By Alex Hoskovec
2020 is over and many people are looking at 2021 and hoping to begin the process of going back to what we used to consider “normal.” Most of us are looking forward to more gatherings with friends and family as well as in-person school and work. But generally, we cannot wait to go back to enjoying restaurants. Individuals with food allergies, however, can find ordering at a restaurant induces a sense of anxiety. Unfortunately for us, it isn’t as simple as ordering food off of the menu and waiting for it to come. Having lived with food allergies for almost ten years now, I have some tips on how to order at restaurants with food allergies to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Step #1: Do Your Research
The first step comes before I even get to the restaurant. I do my research online. Many restaurants have online menus to look over. Some even have documents listing major allergens and what foods to avoid on their menu. Check out the restaurant online and look for allergen disclaimers and FAQ sections. If they have an online menu, look for notations on the menu dictating allergen-friendly meals.
While many restaurants can tailor meals to meet allergy requirements; some places may not have the knowledge or want to change their menus to be allergen-friendly. This is okay. If that is the case, I move on to the next restaurant option.
Step #2: Double-Check
After looking online you may have found some good information, but you are still questioning if the restaurant can cater to a certain allergy you have. Just give them a call! More often than not, the restaurant staff is friendly and willing to look up ingredients and advise if an ingredient can be excluded from a meal to cater to an allergy. Give them a call and explain that you have a food allergy and wanted to check the menu beforehand. When you talk to them, have specific items from their menu in mind so it is easier for the staff to look up.
If the staff is unsure if something contains an allergen you will need to use your judgment on if it is worth having a potential reaction. You may have to call a couple of restaurants before you find one that you are comfortable with. Be sure to keep a mental or physical list of the restaurants that work for you so that you can easily decide where to go in the future.
Step #3: The Plunge
The next step tends to be the most nerve-wracking part: ordering at the restaurant. I have four major allergies, so going through the list each time with the staff can feel embarrassing and make me nervous. However, we can minimize these feelings by being prepared beforehand and knowing what to do. Here are a few things I always do to be sure the visit goes smoothly:
- When we are being seated I ask for an allergen-friendly menu.
- After being seated, find the meal you would like to order and ask the staff any questions you may have about the meal and its ingredients.
- When it is time to order your food, politely let the wait staff know what food allergies you have and answer any questions they may have.
- Once you receive your meal, if you have any concerns that something may be incorrect, let the staff know.
Step #4: Always Be Prepared
One of the most important steps here is to be prepared in the unlikely event that you do have an allergic reaction. Should your allergy be severe enough that you need an epinephrine auto-injector, make sure you have it with you and have someone with you who knows how to use it. While we all hope to never have to use one, it is important to keep your safety in mind when trying new things. Over the past ten or so years that I have lived with food allergies, I have found that being prepared beforehand is the best way to minimize stress when trying a new restaurant.
2020 has been a difficult year and it could be a while until we can eat inside a restaurant again. Because of this, many of our local restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic. Fortunately, most of these tips apply when ordering pickup as well. Ordering at a restaurant should be an enjoyable event, even with food allergies. Once we return to “normal” give these tips a try in person! Until then, give your local restaurants a call and support them!