So...You Want to Try a New Restaurant
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Let's face it, food allergies are the WORST. Dietary restrictions control almost every part of your life.
One of the most frustrating parts of having food allergies is that they limit where and what you can eat outside your home. While everyone in town is falling in love with that new salad place, you're hesitant to walk in the doors, not wanting to be disappointed, yet again, in restaurants.
I went with a group from my hometown to Kennesaw, GA one Sunday night. Dinner time rolled around and I was concerned when we started discussing where we wanted to eat dinner. One guy had his phone out, rattling off restaurants as he scrolled. Most of them I had never heard of, or couldn't eat at. I spoke up for one restaurant that I knew was safe for me, but the group emphatically said no.
They decided on Five Guys (a death trap for those with nut allergies) despite my comments. Thankfully, someone looked for restaurants in that shopping center, and found a Mexican restaurant. He was nice enough to call for me and found out that they were nut-free. While most of the group headed to Five Guys, a few joined me so I wouldn't have to eat alone. The food was amazing, and I'll definitely go back the next time I'm in the area.
While that story has a happy ending, not every new restaurant story does. That's why I'm writing this post, and ultimately, the reason why Katie and I started our blog in the first place. I remember the frustrations my brother and I face when our family has to leave a restaurant after ordering drinks because we can't eat the food. This has happened on more occasions than I care to count.
While the list I'm about to give you is not complete, here are a few things you can do to see if a restaurant is safe for you!
1. Do your homework!
By homework, I mean do all the research you can by looking online before walking in those doors. Some restaurants have allergy information on their website or social media pages (time to check good old Facebook for some reviews). Look over the menu! If you see multiple food items with allergens, this may be a sign that this restaurant isn't for you. However, don't automatically give up. Keep reading! Ultimately, this is a decision only YOU can make. Feel free to call the restaurant in advance, and speak to a manager or cook and see if they can answer any of your questions.
2. Speaking of questions...ask them!!!
Whether you want to do this before, or after arriving to the restaurant, coffee shop, bakery etc. is entirely up to you! Read the menu as soon as you can, and look for allergy information/warnings. Ask your server about their policies for dealing with/handling food to ensure they won't come in contact (cross-contamination) with your allergens.
Here are a couple to get you started (using our allergies as examples):
Is there anything on the menu that's gluten-free? or Do you have a gluten-free menu?
Does your kitchen have a dedicated kitchen space for gluten-free food preparation?
Is there a chance my food will come in contact with or become cross-contaminated with tree nuts?
Can my food be prepared in a separate area?
Does this meal contain nuts?
Can I see the labels for ____?
Don't be afraid to ask to speak to a manager or chef! They'll know what the restaurant's policies are in regards to food allergens/food preparation.
3. Look for food allergen symbols on the menu
These are SO helpful!! Here are examples! (Disclaimer: Not every restaurant has these, and they will vary in appearance from restaurant to restaurant.)
4. Mention your allergies to your server.
Ask for your food to be prepared in an area far away from your allergens.
Example: I have a ___ allergy, could you make sure my food is prepared away from ___?
5. Be patient and understanding!
Believe it or not, some people have never met anyone with food allergies before. Be patient when trying to explain to them and when you're asking your long list of questions!
6. Don't be afraid to leave.
If you can't eat, don't be afraid to leave (no matter how long you've been there peppering the waitstaff with your questions). Pay your bill (if you have one) and leave! It's not the end of the world.
7. Know that you're never a waste of their time.
Yes, we've all seen the eye rolls when asking questions directly to servers or their managers. You are not a pain, or a waste of time!
8. DO continue to try new things!
Just because you couldn't eat at one restaurant, doesn't mean you won't be able to eat at the next one! Never give up :)
Happy exploring and eating confidently!