Eating Out With Food Allergies
What are the things you look for when choosing an allergy friendly restaurant?
Or the question is, what should you be looking for? How can you plan ahead?
I have had a number of really positive experiences dining out safely with my severe food allergies. I am in no way an expert, but I do have some advice and tips about what to look for when trying to safely dine out and how to navigate planning ahead.
What should you look for in a restaurant?
Make sure the menu has options that seem safe for your food allergies or very easily customizable dishes. This makes it easier to know that the food can be prepared safely.
Talk to the manager on the phone; learn about their food allergy protocols and notice whether they are reassuring or just acknowledging.
You shouldn’t be a burden for asking questions, planning ahead, or double checking; if this is the case consider choosing another restaurant where the staff is understanding and patient with taking note of your accommodations.
Look for places with a staff educated about food allergies and where they can prepare your food in a clean, separate station.
Bonus points if it is a peanut/nut free restaurant because many places are but they don’t advertise it (helps to ask on the phone).
The Spokin App is my favorite place to look for allergy friendly restaurants and see reviews from people in the food allergy community. Their map feature makes it super easy to find local spots and read about their protocols. I highly recommend!
Steps for planning ahead:
Read the menu before even making a reservation. (try to see if anything seems safe for your allergies or if anything could be easily modified by the restaurant)
Call in advance and ask to speak with the manager of the restaurant. Make sure your allergies are noted on your reservation and that you have a plan laying out what you will be ordering and how the chef can safely prepare it for you (what accommodations).
Make sure to mention: severity of food allergies, avoid cross contamination, separate prep stations/pans for your food, clean utensils, not using a fryer that could be contaminated with allergens.
When at the restaurant make sure to reiterate your food allergies and all of the reminders listed above. If possible, talk to the restaurant manager in person along with your server to go over your safe dining plan. I have learned that the manager usually isn’t as busy as the servers, so they can spend more time communicating to the chef about your food allergies. The moral of the story: communication is your best tool!
Make sure to notice how your server talks about your food allergies and whether they are reassuring about everything. You shouldn’t feel like you are a burden for asking extra questions or double checking. Someone who really understands will be completely transparent and patient.
I have had some experiences at restaurants where I am comfortable eating there until I speak with the server then end up walking out and other times where I plan on just ordering a drink but end up ordering food because of the restaurant’s level of precautions.
Like I mentioned before, communication, asking questions, and being assertive are the best things to keep in mind when navigating a restaurant. You are your own advocate so always speak up if you aren’t comfortable with something and just know that you shouldn’t be pressured into eating out unless you feel completely reassured.
Disclaimer: These are all tips from my personal experiences eating out. Please follow this according to your own food allergies and what you personally need accommodation for. Dining out safely with food allergies is different for everyone!
Have confidence, you've got this!