Updated: Jun 22
We can all raise our hands regarding the number of times we have had to leave a restaurant because it seemed to be our fault that we have a list full of allergies to give to the server. Although those restaurants just deserve a 1-star rating on Yelp, here are a few tips to help manage that anger when a waiter is asking you if butter is considered a dairy product.
Firstly, as allergy sufferers, we all have anxiety about going to a new restaurant and not knowing their allergy protocols, or if they even have any. For many years I tried to avoid eating at restaurants because I could not trust anyone after experiencing an anaphylactic reaction while eating out. One tip that could help you in your search for the best restaurant is research. When I was told I had more than four common allergies I was not expecting eating out to be easy, but navigating restaurants has become so much simpler over the years and that is because we have so much technology. Websites such as Yelp have a lot of valuable information for the allergy community, such as reviews. Reading a review about a restaurant not being as clean or rushing their customers is a sign that the restaurant probably does not deserve your time.
My server did not write my allergies down nor do they look engaged in what I am saying- what do I do? While eating out, only you know your comfort level. Many servers are ignorant of the fact that one peanut in your meal will send you on a scary trip to the ER. The first step in this scenario is to ask them to write your allergies down. If the waiter continues to not change their attitude ask for the manager (usually that helps scare them a bit). Many restaurants even have allergen-free menus. By asking for a manager you are teaching that server how to prepare for future instances with allergies. Although communicating your allergies to the server is your job, their job is to deliver that request. Many restaurants will be blunt and say they cannot accommodate food allergies, which is your cue to leave. After learning my lesson many times I have discovered this: when trying out a new restaurant, call them about a certain dish you would order on their menu and ask what accommodations they can make ahead of time. You can make a difference in the experience someone with allergies has at that same restaurant the next day. Do not feel like you are a burden or that you should probably order a salad because it has the least risk of a reaction occurring.
My tip is ASK! Always ask. Asking has helped me find many of my favorite restaurants today whether it be the chef being able to make me a dairy-free cake to being able to eat the same meal as my family. You never know until you ask. The truth is many restaurants do not educate their staff on allergies, and you will most likely run into a server who has no idea how to handle allergies or what food groups your specific allergens belong to. That can be a red flag but often it can be a sign of a new server and in that situation, you have the green light to ask for a more experienced server who can help communicate your allergies to the chef. I can raise both my hands and say I get pretty emotional when the night is ruined because I cannot eat at a certain restaurant or a waiter did not seem to get the importance of me repeating my allergies. We all have those moments, and it is important to remember so many people go through the same thing and these experiences just make you stronger in ways that no one else would ever have. Allergies are a daily struggle and its hard to explain to people that allergies are not just another keto or vegan diet, it is a permanent lifestyle for people. Always remember your comfort is the most important. If you are not feeling safe in a certain restaurant, speak up, because it is not worth the consequences. People will force you to try things and be open-minded, but holding up the stop-sign is very important.