How To Eat Out When You Have Food Allergies (The Ultimate Guide)

Quick Summary of How To Eat Out When You Have Food Allergies:
1. Know Your Allergy Inside And Out
2. Always Have Your Meds With You
3. Download And Print A Food Allergy Card
4. Have An Approachable and Polite Demeanor
5. Look At The Menu Online Beforehand
6. Call Ahead And Ask Questions
7. Make Reservations For A Time Before The Rush
8. Don’t Order Desserts
9. Leave An Online Review To Attract Others

Eating out when you have food allergies can be stressful. You feel you’re holding everyone else up by asking lots of questions. Feeling embarrassed during the times when you’ve had to send food back because they accidentally included something you’re allergic to. You’re concerned about your safety even when you feel like you know how to eat out when you have food allergies.

Some of you may have stopped agreeing to eat out with friends all together to avoid these potential situations. Before becoming overwhelmed with the thought of leaving home for a restaurant, consider our suggestions here. Our opinion is that those with food allergies can have a wonderful and non-discouraging time eating out. It just takes a little preparation and perhaps a small outlook adjustment.

After reading our explanation of how to eat out when you have food allergies, you’ll be armed and ready for a great time.

Let’s begin.

What Steps Can A Food-Allergic Person Take Before Eating Out?

Properly knowing how to eat out when you have food allergies is largely based on your preparation. This section addresses things to do beforehand that will diminish the potential of having a negative experience.

Know Your Allergy Inside And Out

You need to be an expert on your allergens. Educate yourself on all the different names for it in the languages of common ethnic foods. Know which foods and standard dishes usually contain your allergen. Do your homework on where it’s typically hidden. The more information you store in your brain about your food allergy, the easier food-selection choices will be.

Always Have Your Meds With You

Don’t leave home without your Epi-Pen and other applicable medications. We know this is an article about how to avoid reaction-incidents and uncomfortable situations. But it would be unwise for a person with food allergies to not be prepared in this way.

You never know when a mistake could be made, by you or a chef, even with proper precautions. It’s best to have the peace of mind knowing that you’re safe, just in case something happens. This is an essential part of properly knowing how to eat out when you have food allergies.

If your allergy is quite serious, consider keeping a “reaction action plan” (as they’re sometimes called) with you as well. Let your family and friends know it’s there, in your wallet or purse or backpack. You can even keep it on your phone in PDF form if you feel it’s necessary.

Download And Print A Food Allergy Card

A food allergy card (sometimes called a chef card or restaurant card) is a small document that outlines your food allergy in a concise way. You hand it to the chef himself or to your server who will then give it to the chef. This a wonderful and easy way to prevent yourself from needing to ask a barrage of questions. After seeing your card, the chef will know exactly what menu choices to offer you.

Fill out and download your restaurant card here.

Have An Approachable and Polite Demeanor

This is easier said than done, particularly if you’ve had negative food allergy-related experiences in public already. However, if you can go into the restaurant with an agreeable disposition, it can have an enormously positive effect. If you’re already expecting a confrontation, it’s more likely that you’ll get one.

Instead, make an effort to smile, vocalize your gratitude, and be friendly. You’re apprehension and stress level will decrease. You’ll put the restaurant staff at ease. Some people with food allergies and other conditions go out of their way to be disagreeable and confrontational in restaurants. They often think this is the best way to avoid kitchen mistakes and to get what they need. Our experience has shown the opposite.

A positive frame of mind will get you far with restaurant staff in these situations. They’ll feel a sense of pride serving you, almost as if you’re a VIP guest of sorts, particularly if you return. This is the outcome you should hope to achieve. Try these approaches when learning how to eat out when you have food allergies. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Look At The Menu Online Beforehand

When you’re deciding where to eat out, it’s always a good idea to first take a look at the menu online. Most restaurants put menus on their website. Browse through the items and take note of the ones you know for a fact you can’t eat. Then notice the ones you know with certainty that you can eat. If menu items fall into a middle category of I don’t know for sure, but they look delicious, mark those ones as well.

Perhaps some of the items that look good could be made for you with a minor adjustment. Taking mental notes of the menu before traveling to the restaurant will save a lot of time. You’ll also get there with a lot less to think about which will make your experience more enjoyable.

Note: sometimes restaurant websites have ingredient sections, nutrition sections, and even sections on dietary restrictions. Some even have gluten-free or food-allergy menus.

Call Ahead And Ask Questions

After looking at the online menu, call the restaurant and ask to speak with the owner, chef, or manager. Tell them you’re planning on visiting their establishment, that you have food allergies, and would like to ask a few questions. Don’t ask your questions to a host or server. It’s likely they won’t have the knowledge you’re looking for.

Have a succinct sentence or two already prepared so that you can communicate your restrictions quickly. Something like, “I’m very allergic to fish and shellfish. Will the chef be able to accommodate me?” If they say “no”, that’s great for you. They just saved you a trip. Remember to be polite and friendly in your tone of voice. We’ve already mentioned this, but it’s important.

If relevant, this is where you can ask questions like if they use their grill for only fish or meat or both. Or if their fryer is used for more than just fries. Questions that can just as well be asked on the phone as in person can be addressed here.

Phone Call Red Flags

If the authoritative person you’re speaking with has obvious gaps in their food-allergy knowledge, this is not a good sign. If they’re not sure what gluten is, for example, or they say things like “You’ll probably be fine,” don’t eat there. Politely conclude the call and say “thank you for your time.”

If they say the manager or chef will call you back later, consider moving on to your next restaurant choice. Places that outwardly prioritize serving people with dietary restrictions are what you’re looking for. If they act like they’re too busy for your questions, that’s probably not a good sign.

Make Reservations For A Time Before The Rush

When you feel comfortable with your restaurant of choice, make reservations if they allow it. Consider making a reservation for a time before the big rush of lunch or dinner. If you’re okay with eating just a little early, the staff likely won’t be crazily busy. This means they’ll have more time to answer additional questions that you may have and meet your needs.

This isn’t always a necessary step to follow, but consider it if you think it will help.

One More Thing About Choosing A Restaurant

If anything about your research or conversations with restaurant staff doesn’t feel right, don’t risk it. There are countless other restaurants to choose from.

What To Do When You Get There

When you arrive at the restaurant, don’t be uncomfortable to ask for the manager by name (or whoever you talked to on the phone). You spoke with them already, so it shouldn’t feel like a cold greeting. Making these kinds of connections is an important part of how to eat out when you have food allergies.

Remind them of your dietary restrictions, don’t forget to give them your food-allergy card, be attentive, and remember to be kind. You’ll likely receive kindness in return. Take notice of whether or not they’re listening and giving you their full attention. They should make it clear by their interaction with you that they’re taking your requests seriously.

How Are They Treating You?

You should feel that they’re being forthcoming about ingredients they use in their food. They should willingly agree to your requests that are out-of-the-ordinary. Requests like changing gloves when preparing different kinds of foods, for example. The more knowledgable they appear to be about dietary restrictions, the more comfortable you should be.

After you are seated and your server introduces themselves, don’t assume they’ve been informed. It’s likely they have, but still, don’t assume. Vocalize your needs to them to make sure.

Don’t Order Dessert

Desserts can be tricky when it comes to allergens. We recommend not ordering dessert when eating out. The potential for accidental allergens tends to be higher with desserts like cakes, pies, and ice cream, for example. Scooping utensils are often used for scooping many different things. Plus, they’re often simply placed in a cup of hot water between uses which is not ideal for allergic folks.

Garnishes that get placed on dessert items often contain hidden allergens. Nuts and egg whites are common culprits here.

You need to be careful with alcoholic drinks as well. Particularly ones that have a frothy head. These “flips,” as they’re often called, usually contain egg whites.

Not eating dessert isn’t necessarily a solid rule for allergic people to follow. However, we’ve heard of enough circumstances where it’s worth including here. It’s best to be thorough when discussing how to eat out when you have food allergies.

Leave An Online Review To Attract Others

Restaurants love it when people leave positive reviews online, particularly people with extra dietary needs. This shows the public that the establishment cares, is inclusive and goes out of their way to accommodate everyone. If your experience was great, leave a review so that others with food allergies can read about it. That way they’ll know that a particular restaurant is safe and delicious.

If your experience was not great, other food-allergy folks are going to want to know about that as well. This information is helpful and will assist everyone with allergies in making the right dining decisions.

How To Eat Out When You Have Food Allergies – Conclusion

The best compliment that you can pay a restaurant is to return and dine again. Get to know the owners and managers at your favorite allergen-conscious places. They’ll love knowing that you appreciate what they do.

how to eat out when you have food allergies

How To Eat Out When You Have Food Allergies

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