Eating Out with Food Allergies

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Is it ok to eat out with food allergies?
What can I do to make dining a safe experience for my family and me?
Hi, I’m Julie Trone, from Allergy Free Table and we want to help you answer those questions. Dining out can be an enjoyable experience,
but for those with Food Allergies, it can be a frightening and even life threatening
experience. This quick course provides some tips on how to eat out safely by learning
how to choose a restaurant and what to do when you arrive. We are not medical professionals, or offering
medical advice. A safe dining experience can never be guaranteed; our goal is to offer
guidelines to help you create a safer environment so please only continue with this video if
you agree with these terms of use. Let’s get started with how to determine
whether a restaurant is right for you. If you have severe food allergies, some restaurants
such as buffet restaurants should be avoided due to the increased chance for cross contamination.
Considering the menu options and style of serving is a first step in choosing a restaurant. It may be difficult to know exactly which
restaurant is safe however with research and communication with the right people you can
find an option that works. Next we explain how to research and communicate with restaurant
personnel to find a safe place to eat out. Which is safer? A national chain or family
owned restaurant. The answer depends on whether the owner or manager and the entire restaurant
staff have experience in preparing, cooking, and serving foods without the allergens that
you are avoiding. Your next step is to narrow your restaurant
choices by searching online and looking over restaurant web sites. Look for the following:
special allergen menus targeting certain food allergies; a nutritional page listing the
ingredients of their menu items; and the menu options.
Many restaurants these days also mention whether they have gluten free or allergen free options
available. Some may say that they cannot make substitutions. The website is a great place
to start your research. It is also helpful to learn the common ingredients
in your favorite dishes; review some recipes and look for allergens. The more you know
what to expect, the better your chances are for a fun and safe experience. Next step is to talk with trusted friends
and family who know what foods you need to avoid and to see if they have any suggestions.
Perhaps you belong to a food allergy support group? This is a great place to ask about
safe and unsafe restaurants. After you finish your web research, it is
best to follow up with a phone call. The best time to call is during the restaurant’s
slow hours so you can have the manager’s full attention. When you talk to the manager,
concisely explain your allergies and ask if the restaurant will be able to accommodate
you. The answer will tell you whether you need to continue the conversation. Some questions to consider:
Does the food arrive at the restaurant prepared? If so, it will be very difficult for you to
obtain accurate ingredients, unless original packaging is available for you to review. Does the kitchen staff and wait staff have
experience in making accommodations to avoid your food allergen? Can they prepare, cook, and serve your special
order without the possibility of cross contamination. If so, ask what they do to make sure this
happens. When is the best time for your family to visit
the restaurant to make sure your dining experience is safe and enjoyable? Usually the answer
is during slow times and days. If the manager fully understands he or she
will be able to answer these questions and more. Before you visit the restaurant: Be sure to pack and bring emergency medicine,
cell phone, and food allergy action plan; there is no guarantee that a restaurant will
be safe. Consider bringing chef cards, which list specific
allergies, can be made or purchased online; these are another way to communicate your
needs. If there are only one or two safe choices
and no safe desserts, let your child know what to expect before you go. Bring safe food
including dessert for your child as a back up plan. If possible, visit the restaurant when it
is not as busy. This will make it easier for the restaurant to accommodate your special
needs. After you arrive at the restaurant ask your
host or hostess if there is a special menu with suggested items for those with allergies.
Request to speak to the manager and introduce yourself especially if you have already spoken
on the phone. This is a good time to discuss your allergens and to ask again whether your
needs can be accommodated. As soon as you meet your server, discuss your
allergens, the requirements for a safe meal, and whether you have already spoken to the
restaurant owner or manager. Ask again whether they can accommodate you. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers
your server gives you, ask to speak to the manager again or the chef before ordering. If you still don’t feel comfortable, excuse
yourself politely and find another restaurant. Just because you took a seat; it does not
obligate you to eat there. Safety should be your first priority. When placing your order discuss options with
your server. Remember to ask about preparation and cooking methods like grilled foods since
there may be cheese, fish, or other allergen residue from previously grilled foods on the
grill. When ordering fried foods inquire about what
type of oil is used and also what else is cooked in the fryer; there may be cross contamination. Ask whether desserts are made off site since
dessert can harbor cross contamination, especially for those with peanut tree nut, dairy, egg,
soy, and wheat allergies. Watch out for hidden allergens. Here are some
questions to consider… Was the food marinated? Brined? Rubbed in spices, butter, or other
ingredients? What are the ingredients in prepared meats like hot dogs, lunch meat, and sausage?
Is the salad dressing also allergen free, or just the salad? Is the salad already prepared
with croutons? Ask about preparation…How do they prepare
the food? Do they use shared utensils, cutlery, cutting boards and cookware or do they wash
in the dishwasher after each use? Be specific about your food request; it is
not enough to say “I am allergic to dairy and nuts”. For example ask for ‘chicken
sautéed in a clean pan, with olive oil – salt – and pepper, using separate clean utensils
and new gloves.’ To be safe make sure the wait staff can read your specific instructions
back to you. Once the food arrives, do one more check.
Verify with the server that this is indeed the allergen free meal you ordered. Visually inspect the food; is there breading
or sauce or other ingredient you did not expect. If there is, ask the server to clarify before
eating anything. If the order is wrong, send it back and ask
for the manager to assist if necessary. If you had a great experience, let your server
know and tip accordingly. Talk to the manager about things that went well, and what could
be improved. Your feedback will help the next customer
with food allergies have a good experience. Here’s a tip for ordering food from carry
out restaurants, before you leave the restaurant or drive away from the window, take a moment
to inspect the food to ensure your order was cooked to specification. Remember – all
the same questions and discussions need to be made before ordering from a carry out or
delivery style restaurant. Thanks for taking our eating out with food
allergies course. Please visit us at for more courses and information. If you have any questions or feedback, please
email us at [email protected] And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook
and share this course there. Bye for now and enjoy your meals out!

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