Advising Waitstaff and Food Servers About Food Allergies

For as long as I could remember, I have always had to be mindful of what I have ordered in a restaurant.  Before I had food allergies, it was more of a matter of making sure that certain things were omitted; if I wanted something with meat, like a hamburger, I had to make sure it didn’t have cheese on it or if I wanted dairy, I had to make sure that it didn’t have meat in it.  This was due to my upbringing.  While we were Jewish, we weren’t Orthodox and Dad raised us to be mostly Kosher.  That meant no mixing meat and dairy, no pork, and no shellfish (we didn’t have separate dishes for everything, in case you’re wondering).  As I got into my twenties, I decided to go vegetarian for a while, which meant I had to make sure nothing had meat in it; there were a few times when the servers didn’t pay attention and brought me something that wasn’t only not what I ordered, it had meat in it.  Now, I have to be extra careful about what I order and advise the waitstaff or anyone else serving my food at prepared to order convenience establishments that I have allergies to Gluten and Dairy.  Nine times out of ten, everything is just fine, the server knows what to do and advises the kitchen or washes their hands and changes their gloves.  There were other instances where I have received blank stares or have gotten sassed or snarked at because I need to state that I have allergies.  Some have even asked John, my fiancé, if he had the same allergies, not because they wanted to make sure he wasn’t exposed to cross contamination, but due to not wanting to deal with anything that they didn’t want to handle or weren’t used to.

The reason that the first thing I do is advise the food server about my allergies is for my safety.  The last thing I need is to eat the wrong thing and get sick.  I had an unfortunate experience fairly recently where I started to advise the server about my allergies and she interrupted me telling me that the restaurant “didn’t have anything Gluten Free” (which was an absolute lie since the big electronic sign out in front of the diner advertised that they now served Gluten Free Pasta).  In spite of my attempts to try and explain, my words fell on deaf ears to the point where I politely requested a manager.  Not only was I rebuffed, she announced loudly for the entire restaurant to hear that she not only refused to wait on me and John, we would also have to wait an hour if we were to be served at all.  Fortunately, not only did another server come along who understood about my allergies and knew that I had to be careful, she was sympathetic and went above and beyond to make sure everything was correct.  Also, happily, I was able to speak to someone about the incident and come to a resolution.

Not all of my experiences are absolute disasters.  A recent example of Gold Star service was at the Chipotle franchise in Willow Grove, PA.  Daniel, the young man who waited on me and made my taco salad, went above and beyond to make sure that everything was done correctly after I advised him of my allergies.  Not only did he wash his hands and change gloves, he used clean spoons and tongs while putting together my vegetarian taco salad.  The same with the staff at MOD Pizza in Warrington, PA; they know me well enough now that I have to have fresh ingredients on my pizza and clean equipment, such as a clean ladle (with fresh sauce) and a clean cutter to slice the pizza.

To be honest, the whole food allergy thing is still a bit of a learning curve for me; I need to do what I have to keep myself from getting sick.  I know that I’m not the only person who goes through this and it can be frustrating.  Bottom line, whoever is handling your food needs to know if you have allergies, regardless of what they are, especially when your health and safety are at stake.