Eating out can be a stressful experience if you or your child has food allergies, especially for those with the severest form i.e. anaphylaxis. Restaurant staff may be well-meaning but ill-informed or worse could regard you as “fussy” rather than allergic and not take your request seriously. For those with food allergies, particularly severe food allergies, here are a few steps to consider whenever eating out:
Always ring or email in advance to check with the manager and/or chef that there are allergen aware, and in some cases pre-order your meal. Calling up also serves to see if they sound as if they know what they’re doing. If you don’t get a good feeling, find somewhere else! Discuss the need for food to be prepared free from cross-contamination, and find out what dishes are likely to be safe for your child to eat. You may then follow up via email and summarise the allergies and what you’ve mutually agreed upon before booking. Doing this not only gives the restaurant advance warning but also serves to raise awareness amongst restaurant staff.
Investigate every ingredient – flour, oil, gravy stock and sauces – to ensure none is a ‘may contain’ product and you won’t unwittingly be fed trace amounts or hidden sources.
Upon arrival always reiterate your child’s allergies and the need for preparing the meal without cross contamination. Make sure your waiter is fully briefed, and have another conversation with the manager and chef too.
Safe places: If you find a safe chain, don’t automatically assume every branch is equally allergy aware. You’ll have to go through the same procedure in every branch, as standards can vary enormously. Remember: there may be staff turnover, recipes change – therefore remind them of your needs every time you visit.
Go during off-peak times – aim for the quieter periods where possible: the start of a lunch or evening service is a good slot. The kitchen will be more able to attend to your requirements if they aren’t rushed off their feet.
Anticipate a longer wait as allergy friendly food will often have to be prepared from scratch.
Communicate what you / your child can have, not just what you can’t. Make it easier for chef to be able to provide something suitable from their kitchen by giving them ideas on suitable options, it’s not their job to guess what we need.
Decide on your own parameters. For me, the existence of nuts on a restaurant menu does not necessarily signify an automatic no-no, however we do tend to avoid restaurants where the use of nuts as an ingredient is prolific or the risk of cross-contamination is too great, such as Asian cuisine or self-service buffets.
Rescue medication: make sure you carry any rescue medication with you, such as adrenaline auto-injectors (e.g. Epipens) and antihistamines. Despite your best efforts an accidental exposure may still occur.
If you’ve got any doubts or don’t have full clarity on the menu items don’t order it.