Many factors impact how suitable a restaurant is for someone with a food allergy. One of the best ways to make an informed decision is to go straight to the source. Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask to speak with a manager or chef.
Tips for Calling
Call the restaurant between meal periods; do not call during peak breakfast, lunch or dinner hours. This typically means the best time to call is between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Most restaurants are not as busy during these hours and you can spend more time talking with a staff member.
If no one is available, ask for the manager or chef’s name and the best time to call back. Be ready with your list of questions.
Questions to Ask
Here are a few suggested questions to ask once you have told them you or your child have a food allergy:
- Are you willing to try to serve me in your restaurant?
If they say yes, provide them with as much information as possible about your food allergies or special diet. Make sure they understand how serious an allergic reaction can be.
- How often do you train your staff on food allergies?
This is important because the food service industry experiences constant employee turnover. You do not want a new employee who has not been trained properly handling your dietary request.
- Do you have a separate area to prepare foods for people with special diets?
If the answer is yes, ask them what foods are prepared in this area. They may use hidden allergens in this area without realizing it.
- Do you have separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare my meal with?
Several companies make color-coded tools for safe food preparation for people with food allergies. If they have these tools, it is a sign that the restaurant has a special understanding of food allergen safety procedures.
- Do you have any specialty products for people with food allergies?
If they carry prepared mixes, rice milk or packaged snacks or desserts from trusted manufacturers, this restaurant is demonstrating awareness about food allergies. They have planned ahead for guests who may have these needs.
- Will I be able to look at ingredient labels?
If the restaurant is willing to show you ingredient labels, this is a good sign they are going to be accommodating. Remember, you are the expert on your food allergy—not the restaurant staff. Reading the labels for yourself will give you peace of mind.
- Will you be at the restaurant while I am there?
If not, ask for the name of a manager or staff member who will be aware of the circumstances.
Discussing the Menu
The answers to the questions above may assure you that you can safely eat at a restaurant. You may also want to take things one step further and ask the staff to prepare a special meal just for you or your child.
After providing the manager or chef with the list of your food allergies, tell them what you usually eat when dining out. With this information, the chef should be able to adapt or create a menu item that will fit your needs.
Next, discuss cooking preparation. Sautéing or baking will minimize exposure to common cooking equipment and shared utensils. Go through the list of ingredients that will go into your dish, including garnishes, to ensure there are no hidden allergens.
Once you and the staff member have both agreed on your meal, write it down. Take this information with you to the restaurant when you dine. Let the manager or chef know when you plan on dining, to see if he or she will be there to oversee your meal. If not, request that they pass along the information to a qualified person at the restaurant who will be onsite.