Be sure to check out this video, "Dining Out with Food Allergies," from Anaphylaxis Canada.
The summer air was cool that night. A breeze from the bay swept over the town as my sister and I walked to our dinner destination with our grandparents. Going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in town wasn’t something my sister and I did often. The very thought excited both of us. Especially me, since I knew it was safe.
Upon learning that my sister and I would get to stay with our grandparents for a weekend last summer, I had some serious planning to do. I hadn’t traveled much since developing my food allergy, simply due to schedule constraints and lack of opportunity. Now, though, the chance had arisen. I knew my grandparents dined out for almost every meal, which presented the challenge of locating safe restaurants in their area. I’m severely allergic to shellfish, so taking precautions was even more important than usual because we would be in a seafood-oriented town. I had my grandparents create a list of restaurants they were considering during the visit, and we discussed the allergy situation.
The first task was determining how the restaurants handled food allergies. We called every restaurant ahead of time to ask. Most restaurants put the general manager on the phone, who verified that they could accommodate my allergy. We then discussed menu options that would be safe for me to eat.
Almost everyone we spoke to recommended that, when making reservations, we inform the host that one of our party has food allergies. They also recommended we reiterate this upon arrival. They were all very accommodating and reminded us that the wait staff is busy and that it’s essential to be sure that the management knows about the food allergy, so they can manage it appropriately in the kitchen.
Our first dinner went smooth as silk. We had called ahead, and they flagged my order for special attention. There were no problems with cross-contact or ingredients. The next afternoon, however, lunch was a close call.
I was a little nervous at the restaurant we lunched at. This time we hadn’t called ahead. Originally, the plan had been just to get milkshakes at this particular restaurant, but after walking around town and shopping all morning, all of us had worked up an appetite. My nerves were justified when I spoke to the manager, who told me everything was cooked on the same surface – with a minor wash in between. After some discussion about cross-contact, the restaurant staff offered to grill my quesadilla in a separate pan. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and washed my lunch down with a vanilla milkshake.
The rest of my meals, all at restaurants we had spoken to, went very well. All of the management teams were very nice and handled my allergy very well. Calling ahead during slow hours made a big difference. Unlike that lunch, there was no last-minute hassle to find something safe on the menu. I had a lot of options to choose from, all of which were 100 percent safe for me to eat.I’m planning to go back this summer, for a week instead of just a weekend. I’ll have some more investigating to do, but I know I’m in charge of managing my allergy, and I know the steps I need to take to stay safe.