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  • Aidan Wilbur

"The Manager": Food Allergies and Social Anxiety

"I want to speak to the manager." Today, it's a phrase that strikes fear into many, conjuring images of angry patrons yelling at hapless employees. However, there are also some people who are afraid to say those words. For the food allergy community, talking to the manager can be a frightening experience.

Speaking to a manager can become a source of anxiety for people with food allergies for a myriad of reasons. The first, and arguably the most important, is that with that conversation comes the possibility of a "no". There are few feelings like being let down, and getting yourself excited for a new food only to find out once you arrive at the restaurant that it isn't safe is a gut punch. Of course, the food itself isn’t always the issue; sometimes navigating the manager themself is the real battle. I know there have been times for me when I have been given a rude answer by a busy server or restaurant owner, and I was even once denied access to the vital conversation I needed on a boardwalk because of the long line, and even if the food winds up being okay, the interaction often sucks out so much energy that the food no longer feels worth it.

The last reason, and probably the heaviest emotionally (to me anyway), is that speaking to a manager can just plain cause anxiety. For me especially, there’s a fear that creeps in whenever the topic of speaking to a manager about our culinary needs is broached. Whether it’s with friends or family, I feel like a burden on others because the restaurant employees and my loved ones have to accommodate me into their plans. I have friends who have told stories about only being able to eat off the kids menu at a restaurant, but it was either that or leave. Speaking to a manager creates anxiety because any of these situations could become a reality depending on their answer.

On a more positive note, when a restaurant employee makes extra time for someone with food allergies, it feels incredible. It can range from something as simple as a server’s tone of voice when saying they’ll speak to the chef, to a simple “yes” to the question of whether a dish can be eaten. Most of my experiences with managers have been good ones, and although that doesn’t eliminate my fear, it makes it a little easier to deal with.

I know that a lot of people can’t relate to these experiences at all, even people with food allergies. A lot of the friends I’ve talked to don’t feel this way. Some take pride in speaking to managers about their allergies, and more simply have no issue with it. But I still think it is important to speak for all of the more introverted people who struggle with these basic interactions, and may not be able to find the words to articulate their fear.

I leave you with this request. If you have friends or loved ones with food allergies, watch them when you go out together (and please social distance if you do). If you don’t have allergies, make sure those that do feel like they are in a comfortable place where they can express their concerns without anxiety. If you do have allergies and don’t find this an issue, make sure you are being conscious of others with allergies who may, and if they are struggling, lend them a hand. And if for some out-of-this-world reason there is an employee reading this, please meet your guests with food allergies with kindness and patience. It takes a lot of courage for us to live in this world, and even if we don’t show it, we’re very thankful.

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