Ordering in a Restaurant with Food Allergies
Sure, eating at a restaurant is supposed to be easier than cooking a meal at home, but for families managing food allergies, it inherently involves more work. All you need is a system, and you'll realize it's just a series of bite-sized steps.
Before You Go
Few restaurants are free of allergens but you can pick places with less of them. Consider the online menu your starting point, followed by a phone call to the restaurant to speak to someone. Your first goal is to assess how prevalent your allergen(s) are on the menu, and thus, how easy (or not) it will be to find a safe item to order.
😆 Green light: The optimal scenario is finding a restaurant that is free of your allergen or one that offers very limited options with it. Vegan restaurants have options for those with egg and/or milk allergies, and certain cuisines like American and Italian tend to have limited nuts. Mexican restaurants often have many wheat/gluten-free options.
🤔 Yellow light: Your allergens are on the menu, but they are limited in quantity, and some dishes are free of your specific allergens.
😩 Red light: If your allergen is in many or most of the items or if there is unfriendly language about catering to guests with food allergies, that may be reason to rule out a restaurant. Why fight that battle when there are so many other options out there?
Potential Allergens on a Restaurant Menu
See our sample menu to discover where your allergens are commonly found.
Script for Eating Out with Food Allergies
Use this script when you call ahead, arrive at the restaurant or both. When you call the restaurant, assess if they have experience serving food allergic customers and if they can accommodate your allergen(s). You can also use the call to narrow in on a specific menu item ahead of time.
Must ask/essential questions:
Hi, I am wondering if you have experience in serving customers with food allergies.
I am looking to bring my (insert person) to your restaurant. (He or she) is allergic to (insert allergens). Do you have any (insert allergens) on your menu?
Have you served customers with (insert allergies) before?
Are you able to accommodate guests with (insert allergies)?
Does the (specific dish) contain any (insert allergens), and is there any chance it would come into contact with any (insert allergens) when being prepared?
What type of oil do you use to fry food?
Does anything with (insert allergens) get fried in the same fryer?
Is there anything on the menu we should absolutely avoid with (insert allergies)?
At the Restaurant
Choose a dish that you think is safe for you to eat.
Consider cross-contamination risks. Check the menu for items, including specials, that might contain your allergens. Ask if there is any chance those items with your allergens could be prepared using same equipment (pans, pots, blenders, etc.) as your dish. For example, if you are allergic to wheat and want to order something fried, look for breaded items on the menu that could potentially be prepared in a shared fryer.
Communicate with restaurant staff. Explain your food allergies to your server and confirm there are no allergens in the dish. If you found cross-contamination risks while reviewing the menu or have ingredient concerns, don't be shy – now is the time to ask. If your server seems unsure of how to answer, ask him or her to confirm with the kitchen. Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable and confident that the restaurant understands your needs.
Look before you eat. Mistakes can happen, so take the time to do a visual check first and reconfirm with the server if you're unsure about the food being safe.
Encourage your child to order for him or herself and explain his or her own allergens. For a better idea on how and when to teach milestone skills like these, check out the 36 Skills To Teach Your Food Allergic Child.
Spokin Tip: If your family likes to share food and pass plates around the table, make sure you go through the same process with every dish that is ordered.
After You Eat
Always be thankful for a good restaurant experience and pass it along by recommending the restaurant on Spokin. It's our mission to make eating out with food allergies easier and safer – whether in your neighborhood or while traveling. Download the Spokin app to share your restaurant experiences with others and recommend your favorite places to eat.