Eating Out Doesn't Have to Be a Nightmare Anymore if You Have Food Allergies

Health Check 8

penne vodkaJust around a decade ago, when my fiance's grandma was one of the first in their family to be diagnosed with celiac disease and my college roomie found out she was allergic, too, you'd be in treacherous territory by even trying to dine out with a food allergy. Thankfully, it's getting less stressful, as restaurants do their best to cater to people who are dairy-free, nut-free, or gluten-free, or suffer from any other food sensitivities.

I've seen it firsthand. Usually, whenever my fiance's brother, wife, and little girls come to visit us, we go to an Italian restaurant that does gluten-free cooking. It's a treat for them to get to eat a delicious pasta dish at a restaurant, just like anyone else who doesn't have celiac disease. And it's always so nice to see the chef come out and speak with us about all of our options and explain how the food is prepared, so there's no cross-contamination.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal talks about how many mainstream restaurants are doing the same kind of thing. For instance, The Melting Pot has a complex safety system -- which entails "educating, separating, and sanitizing" to prevent contamination -- and Chuck E. Cheese offers gluten-free pizza for its patrons now, which is delivered and even cooked in a specially sealed package, so it never touches the regular pies.

But while this is awesome news all around for anyone who suffers from a food allergy, the fact remains that there are still restaurants that, unfortunately, aren't as thorough as you may want to them to be. So diners still have to be super-cautious, ask lots of questions, consult a chef if possible, and get a detailed rundown of how their food will be prepared. And restaurants have to be prepared to accommodate patrons who have allergy-related concerns.

As Paul Sale, an executive chef with a popular NYC restaurant company told the WSJ:

The biggest thing is communication—between the guests and us, and us with all of our employees, from the managers to the servers to the cooks to the dish washers.

Seems to me that whenever patrons and restaurants get a dialogue going about the food, everyone's better off. And it's heartening to hear that's happening more and more.

How do you feel about restaurants' recent efforts to accommodate diners with food allergies?


Image via Vegan Feast Catering/Flickr

eating out, food allergies

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Disney17 Disney17

I think it's great that restaurants are getting better at accommodating people with allergies, but the truth is that unless you make all your food yourself, you don't know what exactly is in it. I can see law suits waiting to happen.

nonmember avatar Diana

I am thrilled more places offer gluten free. It really opens options to those of us who do suffer from celiac disease. The WSJ article mentioned how "social" eating out has become, and how people with allergies want the option to be social with friends. Places that take the time and really educate the staff is awesome. the ones that only catch on for the fad really muddy the water for understanding how sever it can be. I hear it all the time you shouldn't treat it any different than a peanut allergy! You'd never tell someone with a peanut allergy, "a little won't hurt"
I will say Melting Pot is Wonderful for their GF options. They do giggle when you bring your own bread and cheese cake.. But will bring you regular plates to eat it off, so you don't need to have tupperwares on the table. :)

Heather Duso Johnson

Actually Diana, if you are only intolerant to gluten and not actually allergic, which is what I believe celiac disease is, a little bit will not kill you unlike peanuts or shellfish.  Sure it's probably unpleasant but most likely will not end up with a shot of epi and a visit to ER.  My sister has a very bad shellfish allergy and always tells restaurants and has on one or two occasions ended up in the ER just because of cross-contamination.  

GlowW... GlowWorm889

@ Heather - Actually, celiac disease is much more complicated than that. Intolerance implies that your body can't break down a food, but passes through the system and doesn't cause much damage other than discomfort. For people with celiac disease, gluten destroys the lining of the intestines and prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. Even a small amount of gluten can do this. It can also cause ulcers in the intestines, abdominal distention, and a whole host of other problems. It is NOT the same as an intolerance and should be treated the same as an allergy.


I'm glad restaurants are making foods available for people with allergies. It's not their fault they're allergic to something, and not fair that they would miss out on some great food these places have to offer.

kerwo... kerwolfe712

There is gluten intolerance and then there is Celiac's disease.  My daughter and I were both recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance, which was causing skin conditions in both of us.  A little cross-contamination is obnoxious but not life-threatening for us.  For someone with Celiac, a little cross-contamination IS incredibly dangerous.  Every exposure to gluten destroys more intestine for someone with Celiac.  


I'm very grateful that more restaurants are willing to provide gluten-free options and be careful about cross-contamination.  It makes it possible for my family to enjoy evenings out with friends, have a normal social life, without risking the health of my daughter and myself. 

kerwo... kerwolfe712

There is gluten intolerance and then there is Celiac's disease.  My daughter and I were both recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance, which was causing skin conditions in both of us.  A little cross-contamination is obnoxious but not life-threatening for us.  For someone with Celiac, a little cross-contamination IS incredibly dangerous.  Every exposure to gluten destroys more intestine for someone with Celiac.  


I'm very grateful that more restaurants are willing to provide gluten-free options and be careful about cross-contamination.  It makes it possible for my family to enjoy evenings out with friends, have a normal social life, without risking the health of my daughter and myself. 

xoxka... xoxkatiemarie

I wish restaurants were more cautious about more common allergies like to fish and nuts. Just because celebrities have celiac disease doesn't mean it is as common as other allergies. Going out to eat is still a nightmare for my family because of our common allergies that restaurants have trouble accomedating to.

nonmember avatar AEPaul

I am very optimistic about the trend of more restaurants being driven to become "allergy friendly." No matter the reason - and it is usually the capitalistic profit motive which I have no issue with - restaurants are understanding that this is a trend that unfortunately for us is not going away. If they want to exist a decade from now, they need to learn how to become allergy-friendly. If they want to prosper now financially, they need to learn how to become allergy-friendly. The trend is our friend.

When dining out, I always check AllergyEats first (www.allergyeats.com), which was mentioned in the WSJ article cited above. AllergyEats is the largest guide to allergy-friendly restaurants where every restaurant is rated 1 through 5 on how allergy-friendly they are. These ratings are based on the experiences of actual food-allergic diners - kind of like a Yelp for food allergies.

Dining out is an important social and business event in our society. Fortunately, with more and more restaurants working hard to handle the food allergy community well, fewer people will be denied the opportunity to participate in these occasions.

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