Hearing the words “What should we eat for dinner tonight?” used to fill me with a small sense of dread. My family and friends are composed of hungry diners with a wide variety of dietary restrictions and allergies. From vegetarians and flexitarians to dairy-free and celiac, it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke. The good news? Eating out or ordering in with allergies and dietary restrictions does not always have to make you feel like a bad punchline.
Here are my tips and tricks to have an excellent dining experience with any diet, and help support your local restaurants by ordering in.
1. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
While you might feel like you are bothering the staff, it is a lot easier to get your questions answered prior to placing an order and potentially having to send it back. Part of asking questions can be determining just how much you are able to modify a menu item. If you are vegetarian and see that there is pancetta on a dish you’d really like to try, call ahead to see if they can swap it out for crispy Brussels sprouts. The worst-case scenario is that they say no!
Once you have placed an order and your delicious meal is in your hands, it is always a good idea to double-check that the item has been modified for your restrictions – just to be sure. It is much better to find out now and fix the problem than to be uncomfortable later.
2. Understand that you are taking a risk, especially if you have severe allergies
Not everyone is going to understand your dietary restrictions or allergies, and not all restaurants can cater to them. I have needed to explain the details a time or two when misinformed servers advise a vegetarian dish in place of one that is gluten-free, and that is okay. Restaurants truly do their absolute best to accommodate your allergies and preferences, but it might not always be perfect. If you have a severe allergy, be prepared to handle an exposure as a worst-case scenario, and always carry an epinephrine pen. In this scenario, it is best to be as diligent as possible and know the risks.
3. Strategize your dining experience
Thinking through a plan and preparing for multiple outcomes when you go out to eat or order in can be extremely helpful. Want to go try somewhere new? Give them a call to ask if they can accommodate your allergy or preference ahead of time. Planning to meet friends for dinner once the quarantine ends? It is perfectly okay to present an allergy card to your waiter. They will likely be incredibly grateful since it helps them to correctly communicate your needs to the kitchen. If you can’t find anything on the menu that fits your diet, it is perfectly okay to leave, or order-in elsewhere. The restaurant would prefer that you avoid risking your health.
When I was diagnosed with Celiac disease over ten years ago, very few options existed for me. The safest option was to go with a basic protein and vegetables that were not cooked on a shared surface. While healthy, this meal quickly became mundane.
Today, I can more easily find restaurants that offer gluten-free alternatives and have menu labels that clearly mark what my options are. For other allergies, times are changing as well. Did you know that there are some states that actually require restaurant professionals to have training in food allergies? The more knowledgeable the staff is in a restaurant, the more likely that you will have an easy, low-risk dining experience.
Want to learn more about how ChowNow is helping restaurants survive during this unprecedented shutdown? Check out one of the articles below.
Discover delicious eats in your area, and help to support your local neighborhoods by ordering through ChowNow.
Images by Various | Editing by Tableside Staff