regardless of if that person has allergies or not). Unless they have allergies, they cannot and do not understand how important it is for a guest’s food to avoid contact with their allergies (whatever they may be).
Granted, there are some restaurants that have great policies, and take care of their patrons with allergies. Depending on the restaurant (and your allergies), there are certain procedures or protocols that must be followed.
Gluten-free Pizza and Eye Rolls
Just because a restaurant offers gluten-free pizza crust does not mean it will end up being completely safe for someone to eat (cross-contamination, could contain gluten, etc.). There is a new pizza chain in our hometown that offers gluten-free dough and has certain procedures that go along with preparing gluten-free pizzas.
They took great care of Katie and her mom for the first few months. Katie raved about how amazing the food was and by the time I wanted to visit for the first time, she was frustrated with how the employees had treated her the past few visits.
Katie went to this pizza place so much that as soon as they saw her walk in the door, they would reach for the gluten-free dough. There are certain procedures the employees have to follow in order to ensure her pizza does not come in contact with wheat. In short, her gluten-free pizza was an “inconvenience” to the employees.
They started rolling their eyes at her when she came inside, and no one would prepare her pizza without some coaxing from their fellow co-workers. It was so bad that it took three to four employees before someone finally stepped up to follow procedures and make her pizza. They did this while standing in front of her.
It took Katie a while before she finally ventured back into that restaurant, and she’s had mostly positive experiences since then. This just goes to show that just because a restaurant used to take care of you, doesn’t mean they always will.
Birthday Dinners and Steak
New restaurants are my worst nightmare. Between my nut allergies and having a particular taste when it comes to food, my options are extremely limited.
We went to a steakhouse chain for my brother’s birthday (who also has nut allergies). He said he had eaten there before, and that it was safe. I read the menu closely and the online allergy guide, and their policies and procedures in regards to how they would handle food allergies weren’t lining up.
Of course, we tried to clarify what the procedures were with our waitress. She was new, and had not had any customers with food allergies within her two months of working there. By the time everything was said and done, it took roughly twenty minutes to find out if it was safe for us to eat anything more than the bread. (That was in addition to the twenty or so minutes we spent waiting for our waitress to come, take our drink orders, bring us bread, and finally ask if we were ready to order).
I hesitantly ordered a burger and hoped for the best. Not even the manager seemed certain on their policies, and their procedures didn't seem well thought out. Both my brother and I enjoyed our food, but I had this nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach for the entire evening.
There is nothing to describe that feeling of uncertainty and hesitancy when eating at a new restaurant for the first time--not knowing if what you ordered is even safe for you to eat.
I could go on and on about different experiences from when servers will lie to our faces about all of their food being safe or not having any of our allergies in their restaurant.
For your sanity, and for mine, I will spare you the details.
The fact is, no one takes dietary restrictions and allergies as seriously as they should. Many think it’s a preference, or that we are trying to be a pain. We are not respected, or listened to when ordering our food. While there are the occasional servers who do understand, a majority of them do not.
It is not our job to go through all the menus and allergy guides to see if a restaurant is safe for us to eat at. All of that information should be laid out for us (and it should make sense).
If restaurants have certain procedures, the employees should follow the procedures, without rolling their eyes at the customer.
There is a great deal of progress to be made, but I firmly believe that if we continue to demand restaurants to take allergies and restrictions seriously that one day, they will.