Eating Out With Food Allergies
If you or a family member has a serious food allergy, going to a restaurant can be a challenge. Here’s how to make dining out safer, simpler, and more fun.
- Research. Call ahead. See if the kitchen can accommodate your food allergy. Check out the menu online. You could save yourself time and trouble.
- Choose cuisine carefully. Certain allergic triggers are more likely in some types of food. Thai and Chinese restaurants often use peanut oil. Anything you order in a seafood restaurant has a higher risk of being contaminated with fish or shellfish.
- Eat during off-hours. Try not to eat when a restaurant is crowded. It’s harder to talk to the manager or chef during busy times. The kitchen staff is more likely to make a mistake when things are hectic.
- Be prepared for emergencies. If you have severe allergies, always have two epinephrine injection kits (such as Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen) with you when you eat out.
Talk to the Staff
- Don't be embarrassed. There's nothing awkward or rude about explaining your allergy or making special requests. Most restaurants deal with food allergies all the time.
- Be upfront. The first time the waiter comes to your table, explain that you have a food allergy. Make clear that even a tiny amount of the food could make you sick. If you need to, speak to the manager or chef directly.
- Have info to give out. Some people carry cards to hand out -- like Chef Cards -- which have a brief explanation of their food allergy for the kitchen staff.
- Ask about cross contamination. Make sure that your food won’t come into contact with whatever you're allergic to in the kitchen. Ask that the chef use a clean skillet and utensils and fresh oil.
- If you're not completely confident, leave. If you don’t think the waiter understood you, or that the food is prepared as you expected, go somewhere else. There's no way you'll have a good time if you're worrying.
How to Order and Eat
- Go simple. Remember that simply prepared dishes with fewer ingredients are less likely to cause problems. Stay away from sauces and marinades. They can have unexpected ingredients.
- Skip salad and buffet bars. The odds of accidentally coming in contact with a trigger (cross contamination) -- because of spills or shared utensils -- are high.
- Send it back, if you need to. When your food comes, look at it closely to make sure it's what you ordered. Don't be afraid to send it back. Tell the staff that picking out the foods you're allergic to -- like nuts -- and returning the meal could still make you sick.
- Pack your own food. If you have to go to a restaurant that can't work with you, bring your own food. Explain that you have a serious medical condition and don't have a choice.
It means a lot to have a safe restaurant that you can rely on. So if you have a good experience at a restaurant, thank the staff. Leave a nice tip. The staff will remember you -- and help you avoid food allergy triggers in the future.