Food allergies can be a pain: always reading labels, being cautious when invited over for dinner, triple checking the ingredients of the cupcakes your co-worker brought for their birthday- the list goes on. Sometimes it gets tiring having to cook all of your meals yourself. I know what you’re thinking: “Why not just go out for dinner instead?”.
Unfortunately, restaurants can be just as much of a hassle! Thorough communication with servers and kitchen staff, triple checking there’s not peanuts in your curry, the list goes on. We have a few tips to help make dining out easier and more enjoyable.
First off, you are not alone! As stated in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, one in 13 Canadians have a serious food allergy, mostly peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and sesame. These food are used quite often in restaurant meals, and are also very easy to miss. But don’t let this discourage you, eating out allergy free is possible!
Chain restaurants are your best friend
Food preparation and most menu items are extremely standardized at chain restaurants, making it an easier choice for people with allergies, especially when eating abroad. Try to stay away from buffet-style places as cross-contamination is common due to the foods being in close proximity to each other, and the likelihood of utensils in dishes containing nuts being accidentally used for a dish that is supposedly “nut-free”. Calling your restaurant of choice beforehand is also a viable option. It might also be a good idea to ask a manager how often they train their staff on food allergies, as the service industry does have a relatively high turnover rate.
Search and call before you dine
Chain restaurants often have their menu (and ingredients list) posted online, so you can pre-select a safe menu item ahead of time to save the stress of scanning the menu while your company is waiting. Even if you select a menu item which is allergen-free, you will still need to communicate your allergy to restaurant staff.
Talk to your server
Upon arrival, it’s never a bad idea to ask to speak with a manager or staff member regarding your allergy. This will show the staff at the restaurant that your food allergy is severe and should be taken seriously. By making staff aware, they can prevent any cross-contamination with allergens in the kitchen - using clean utensils, work surfaces, and assembling your dish away from allergens.
FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) also has a food allergy alert card that you can print out and give to the chef, which will explain the foods that you must avoid if you want to make it through to dessert.
There’s an App for that
Apps such as Allergy Eats can be downloaded on your smart phone to help you locate a restaurant that meets your allergy-specific needs. People with food allergies use this app to rate restaurants based on how well it accommodated them throughout the meal. Other free apps include