Is a food allergy-safe restaurant a possibility?
We recently heard from Julie about her frustration with eating out. She used to love going to restaurants with her husband Dan, but then they discovered that their daughter Sara had a severe food allergy to tree nuts.
Suddenly, dining out was an anxiety provoking experienced. They had to check every single ingredient and make sure that restaurant staff understood which ingredients might have allergens and how dangerous cross-contact could be. They stopped going out altogether and Julie focused on learning to cook foods that Sara could eat safely.
We hear stories like this all the time at Food Allergy Concierge. People take dining out for granted, until that privilege is suddenly taken away. And we’re not going to lie - it’s not easy to visit a restaurant when your kids are severely allergic. But it’s not impossible either.
There’s no such thing as a food allergy-safe restaurant - at least, not yet, but there are some ways you can enjoy eating out even with an allergic child.
Eat at Food Allergy-Friendly Restaurants
There are restaurants which have made the effort to practice allergy protocols and educate and train their staff to properly inform guests about allergens in foods. Try the AllergyEats app, which is a free crowdsourced restaurant guide, to help you find food allergy-friendly restaurants anywhere in the United States. You can also check out the list of friendliest restaurant chains.
Of course, it’s best to avoid restaurants which serve cuisine which you know has a high percentage of foods your child is allergic to. Thai and Chinese restaurants aren’t the best choice if you have a child with a peanut or soy allergy, and seafood restaurants should be avoided if he’s allergic to shellfish. Luckily, there are so many types of cuisines that you’ll still have plenty of choices.
Explain about Food Allergies
It’s best to go to a restaurant at a quiet time, so you can have the staff’s full attention when you explain your food allergies and requirements. You also want to be sure that the kitchen is quiet enough that staff can be meticulous about your order and mistakes are less likely. Peak restaurant hours are viewable on Google so you can plan accordingly.
Start by speaking to the waiter, but don’t be embarrassed to ask to talk to the manager or chef too. Explain exactly which ingredients need to be avoided and make it clear that cross-contact is a problem as well. Ask that clean pots and utensils be used in preparing your child’s food. You can even bring a pre-typed explanation of everything that kitchen staff needs to know about the condition.
We have unfortunately experienced restaurant managers who don't believe in allergies. These restaurants are obviously to be avoided like the plague!
Don’t forget that you are not obligated to stay at a restaurant if you don’t feel confident that your entire family will be safe from allergens. If your needs aren’t met, go elsewhere.
Sterilize the Kitchen
Depending on the severity of your child’s allergies, you may need to have an entire cooking area sterilized before the food is prepared. We offer this service at Food Allergy Concierge because we know how important it is to have the luxury of eating out, especially on vacation. It’s not a simple process but it CAN be done, and it takes all the worry and stress out of restaurant dining.
A totally allergy-safe restaurant may still be a fantasy, but dining out doesn’t have to be. It may not be easy or seamless, but it is possible to enjoy a meal at a restaurant with your family.