You go into a restaurant for a nice dinner with your husband, your friend and her friend (who you’ve never met before.) You share the pleasantries that start any meal like “what looks good” and “should we get an appetizer.” The server comes takes your drink order and comes back to tell you the specials. And then it happens….they ask if anyone has any food allergies.
If you don’t like a particular ingredient, do you speak up? Do you “fib” and say you are allergic to that ingredient? Is there something you can’t eat because of reasons other than allergies? Do you go into your medical history in front of complete strangers? Do you just make sure you order something that fits your needs and hope for the best?
In my opinion, when you tell a restaurant you are allergic to something you are asking them to go to great measures to make sure the area they have prepped your dinner is completely free of said allergen. It is a lot of work or effort on the restaurant’s part but they would rather have their customers enjoy their meals and not end up in the hospital.
But what do you say when it isn’t a true allergy. Having Crohn’s Disease, there is a plethora of food that “disagrees” with me but I’m not allergic to them. I really don’t want to go into my GI issues every time I eat out. So, if I have the opportunity to look at a menu ahead of time, I check it out and give myself some options before I even get to the restaurant. Now a days menus can be found online and there is always something I can eat.
The problem is that if a restaurant decides to make a dish with ingredients that aren’t in the traditional or classic preparation, I can experience big problems. Do I ask each time I order a meal “how is that prepared” and sound a little pompous? Do I keep my fingers crossed that the server actually KNOWS how it is prepared? Does everyone at the table and in surrounding areas want to hear that I could end up in the hospital with just one dietary mistake? (I try to use my golf announcer quiet voice but I find that almost brings more attention.)
Personally, when I’m out with friends, I don’t like to make a big deal out of my Crohn’s. It is already apparent when I go to the bathroom a bunch of times during the meal or when I clutch my side as I eat because everything hurts these days. I just am tired of 40+ years of fighting this disease to not have a quiet moment and enjoy myself at a meal.
So, the other week, we had plans to go out with our friend and her friend. I was able to pick the restaurant and knew the menu quite well. The waitress asked about allergies etc. and we were all good to go. I ordered my dish (tuna steak, hummus and tabbouleh) with reckless abandon. I felt wild and free….until our food came.
My dish was placed in front of me and the tabbouleh was made with quinoa. For those of you who aren’t familiar with tabbouleh…it is traditionally made with parsley, mint, lemon juice, tomatoes and bulgur wheat.
Bulgur wheat is a grain usually soaked or parboiled and a little easier on people with GI issues. Quinoa is also considered a grain but you technically are eating the seeds which can be a problem. For the average person, this is not a big deal but for me quinoa made for a very bad ER Valentine’s Day trip years ago and I did not want a repeat of that horrible night.
I asked the server if the tabbouleh was made with quinoa and she said yes. (For the record, most restaurants will say “quinoa tabbouleh” on their description.) I said I couldn’t eat quinoa and she said something horrible back. (I’m saving what she said for the title of my memoir.) Given we were eating with someone new, I tried not to react but I will not be winning any awards for acting in the near future.
We sent the food back with some suggestions for a substitute. I told my dining companions to dig in so their food wouldn’t get cold. This was good because they were pretty much done before my meal showed up again. (Kudos to my friend for taking the tiniest bites of steak that were humanly possible in order to stretch out her meal!)
During the incredibly long wait for my part of the dinner, I ended up talking to the manager aside from any patrons to describe the incident. (I did this after a ridiculous amount of time passed and he had no clue of the incident at hand.)
He handled it great, my waitress not so much. I was finally served a meal that was pretty much inedible because it was overcooked and I just chalked it up to every restaurant has a bad day.
My feelings stayed hurt from the words of our server but like I said earlier, there will be something good that comes out of this. I don’t think I had a full-on tabbouleh tantrum but I do think there has to be a better way to handle these situations by everyone involved.
I would like to ask restaurants to be a little more transparent with ingredient substitutions on classic dishes. Maybe just include it in the description or an asterisk by the dish to indicate that it may be prepared differently so people with a concern can ask when necessary. And in the restaurants defense people have to stop saying they are allergic to everything especially when it comes to ingredients they don’t care to eat.
In the cases like this, I was nice to the manager and he was super nice in return. Nothing bad happened and it made for a good blog.