Eating out with food allergies is a challenge, there is no other way of putting it. It’s hard because you are asking a bunch of strangers to prepare you a safe meal. In other words, you are placing your life in their hands.
I love eating out! But it can also make me stressed, especially when I’m not in the right frame of mind. There are a couple of things that need to come together for me to eat out. First off, I need to be in a good mood because explaining my food allergies can be a challenge and sometimes I don’t have the energy to do so. I also need to feel the restaurant doesn’t have too many allergens on the menu. And I always follow my gut. If it says ‘let’s not eat out today’ or ‘no not this place’ I will listen, call it superstitious or intuition, I make sure not to stray away from how I feel.
What I think people without food allergies may not realise is when you eat out, and someone else is preparing food for you, you are on high alert. The first bite is never taken mindlessly, and I am not 100% calm until two hours after I have eaten and no reaction is in sight. The slightest itch and I tune into how my body feels.
Darn! It sounds like we should just not eat out. To which I say no! Don’t let food allergies stop you, instead, be careful and have set rules for when you do go out.
Eating out with food allergies: My 8 steps
Here are the steps I take when eating out with food allergies:
1. Call ahead & check the menu online
Calling ahead of time is great for many reasons. First off, you can figure out if you can eat at the restaurant. The worst is when you go somewhere, and all you can have is an undressed salad. What I like about restaurants is eating something I would never prepare at home – I can make a salad any day. The second thing is you prime the staff for your arrival. It’s best to talk to the manager because they will be aware of your allergies and can already let the kitchen and waitstaff know you are coming in. This works great!
2. Order last
I insist on ordering last. That way they can remember you and head straight to the kitchen with your order in mind.
3. Be the only voice
When you dine out, I bet everyone wants to chime in to show the waiter just how important it is for them to be careful. This can be overwhelming, and the waiter can get confused. Be the only one to talk so that they are not inundated with voices.
4. Present your allergy card
Before you place your order, explain your allergies. Next hand them your allergy card and tell them about your allergies once again. There is no limit to the number of times you can clarify your situation. AND! Ask the waiter to hand the card to the chef. Make sure the kitchen sees your allergy card.
5. Tell them what you want to eat
When ordering your food, it is easier if you let the waiter know what you would like to eat. This allows them to go to the chef and discuss one item. If you can’t have that item, they generally come back with options from the chef.
6. Make sure they write it down
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand it when the waiter doesn’t write something down. I will say ‘can you please write this down and talk to the kitchen about my allergies.’ This is why an allergy card is essential.
7. Check in with your waiter and the kitchen
Always insist for a direct line to the kitchen. I will ask that they present my card to the kitchen and come back to let me know if everything is ok. Also, whenever they come to the table before the food comes out, I find a way to ask about my allergies. Something like: “I just want to make sure that the kitchen will be able to accommodate my food allergies” or “thank you for checking in with my food allergies” or “I am so excited I can eat this dish because sometimes it can be hard with food allergies.” It makes the waiter hyper aware that you have food allergies. Also, mention the allergies one last time when they bring your food.
8. If something doesn’t feel right don’t eat it and ask
Be flexible in your choice of food and restaurant. You may not get your first, second or third option. That’s ok, because you want the safe one.
Do you do anything differently when eating out with food allergies? I would love to know 😀
Kortney is your typical atopic triad! She manages asthma, eczema, environmental and food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!