Dining out with food allergies can be a challenge, but it can be done safely. The best way to stay safe is by being informed and communicating your needs.
Before You Go: Be Informed
- Visit the restaurant website and review the menu and allergy policies. If possible, phone ahead and talk to the restaurant manager or chef/kitchen manager.
- If you will be eating with friends, tell them in advance about your food allergy and what to do in an emergency situation.
- Plan to eat out at “low-traffic” times (as opposed to the lunch rush or a busy brunch hour). That way, the kitchen staff will have more time to be careful in preparing your food.
- If you are invited to a party at a restaurant that could be risky for your allergies, eat beforehand so that you will not be tempted to eat something unsafe.
Allergy Policies at Restaurants
Some restaurants provide ingredient lists and allergy policies on their menus. Big chain restaurants are often more likely to have allergy policies and safety procedures in place than smaller, owner-operated restaurants. Some have even been professionally trained in allergy management.
At the Restaurant: Communicate
- Talk to the server. Explain your allergy. Ask about how the food is prepared and ask for an ingredient list if needed.
- If you feel like the server is not listening or doesn’t “get it”, speak to a manager or to the chef. And remember, you can always leave.
- If you have a young child with food allergies, bring extra food and snacks for the child, in case you can’t order off the menu.
- If you are unsure about a meal, send it back.
- Always carry your epinephrine auto-injector, just in case.
- Steer clear of buffets: they are risky because of shared serving spoons and cross-contamination of foods. At most buffets, you can order directly off the menu instead.
- If you are eating with a small child, be sure that all tabletops (and under the rim of the table) are clear of food from the previous diners. This can help to avoid cross-contamination.
- Think about how cross-contamination can happen. For example, French fries may be deep fried in the same cooker as fried fish, or burgers and buns may be flipped on the grill using the same spatula.