Dining out with food allergies is like spinning the wheel of fortune; or if you’re a gambler, the roulette wheel.
If you can actually find the allergen menu for a particular restaurant, your head will spin just like the wheel while you try to compare different allergens and what items are safe. If it’s gluten free, guaranteed it has dairy or nuts. Why is there gluten in salad-croutons? In rice? Not sure about that one. I am guessing seasoning blends or soy sauce. Red Lobster uses soy on everything.
Once you compare all of your options (ha!) you will be lucky to find one dish that is completely allergen free-even then you shouldn’t necessarily believe that it is. We once ordered rice salad and it contained wheat. It said gluten free on the menu, but it wasn’t. Don’t believe the kitchen is as diligent or educated as you are. And don’t forget to read the disclaimer on the allergen menu: “not prepared in an allergen free kitchen”. If you have celiac, you might as well stay home.
Why do restaurants get away with this? Now that a law has passed that packaged foods must label gluten and some allergen ingredients, why can’t restaurants? I ordered gluten free pasta in a certified gluten free restaurant and, you guessed it, it was not gluten free. If a certified restaurant can make this mistake, how can we possibly trust any other restaurant to be careful?
When you are asked “how allergic are you?” Alarm bells should be going off.
I love dining out. But since I went gluten and dairy free, it is becoming harder and harder for me to find a place where I feel safe enough to bother going out at all. It is getting to the point where I just want to stay home where I have control over my own kitchen.
On a recent road trip down south, I came to rely on Cracker Barrel, because not only is there a decent allergen free menu, they seemed to genuinely care about it. But you can get pretty tired of eating at the same place all the time. On the other end of the spectrum is Denny’s whose server looked at me like I had two heads when I asked for an allergen menu.
I am planning on adding a page where all of the allergen menus for major chains are in one place. Some are so hard to find it’s ridiculous. I will also rate ease of use, variety of dishes available, staff and kitchen knowledge (when I have experienced for myself). Please comment or contact me with any other information you would like to see.
When you are dining out and have food allergies here are some tips:
- Try to find the restaurant allergen menu online. Study it closely. Knowing your options before you arrive will save time and aggravation
- Have an alternate choice. They may be out of the one dish you finally decide on
- Let your server know you have food allergies
- If there is no allergen menu, order steak or chicken, plain. If you have dairy allergies, make sure you tell them no butter. Butter is usually put on a steak after cooking. Order grilled veggies in olive oil. Do not order mashed potatoes as they can have butter and milk in them.
- Stay away from anything with a sauce or seasoning. It might contain gluten
- Try to enjoy the company you’re with, no matter what you are eating.
I am hoping that restaurants will soon get on the band wagon and make it a much more pleasant experience to dine out for those of us with food allergies, and more of a wheel of good fortune.