Pretty please: don't claim food allergies if you don't have them.


kaybee

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And I say this with love and respect, friends. I know it's difficult to order in restaurants. Believe me, I'm fretting about it myself, and I own, manage and wait tables at a restaurant. There are a few good reasons why I ask you not to do this. The first has to do with The Boy Who Cried Wolf, we all know what this means. The more people that claim fake allergies, the less seriously allergies are taken. And this is a huge problem. Huge. Especially for people with real allergies, whose lives could literally be at stake. The second has to do with procedure. When a guest tells their server they have a food allergy, the manager becomes involved (should, at least) to consult with both the guest and the chef on what can be done and what cannot be done. The kitchen then comes to a screeching halt* as the kitchen has to extra sanitize most every single thing in the kitchen, pots, pans, stoves, sometimes even the oven to make sure there's no cross-contamination from other food in the kitchen. I'm talking way above and beyond what we already do. The manager must oversee this and ensure that the proper food gets to the guest and that it's correct. It's stressful, and you know why? Because we know that with an allergy this person is potentially placing their life in our hands. So at this point you might be thinking "So what? I want this kind of care taken with my food". Well, it doesn't need to be this way in order to have your food carefully prepared. You have dietary constraints (that's what they are) that you need taken into account? Just say so. Yes, it's true! Any decent restaurant will be glad to make you what you want, assuming it's not completely off menu and/or 7:30 on a Saturday night. Here's why: restaurants want you to be happy, they want you to feel taken care of. Honestly. Even better, if you really want to be comfortable with the situation and make your ordering a breeze, call ahead the day before (in the afternoon, not during dinner rush). Speak with a manager or the chef if possible, tell then you have dietary constraints, no need to go into detail, just tell then what you need. When they ask if it's an allergy, say no. They will be relieved that killing you is something they don't have to worry about. They will discuss the options and constraints with you and be prepared when you arrive. That's really all you have to do. Any decent restaurant will be happy to comply.

Please consider my plea the next time you think about claiming food allergies. "Dietary constraints" = much better and very do-able. :-)

*Some bigger, newer restaurants have competely separate areas of their kitchen with separate equipment and a separate cook, just for food allergies. Most restaurants do not.

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Are you writing this post in response to posts you have seen elsewhere here on the Whole30 forums? If so, can you link to those and also respond directly there? If not, are you referring to a recent experience or set of experiences at your restaurant, where you discoverd too late that a patron did not in fact have a food allergy?

There are many Whole30ers for whom cross-contamination and off-plan ingredients are indeed serious issues.

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Amy, yes, of course for some people off-plan ingredients are serious issues, and they should absolutely be discussed with the restaurant in that context. All I'm saying is that if you won't die or become seriously ill by one molecule of vegetable oil or whatever splatting onto your plate (like nothing else can even be on the stove when your food is cooking), then please don't lead restaurants to believe you will. Because when the phrase "food allergy" is used it becomes deadly serious, or, at least it should. But when everyone starts claiming allergies the urgency becomes diluted. That, and the fact that for people who do NOT have serious health issues, but rather dietary constraints, it's simply not necessary. It causes a lot of drama where there need not be any.

Thanks for the info about linking to other posts, I did not know that. I'm still figuring the forum out (I'm on day 7 and feeling great). To answer your question, I originally was going to respond to a recent post where this tactic was mentioned, but then realized I'd seen it on so many other posts, that there wasn't just one to respond to. And yes, this happens all the time at my restaurant, and throughout my entire restaurant career. My favorite was when I worked at a very high end restaurant as a server. A woman presented me with a laminated card detailing her serious dairy allergy. She asked me to make sure the kitchen knew it was serious, etc (sidenote: in this restaurant, when an allergy was claimed we had to go get a neon green tag that said "allergy alert" that had two copies, one for the kitchen, one for the manager, so everyone was all over it). The manager and I started going over the menu with her when she said, "oh, I already know, I want the veal milanese". We said to her, "I'm so sorry, madam, but the veal has cheese in the breading". She paused a moment, then said "oh, that's ok..."

I know this thread will make some people defensive. That's not why I wrote it. I only wanted to give my perspective and let people know they don't need to claim allergies to get what they require.

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To answer your question, I originally was going to respond to a recent post where this tactic was mentioned, but then realized I'd seen it on so many other posts, that there wasn't just one to respond to. And yes, this happens all the time at my restaurant, and throughout my entire restaurant career.

It does help to know that you are thinking both of specific posts here on the forum and also your experiences in restaurant management.

I'm glad things are going well for you on Day 7, and here's to more good days!

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My boyfriend is a server, and this happens to him all the time. He recently had a guest claim a serious nut allergy, and their kitchen went through a similar scenario to what kaybee listed above for her appetizer and entree. It is quite a process, just like she described. When time came for dessert, he let her know that he couldn't in good faith serve her any of the desserts on the menu, because the likelihood of cross-contamination was just too high.

She looked him right in the eye and said 'Oh I'm not allergic to nuts, I just really don't like them.' It's very frutrating for servers because they (and the managers and kitchens) do go out of their way to make sure their guests are not poisoned. I agree that the potential for 'boy who cried wolf' is too dangerous, especially when there are people with life and death food concerns.

Kaybee is right, just let your server know you have a dietary constraint and they will go out of their way to make sure that your meal is exactly how you want it. They want you to enjoy your meal and to return to their restaurant, and most know that being accomodating to special requests is one of the surest ways to guarantee a positive experience.

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I found this to be a great post. I like "Dietary Constraint" I don't want to make people paranoid. We went to our first meal out and were not sure how to tell them we wanted everything with no prep, no butter on veggies, no oil on steak, etc and they were VERY accommodating! We told them we needed everything Gluten and Dairy free before we sat down but not I wonder how much trouble then went too? Good post!!

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She looked him right in the eye and said 'Oh I'm not allergic to nuts, I just really don't like them.' It's very frutrating for servers because they (and the managers and kitchens) do go out of their way to make sure their guests are not poisoned.

Ugh, WORST. I mean, faking any serious allergy is bad but faking an anaphylactic one is AWFUL. My brother has been anaphylactic to nuts (tree nuts and peanuts) since the age of 2, so to me this is serious business.

That said, an allergy doesn't have to be fatal to be serious. I do like the "dietary constraint" language, though. There are many reasons for dietary constraints -- religion, doctor's orders -- so it behooves restaurateurs and servers to be accommodating.

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I'm very gluten-intolerant, but this isn't an allergy. While I won't go into anaphylactic shock, I will get quite ill. I try to be clear, but a lot of places barely understand what has gluten in it, so I never know how pushy I need to be.

If I had an anaphylactic type allergy, I'd be very wary of eating at most restaurants.

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I'd love it if a kitchen actually came to a screeching halt and cleaned up before preparing my food, but alas I've been exposed to foods I'm allergic/sensitive to so many times while eating out - no matter how clearly I explain them. I'm practically afraid to eat out because of the amount of times I've been exposed to dairy (I'm very allergic to this) when I've told managers - even owners - that I'm very allergic to dairy. They seem to think just don't use milk in it, but go ahead and cook on the pan that has butter on it.

I'm sensitive to wheat and rice, and the only way I know that is from experimentation. It doesn't show up as an allergy, but I have a clear reaction to both. I've gone to restaurants and specified no wheat (and explained thoroughly no wheat in anything, not even seasonings) but guess what, they don't take you seriously until you say allergy. But then, you still don't know what's on the surfaces they cook your food on. I guess in really high end restaurants they make the effort, but not in the $20 range restaurants. I've had so many bad experiences to know if you want it done right, you just have to make it yourself, unfortunately.

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Kitmao, it's difficult to imagine anyone working in a restaurant (or anyone at all, for that matter) thinking butter is okay with a dairy allergy. Sheesh! Although just last week I had a customer tell me she had a dairy allergy, so as we worked out her dish I asked her what type of oil she preferred, since we usually use butter. She said butter was fine. I'm sure this makes you want to rip your hair out -- people like this are making your life more difficult. As you probably figured out, my post is not directed at someone like you, someone who actually has serious food issues. My post is directed at people like me: no food allergies, just trying to clean up my diet or perhaps following a fad (I'm not following a fad, btw). Let me say it again, just to be clear, * this post is not directed at people with actual food allergies or sensitivities*!

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I have a sensitivity to onion. They ask, "Is it an allergy?" and I say, "No, you won't be calling 911 but it does give me problems." Most places I get a reaction like the server saying, "Oh, it's so cooked down you won't notice it," as if I just don't like the flavor of onion. Or they make the dish without onion but then they sprinkle chives or chopped scallion on it. So now I say, "No onion, scallion, chive or leek." Garlic is fine, and apparently it shouldn't be ("they're the same family" Well, sorry, but my digestive system didn't get that memo). Since garlic is OK, generally then the onion issue is not taken seriously. (It gives me stomach cramps hours later, it's not something where I can tell right away.)

My brother took me to a high-end restaurant a few months ago. I called the day before to get some guidance on which dishes don't have onion because I didn't want to make a fuss at our fancy meal. The woman who answered said they could make any dish to my specifications. I said I didn't want something special, I wanted to order from what they had. She said, "I'll write down 'onion allergy' and you'll be fine." I said it's not an allergy but OK.

When we arrived, everyone asked me five times about the "onion allergy." I went along with it because it's what the hostess said when I called the day before. I had no idea of the whole kitchen screeching to a halt that you described but that must be what happened. Here I wanted no fuss and I never got so much fuss before. After all my effort to select a menu item that didn't have to be adapted (the waiter assured me that the dish I picked had no onion), it turned out that the dish (lobster ravioli) had chives inside the ravioli, and they had to make pasta from scratch to make my dish.

When I was served, the waiter said I should be hugging the chef for going to so much trouble for me. I felt especially frustrated because I was trying very hard not to be any trouble and it just seemed to completely backfire. Now I know I should not have let the hostess use the "allergy" label. I didn't understand what happens in some kitchens.

On the plus side, I had absolutely no digestive distress that night!

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I like the message of this post, especially because considerate customers do so much for the "reputation" of folks who eat like we do. I'd suggest being clear with the server about the severity of your sensitivity ("It causes serious digestive trouble"), but being clear that it's not an emergent issue (unless it is). The better we present ourselves, the more likely we are to be respected as a dietary community.

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I'm very gluten-intolerant, but this isn't an allergy. While I won't go into anaphylactic shock, I will get quite ill. I try to be clear, but a lot of places barely understand what has gluten in it, so I never know how pushy I need to be..

I'm exactly the same as you and have found even hospitals don't understand. While I was on chemo, I was rushed in with neutropenia. The nurse told me I could have steak pie or fish in breadcrumbs for dinner. I explained neither of those were any good as I was extremely gluten intolerant. It's actually in my medical records. Her classic reply "Oh that's a shame, never mind we always get lots of sandwiches, I'll just get you some of those".

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IThe nurse told me I could have steak pie or fish in breadcrumbs for dinner. I explained neither of those were any good as I was extremely gluten intolerant. It's actually in my medical records. Her classic reply "Oh that's a shame, never mind we always get lots of sandwiches, I'll just get you some of those".

haha! When I asked a waiter to wrap my burger in lettuce b/c I couldn't have gluten he told me he could just wrap it in a tortilla...thanks lol

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I have to admit I'm disappointed to get today's email and see dining out advice that says its ok to claim allergies when ordering. http://whole9life.com/book/ISWF-Dining-Guide.pdf

It's also pretty disheartening to hear people's experiences with clueless servers (or nurses!), but then again I guess clueless people are everywhere, not just in restaurants...pretty lame.

Then we have people like my dairy allergy customer that says she's fine with butter, and someone else's nut allergy (!) that turns out to be a dislike. Very frustrating all around. I really feel for people with food allergies/celiac disease/sensitivities, it's tough out there. Thankfully I'm blessed not to have any food issues.

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I'm exactly the same as you and have found even hospitals don't understand. While I was on chemo, I was rushed in with neutropenia. The nurse told me I could have steak pie or fish in breadcrumbs for dinner. I explained neither of those were any good as I was extremely gluten intolerant. It's actually in my medical records. Her classic reply "Oh that's a shame, never mind we always get lots of sandwiches, I'll just get you some of those".

That is awful, Kirsteen. I'd hope that if it hadn't been a rush situation, there would've been a GF meal for you -- after all, hospitals have patients who are diagnosed celiac, and they can't very well give breaded food to them. When I had surgery a couple years ago I ended up having to go to a critical ward instead of the regular one, and because of that quick change they didn't have the GF meal there for me. Fortunately, my sensitivity and the standard meal itself were such that I could eat a few items from the plate and not have a problem. The next morning, my breakfast came and it was GF (pretty dull and uninspired, but GF nonetheless).

Anyway, it's disappointing that the nurse you dealt with didn't have any knowledge of gluten at all!

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This time around on my Whole30 I am avoiding eating out at all costs. Fortunately, I work from home 95% of the time so it's not as much of an issue as if, say, I were traveling. But I did ask my husband to put off a dinner til after Feb 1 so that I could minimize the frustration and uncertainty of ordering out. I at least want to be sure my W30 is indeed a true W30.

A couple of months ago I was not in the middle of a W30 but I was doing controlled reintroduction, and was introducing gluten only on that particular day (plus I already know I have issues with dairy). We ate out at a restaurant and I specifically asked for no butter on my asparagus and the server even went to the kitchen after taking my order to confirm that it would be cooked in olive oil only. A few bites in and I knew I was eating butter. It really is true that you can never be sure of what you're getting in a restaurant.

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I am a caterer and wedding planner. I make it standard practice now to bring a certain percentage of gluten-free, vegan options and plain fruit options to every event I plan. You never know what will be asked of us onsite (and we don't have a full kitchen to cook when we are doing parties) so I try to come prepared. I never want to say "I'm sorry, I don't have any food for you."

However, I cannot tell you how many times we are given a list of dietary restrictions before a big plated dinner - and not one guest actually asks for the special meals they have offered. Even though they are told in advance that we have what they have pre-selected. This tells me it was a preference, and not important enough for them to tell their waiter that they ordered a meal without garlic (as just one example). It is not the effort and time that really frustrates me - it is the wasted food!!! At the end of an event last week, I had twenty leftover "special meals" that no one requested. Due to current Health Department rules, I can no longer take leftover food to a local food bank. It is all thrown away.

I had a wedding once where a guest told me she had a severe allergy to gluten. I take this very seriously.....and the dinner was a buffet, so I couldn't take any chances on cross-contamination. So I left the party, went to Whole Foods and got her an entire dinner that I could guarantee was "gluten free". When I came back to give it to her at her table, she was eating a hamburger slider (bun and all) and fries. When she saw me she tried to hide her plate and pretend it was her boyfriend's. Really???????

Like you, Kaybee, being in the hospitality industry I have no problem going above and beyond to give my client's guests what they need and desire - but when when I get jerked around it is much more difficult to genuinely care about the next request.

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However, I cannot tell you how many times we are given a list of dietary restrictions before a big plated dinner - and not one guest actually asks for the special meals they have offered.

Not questioning your frustration, but it is possible this would be remedied with a little better communication? I don't know that I would realize that I need to seek out a special meal that I already requested via my RSVP. I mean, I would seek it out but I would be a little frustrated because I would have expected catering to magically know who I was and provide it. Yes, in the context of a big dinner, this might be totally unreasonable of me, but yeah. I would not know that I was supposed to ask again. Would it hurt for servers to announce: "we've got some special meals prepared, did any of you request one?" as they go from table to table? or to keep track of the names of the people making requests and check the seating chart?

It's a tough job you have, and I for one appreciate it greatly when people go out of their way to accomodate my dietary requests. please don't give up because a few people take advantage of your kindness.

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I understand both sides of this issue. I have been so frustrated with dining out that I rarely do it now. I once told a manager (yes, MANAGER) at a reputable steakhouse that I was gluten intolerant and she said, "would you like me to bring you a basket of bread without the butter, then?" Yikes!

For some people, the issue of life/death may not be immediate. My body's response to gluten is to trigger an immune response that puts my immune system in hyper-overdrive for weeks - it turns on and won't shut off. This causes systemic inflammation that causes enlarged lymph nodes that have given my doctors and me lymphoma scares on more than one occasion. I never know the extent to which my body will react, and I live in constant fear that the next flare up really will become something serious. I had to have laparoscopic surgery for something last fall and the doctor found my internal organs all sticking to each other. This from gluten! If I get gluten in a restaurant they won't' have to call 911 or use an epi-pen, but the ramifications for me are very extreme.

I certainly understand the "crying wolf" analogy and can see how frustrating it would be on the industry side. I will definitely keep this in mind the next time I am explaining my needs to a restaurant. Thanks for the perspective!

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Erinnalea (and others), that's horrible, I'm sorry you've encounted such stupidity. Jeez! The bottom line is your needs should be met whenever possible, no matter the reason. The level of your physical distress shouldn't matter, but it's extremely helpful for us to know if it's a serious health issue or just a dietary preference. And again, the original post is NOT directed at someone like you (although I'm glad you shared your story), but at people who do NOT have serious health issues, but simply don't want/like something.

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While I don't think it's okay to claim an allergy if you're just trying to avoid it for dietary reasons, I will say that I am extremely gluten-intolerant if I have any... and when I order something off a gluten free menu and the server asks if it's an allergy I usually say yes because I DO need that same level of caution... it won't kill me but it makes me VERY sick (huddled over in pain stuck in the bathroom for an hour sick and it takes about 1.5 to 2 weeks for my digestion to go back to normal). Also, it's easier to say it's an allergy rather than intolerance because soooo few people understand it and I've gotten several dishes that I've had to send back because they've had something with gluten on them (even a roll on the plate.. if it's on the plate I have to send it back, which I feel AWEFUL doing).

To everyone here's whose worked in the food industry: Why I always try to be extra polite and not be a total pain...I know I'm being a pain in the rear when I ask for exceptions. But I am definitely grateful to every server, manager and chef who has taken the time to make sure my meal was prepared without gluten or dairy (and do the best I can to show my appreciation)... so even though there are people who take advantage, I know the people who really do need it are appreciative of the extra care you're taking :)

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I have to admit I'm disappointed to get today's email and see dining out advice that says its ok to claim allergies when ordering. http://whole9life.co...ining-Guide.pdf

It's also pretty disheartening to hear people's experiences with clueless servers (or nurses!), but then again I guess clueless people are everywhere, not just in restaurants...pretty lame.

Then we have people like my dairy allergy customer that says she's fine with butter, and someone else's nut allergy (!) that turns out to be a dislike. Very frustrating all around. I really feel for people with food allergies/celiac disease/sensitivities, it's tough out there. Thankfully I'm blessed not to have any food issues.

Kaybee, I totally understand your sentiment. I think the problem is that we have been burned on both sides. Food establishments have seen careless patrons and customers have seen careless restaurants. I think this is something all of US can take on as an intention in out new or continued health journey. To be extremely clear, communicative, and respectful of the other party. Not assuming the restaurant is going to screw up your order if you don't exaggerate, but make it very clear. I have worked in many restaurants and I can say that there has been a wide range of understanding and respect for such issues by managers, chefs and staff. I sure didn't know what gluten was when I started at 18 and if a patron had just taken a calm moment to explain, I would have done everything to make sure they were happy and healthy when they left. Respect and education. :)

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