The Comfort in Finding Go To Restaurants with Food Allergies

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Cheers. Set in Boston, the city where I grew up, it had many memorable characters, and a great theme song. "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name."

I think about that song a lot when we go out to dinner with my son, who was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts when he was 2 years old. He’s 24 now, and we’ve had years of experience searching for places to eat when we need to go to a restaurant. It’s a common problem for people with food allergies.

Restaurants accommodating allergies

Our son lives on his own now and manages his food allergies well. But when he comes home for a visit, we almost always head to one of two restaurants. One serves Mexican food and is owned and run by a wonderful family. The other is a classic New England roadside hot dog stand, serving dogs and fried seafood. This one is also family-owned, with a brother and sister working the grill and fryer, and another sister scooping ice cream next door.

We’ve been going to these restaurants for over 20 years. They are places “where everybody knows our names.”

More importantly, they are places where everybody knows our son’s food allergies.

Catering to specific food allergies

I always liked the idea of walking into a bar and having everyone say “Bob!” like they did on Cheers for Norm. That doesn’t happen at our favorite restaurants, exactly. But they still know us.

After we are seated at our favorite Mexican place, one of the owners inevitably comes over to say hello. On the rare occasions, our whole family is there – my wife and me and all three of our kids – he goes around the table and asks for updates on how everyone is doing before he takes our order.

And when we do order, the owner always responds to my son the same way, halfway through his order: “And NO CHEESE!” Even after 20 years, my son makes sure to finish his order – “And no sour cream. I’m allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.”

It’s a comfort knowing that they know us, and they know his allergies. And since it’s a family-run restaurant, they have the flexibility to adapt to his needs. (We’ve been to chain restaurants that are a lot less flexible.)

Hot dogs and familiar faces

The hot dog stand is the same way. This is an order-at-the-counter restaurant, where we get our food on a tray and carry it to a table. But we’ve been going there so long, there’s usually someone from the family working the counter. They know our son’s order (chili dog, fries, and a cup of chili on the side), and they put it on his own tray. We take our food and wait for one of the owners to come over to our table with free drink refills (sometimes) and bad jokes (always).

Going to the same restaurants for 20 years, we give something up. Menus get stale over time. But we have gained so much more – the knowledge that our son will be safe.

A safe and enjoyable meal

More importantly, we get treated like family. The Mexican restaurant recently celebrated its 20th anniversary – an incredible milestone for any restaurant. We dug through an old photo album and found a picture of our son, 4 years old, at that same restaurant, the week it had opened, celebrating his own birthday. We showed the owner, and he took it around to everyone in the restaurant – servers, kitchen workers, even other customers. It was a nice moment. He was appreciative of our being such loyal customers for so long. And we were appreciative of all of the care they had taken for so many years to make sure our son had a safe and enjoyable meal.

(Our 24 year old son, who couldn’t eat the slice of cake that they usually bring out for customers on their birthdays, was appreciative of the shot of tequila that they brought him instead.)

Eating out isn’t easy for someone with food allergies, and we have a long list of restaurant nightmare stories. But finding someplace where they know your name means the world.

As my son said as he lifted his tequila: Cheers!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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