The Waitress Who Went to Bat for An Allergic Foodie

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

Just getting over a few days of food-allergy misery. I’ve been eating out a lot–just check my Facebook or Instagram photos!–so I’m not all that surprised a bit of gluten, soy, dairy, or corn snuck into my food. I guess I tempted the Food Allergy Gods one too many times.

This may sound slightly paranoid to some of you, but I kind of wonder if this time at this particular restaurant the chef didn’t intentionally leave an allergen in my order. It’s horrible to suspect someone who is preparing your food isn’t taking your food restrictions seriously, but we all know it happens.

The Close-minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

Here’s how the dining experience–er, dining disaster–played out. The waitress is terrific–very aware of my needs because she herself is gluten sensitive. She asks myriad questions and goes over the menu in detail. To be safe, it’s decided I’ll order plain grouper and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. The table will share crab legs for an appetizer, butter on the side.  The only unanswered question is what kind sauce of the six offered I can have on my fish. She goes back to the kitchen to find out.

When she returns, her face is flushed  She explains that the head chef is “old school” and believes the front of the house–the waiters and servers–shouldn’t converse with the back of the house–the chefs.  I thought this only happened in the movies! How in the world is our waitress suppose to find out if  food is allergen free without talking one-on-one with the person preparing the food?

“I told him you’re not going to have to use an epipen on my watch!” she says. Her pen flies up in the air like a sword.

This waitress went to battle for me. How awesome is that? But that’s also why it makes getting sick from this meal even worse–and why I suspect foul play.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just leave the restaurant then. In hindsight, I should have. But it was late, few other restaurants were opened, and we were so enjoying this view of the full moon.

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So I ate my plain grouper that was nondescript, which was fine if it meant not getting sick.

Of course, you now know how that panned out.

While rolled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, I rehashed that meal in my head. I pictured the chef ignoring that lovely waitress. I wondered what he missed–or added–to my order that made me so sick. I kept asking myself, If this chef had a wife or a child with food allergies, how would he feel about interacting with the front of the house then?

I’m often quick to blame a waiter for leaving croutons on my salad or butter on my vegetables, but maybe I don’t know what he is dealing with behind those swinging steel doors. When a hierarchy exists in restaurants–when good communication between all food staff members doesn’t exist–those of us with food restrictions pay the price.

The only time I’ll return to this restaurant is to see the sunset. I’m pretty sure this chef could care less about losing me as a customer, but the waitress may. She did her job exactly right. I’ll give her a high-five the next time I see her.

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Working Together to Avoid an Allergic Reaction

How do you feed a conference full of food allergic people?

One of the steps The South Point in Las Vegas took for the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference was listing the ingredients in the food served in the buffet line.

Food Labeling in Buffet

This labeling made eating easy–and safe!  But such attention to detail doesn’t always happen when those of us with food allergies eat in restaurants. In fact, studies have shown:

* 24 percent of restaurant staff believe consuming small amounts of allergens are safe;

* 25 percent believe a fryer destroys allergens; and

* 25 percent believe it is safe to remove an allergen, such as shell fish or nuts, from a finished meal.

Scary, isn’t it?

Dr. Lama Rimawi, founder of Tasterie, and Nona Narvaez, founder and executive director of Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota,  offered some terrific ideas for those of us wanting to eat out and for the folks making and serving our food.

For Restaurants

*  The most important statement you can make to a food allergic person is:  I don’t know.  It’s okay if you don’t know what’s in a product used in a dish, but it’s critical to be honest.

* Training your staff.  There are three different companies that certify food allergy training.  At least one person with food allergy training should be in the restaurant when food is being prepared and served.

* Listen to your customer!  Communication is essential.

For Consumers

* If you withhold information from restaurant staff regarding your dietary restrictions, the food establishment cannot accommodate your needs.  Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But many diners are too embarrassed to communicate their food allergies.

* A good restaurant is going to send the chef to your table.  If they don’t, ask to speak to the chef or the manager.

* If you or a loved one has a reaction, report it to the restaurant. If that initial call never gets made, there is no tracking of the allergic episode.

* The FDA Food Code is a model code that assists governmental agencies to develop their own food safety rules. The model code is produced every four years, the last one being in 2009, and takes into consideration the best of food science to keep the public safe.  To find out what your state’s regulations are, contact your state health department.