Okay, I’ve been asked to suggest how you can make eating out a pleasure and not a fearful experience if you have a food allergy. Or at least not make it a completely scary situation…
These are just suggestions and only eat out if you feel comfortable. That is the biggest thing… You need to trust the restaurant!
- Ring. Book the table and mention the allergy. It doesn’t matter if you think the restaurant will be empty – ring. You need to find out if the restaurant is worried about your allergy. What you are looking for is concern but not fear. And definitely not a careless attitude. So judge them… There are plenty of places you can eat out.
If you are going to a cafe then find someone to talk to. Watch their reaction. If they do not make you feel confident don’t eat there.
- Turn up and see what happens. In the best places the waiter/waitress will bring up your allergy. They will seat you in a place where you are easily seen from the desk or reception (I don’t know why but this is always the case with good restaurants and cafes). In the places I visit a lot the owner will be there to say hello and let you know that they understand what is wrong and the chef is aware.
- The menu. Watch for those hidden food allergies! Take mine – tree nuts. Now I visited one place and they said that the chocolate fondant dessert had no nuts. I thought it was odd because all commercial chocolate contains nuts or is manufactured in a nut environment. But I ordered it, trusting the restaurant. Oops…
I should have trusted my own intuition… Don’t ignore what you know! You are the best person to know about your allergy. (The reaction was only a trace one so I just swelled – no anaphylaxis – thank goodness).
- All restaurants and cafes in the UK have to provide an allergy book. That can be a file or a piece of paper, but it has to be there. If it isn’t then they are breaking the law. Check it!
Note – this can be obtained from anywhere food is manufactured including supermarkets. The bakery will have one and the pizza place. Ask for it and check it!
If the place doesn’t then they do not know what is in the food! The recipe may not have nut in it, like the chocolate fondant, but the chocolate used did, That is where the allergy book comes into its own.
One good thing is that most chain restaurants will have them. They are a standard piece of kit for them.
- If you can see the kitchen watch the chef work. How does he clean his station? Does he? Think about cross contamination.
But most importantly do not eat there if you don’t feel confident. And if you are unsure about an ingredient, like I was worried about Baileys in a liqueur coffee, Google it! The wonder of the internet is your friend. Oh, and in case you were wondering Baileys does not contain any tree nuts.
Please don’t think that by following these rules you will be safe. Out of the last eight places I have eaten I have reacted twice. Both times it was a slight reaction, but they were there. So be safe and always carry your medication and epi-pens. It’s a good idea as well to make sure that the person you are with knows where your medication is (I keep mine in a bright red pencil case) and how to use them.