Choosing Restaurants on My Food Allergy Journey
Last updated: June 2023
"Why did you choose this restaurant?" My husband knew my food allergies limited what I could eat there. His question prompted me to consider what had motivated my decision. When living with food allergies, choosing a restaurant isn't simply about cuisine preference.
Should I try a new restaurant or an old favorite?
But this time, I picked a restaurant serving one of my favorite cuisines: Italian. I stopped eating at most Italian restaurants after my food allergy diagnosis years ago. But this was a brand-new location close to our home.
The newness drew me to the restaurant just as much as my recollections of the old did. Given my various allergies, new spaces feel safer for me. They tend to be cleaner and more current.
Sitting at a table surrounded by Mediterranean décor brought back wonderful memories. I recalled the taste of freshly baked garlic bread, pasta with sauce, and salad with dressing. I had shared many such meals with friends at Italian eateries in the past.
Wanting to extend the fun times
My husband, young son, and I had just left the new movie theater next door to the restaurant. Seeing a movie in a theater again was fun! I had missed this experience during my early years of motherhood and the COVID-19 pandemic.
We were having such an enjoyable time together. I didn't want the fun to end when the movie did. Dining out for lunch afterward was a terrific way to continue having a good time.
I wanted us to enjoy eating together at a restaurant. My husband and son usually eat with me only at home since I cook most of my meals. Even if I couldn't eat what they could, we could still eat out together.
Accessing food allergy-friendly menus
I had looked at the restaurant's menu on my phone beforehand. They offered several gluten-free entrees, including pasta. Finding one option on the menu that I could eat was enough for me to try the new restaurant.
When the waiter came to take our order, I asked him what was in the pasta and the marinara sauce. After several attempts, he pulled up a menu on a hi-tech device. I could see which foods contained dairy, gluten, nuts, soy, and other common allergens. This helped me select the best meal for me—a dish without ingredients that tend to trigger an allergic reaction.
There were problems with my order
My heart sank a bit when my salad arrived. As requested, this one didn't come with a dressing I was allergic to. But croutons covered the top of the salad.
I didn't want to draw attention to myself or my allergies. So, I asked my husband and son if they wanted some croutons while they waited. I also shared some of my black olives since they like those too.
I was hoping to reach some lettuce and tomatoes I could eat. But crouton crumbs had fallen on the salad at the bottom of the bowl too. I knew eating even a few bites would result in mouth ulcers and an upset stomach.
Our waiter was accommodating and thoughtful
Just then, the waiter returned and surprised me. He noticed the croutons and asked if I would like another salad without croutons. I said, "Yes, that would be fantastic!"
I received a plain, dry salad a few minutes later. I happily drizzled some olive oil on top. Although it wasn't freshly baked garlic bread dipped in olive oil with Italian herbs, I still savored every bite.
Appreciating the progress of eating out with allergies
We finished our meals without any other problems. The food was delicious. And because I could eat gluten-free pasta and dairy-free chicken and salad, I didn't leave hungry.
I appreciated that the waiter was kind and accommodating. My questions and requests related to allergies did not irritate him. In fact, he expressed concern about my allergies and sensitivities. He made a noticeable effort to ensure I had a safe and satisfying meal.
I was glad I chose that restaurant. My family and I had a fun time. I was pleasantly surprised by the menus and the caring service I received. This helped set me at ease to enjoy an allergen-friendly Italian meal.
A bit of care goes a long way
Before leaving the restaurant, I looked again at the small, artificial olive trees adorning the dining area. They reminded me of how living trees start small and grow over time. Gratitude filled me for the progress some restaurants and servers have made that help people with food allergies.
What progress in restaurants have you seen that helps you on your food allergy journey?
How often do you connect with others who have food allergies?