Going out to eat with friends is always a challenge when you have allergies. It can be difficult to find a restaurant that both works for you and that your friends are open to. As someone who is allergic to tree nuts and sesame, I definitely know this feeling. Time after time I’ve had to decline offers to eat with my friends simply because of my allergies.
Over the years I’ve found a strategy for finding new restaurants that has a high success rate. I hope that by following these five steps, you’ll be able to find a way to dine out with your friends even more!
Step 1: Browse allergy websites or apps
Whenever my friends suggest eating out, the first place I always start is with online research. More specifically, I check websites or apps that are specifically designed for people with allergies to recommend restaurants to one another. My personal favorite is AllergyEats. Upon opening the app, I look for restaurants near me and read recommendations to find a restaurant that sounds enticing. One thing to pay attention to is the allergies of the person who is leaving the review. Just because someone with a shellfish allergy had a fantastic dining experience doesn’t mean someone with an egg allergy will!
Step 2: Read through the menus
Once I’ve determined that a restaurant sounds promising, I head to their website. I read every word on all of their menus, dessert included, to establish which of my allergens are present in the kitchen. Although it is a tedious process, it is one of the most crucial components in ensuring safety at a restaurant.
Step 3: Call the restaurant ahead of time
After reading the menus and finding no immediate concerns, I highly recommend calling the restaurant to verify your findings. This is because the staff might reveal something the menu didn’t. A common issue I encounter is when the buns at a burger restaurant have sesame seeds on them when it wasn’t explicitly stated on the menu. Furthermore, calling the restaurant can also reveal if they are willing to accommodate your allergies or not. In a quick phone call, I’m usually able to gauge the experience level that a restaurant has in accommodating allergies. For example, I have been told that the restaurant can’t guarantee any safety whatsoever, which is a huge red flag signaling a lack of care towards accommodations. Tip: it’s best to call at a time when the restaurant wouldn’t typically be busy and to ask to speak to a chef.
Step 4: Inform the staff about your allergies upon arrival
Once you’re at the restaurant, one of the most important things you can do is inform your server about your allergies right away. Although this might seem like an obvious one, it is a crucial step because it can help reveal anything you might have missed in the menu or on the phone call. It is also very important that the server understands exactly what your allergies are so they can properly communicate them to the kitchen. There have been too many occasions where I have told servers that I have a “tree nut” allergy only to be told, “we don’t have any peanuts here.”
Step 5: Ask for your food to be prepared separately
When you place your order, ask that your food be prepared separately to avoid cross-contamination if any of your allergens are present in the kitchen. It is a formal signal to the kitchen staff to treat your order with special care. I always ask for this and have never been told no. It is another precaution that you can easily take to help ensure a safe, fun time!
I hope these tips will help you in your quest for finding safe, new restaurants. Bon appetit!