Asking and Observing when Dining Out

LIVE_ Dining OutMy name is Mathew and I have allergies to all nuts and some fish.  I recently wrote a post about the reasons why I think allergy sufferers tend to undertake risky behaviour in regards to their allergies.  In this post I hope to provide helpful information about what I do when I eat at a restaurant.  I ask questions and more importantly, I make observations.

Asking restaurant staff about their food allergy policy is always necessary when eating at a restaurant.  Sometimes the restaurant will state their policy on the menu or where patrons place their orders.  Although asking is important, it is subject to human error and therefore making your own observations and using common sense is important too.  Some things that I look out for include:

  • Other menu items that have allergens in them.  An example would be if you are ordering pasta with tomato sauce and the restaurant serves a pasta dish with nuts.  There is a chance that there could be cross-contamination.

  • Menu items that have “hidden” allergens.  An example is pesto sauce on pizza.  Pesto may be put on a pizza and may not be visually obvious.  Pesto may or may not have nuts in it (but usually does as it’s commonly made with pine nuts).

  • Set-up of the kitchen.  If I can glance into the kitchen on the way into the restaurant I will observe the set-up of the kitchen.  I look for any potential cross-contamination issues.  One time I was at a restaurant for breakfast and the waitress assured me that I was safe eating there as they had no nuts on the menu.  I was able to sneak a look at the grill and noticed that on “special order” (which means that it was not on the menu) the chefs were using peanut butter in the pancakes (on the grill).

The problem is that not everybody is educated in food allergy safety and relying on their assurances is not always sufficient.  This is why it is so important to not only speak with the wait staff, but also with a manager and the chef if possible. When I do make inquiries, I am careful as to how I frame my question.  I often notice that people ask, “does the pizza have allergen X in it?  I am allergic”.  That question warrants a basic yes or no answer and implies that if there are no allergens directly on the pizza you ordered then you will be okay.  A better question is, “I am allergic to X, what is the restaurant’s policy in regards to allergens”.  This question sounds more serious and will often result in the wait staff inquiring with the chefs or management.

The next time you dine out, be sure to ask the right questions, observe, and never take a chance with a food you don’t feel 100% safe with.

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