Let's face it, dining out is a challenge if you or someone you love has food allergies. It is important to plan ahead to ensure a safe, enjoyable dining experience whether you are ordering a pizza or planning to dine at a 4-star restaurant. With advanced planning and diligence, many people with food allergies are able to enjoy themselves while dining away from home. Here are a few tips from FACET:
Do your research. If possible, check the restaurant's website for an online menu with allergen information. Many restaurants are now allowing their ingredients to be more readily available for review by customers. Just be sure to visit the official website for accurate information. If a restaurant has provided this information online, this indicates at least a basic awareness of the needs of the food allergy community.
Call the restaurant and ask to speak to a manager and/or chef. Often the host/hostess does not have direct knowledge of kitchen procedures or ingredients so it is advised that you speak with someone in management to confirm ingredients and safety. Inform the manager that you will be coming in with someone who has food allergies and inquire about the restaurant protocol to control for cross contamination. If the manager or chef seems unsure of the answers or information provided to you then that restaurant should probably be avoided. It is crucial to know beforehand if the restaurant is willing and/or able to accommodate your requests.
Avoid busy times or "rush hours." This may mean eating slightly earlier or later to avoid a crowded restaurant with staff that may not properly attend to your specific needs. If it is an option to call ahead or make a reservation then do so as this may also help prepare the staff.
Always bring your epinephrine auto injectors - FACET recommends that you always carry at least two (2). Even while doing your homework, accidents happen. There is always a chance of risk involved and many people with food allergies will choose to not eat if they do not have access to emergency medication so it is essential to always be prepared. If you see mild reactions, it may be safe to assume that cross contamination has occurred and you should follow your emergency Food Allergy Action Plan.
Bring snacks. Keep in mind that the food selection may be limited as to what foods your child with food allergies may enjoy. Many parents of children with food allergies may pack a complete meal to provide to the child or may simply supplement certain food items.
Bring wipes and/or sanitizer to wipe down the table, chair and utensils before using them. This will help to lesson the likelihood of contact reaction. The sanitizer will also be useful if serving utensils are shared by other guests.
When you arrive, ask to speak to the manager again. You always want to be sure that the manager is aware of your needs as menu items and food ingredients tend to change often. You need to verify the potential for food allergens and the possibility of cross contamination from the kitchen practices to the service. You may even want to ask if the restaurant provides any employee training or policies regarding food allergy and anaphylaxis.
Bring a dining card with you to communicate your food allergies to each staff member involved in the preparation or handling of your food. You may notice that many servers choose not to write anything down while taking your order and the dining card provides an easy way to reinforce the importance of strict avoidance. This is also a great way to begin teaching young children how to advocate for themselves. There are many websites that provide a template or just simply create your own and print on card stock.
Be patient with the serving staff. Please remember that you have probably spend countless hours researching and familiarizing yourself with food allergies and safety. Take a brief moment to explain your situation and kindly educate your server on your specific needs. Often, how you treat the server impacts how the next table with specific dietary restrictions will be treated.
If you are uncomfortable or uneasy for any reason, please always listen to your intuition and know that you have no obligation to stay. You need to do what is best to keep your loved one or yourself safe.
Tip accordingly for the service you were provided. If the staff did an excellent job of keeping your family safe and comfortable, let them know and you may even want to request that specific server the next time you frequent this restaurant. You may also submit feedback on the restaurant's website to acknowledge that you appreciate their service.
Spread the word! Share good or bad experiences with others in the food allergy community.
FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) has launched its new SafeFARE program! This public awareness campaign is all about dining out with food allergies. The goal of this program is to make dining out safer and more enjoyable for individuals and families managing food allergies. Visit http://www.safefare.org to access all of the incredible information.
There you will find tips for before and during a visit to a restaurant, a customizable “Food Allergy Alert” chef card, and much more!
If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately and follow up with a physician.