With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

08 July 2008

A Food Allergy Friendly Restaurant Tip

We rarely eat at restaurants.  When we take our annual car trip, however, we do not have much choice.  We packed as much fresh food as was reasonable, but the kids grew tired of eating picnics. When we drove past a Red Robin restaurant (in Greensburg, PA)--a chain restaurant I had read about on one of the allergy discussion groups online--I decided to give a call and see if they could accommodate the peanut allergy.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they actually had an "allergy menu".  We discovered that Red Robin is a national restaurant chain whose specialty is hamburgers.  It's a kid-friendly restaurant, complete with a mascot--Red, the robin.

The manager visited us shortly after we were seated and brought a menu for "guests with PEANUT allergies".  After reviewing the "Recommended Menu Items for Guests with PEANUT Allergies", we ordered a Royal Red Robin burger (plain hamburger) for our peanut allergic child and celery sticks as a side.  The manager stopped by more than once while we ate to check on us.  Everyone was happy with their meal, and Red the robin even visited our table for a free photo with the kids.  Both children were very content. We had such a good experience at the Red Robin that we actually ate at another Red Robin (in Mechanicsburg, PA) a few days later and enjoyed another positive experience.  In fact, the second Red Robin restaurant provided the entire allergen menu for all eight of the top allergens.  It was 23 pages long--quite extensive!  

As you may have surmised, we do not have any Red Robin restaurants near home.  For us, it was great find!  A good hamburger place where you can feel comfortable bringing your kids, food allergic or not. There seems to be something for everyone on the menu.  I was so impressed with the allergy menu and the way the restaurant handled a peanut allergic customer, I decided to contact Red Robin's corporate headquarters to find out more. Jennifer Andrews, Director of Menu Leadership at Red Robin, explained that the food allergy menu suggestions began with gluten-free in the fall of last year and have expanded from there.  When a food allergic guest visits a Red Robin restaurant, it is their procedure to always have a manager involved in the process.  This was evident in the two locations we visited.  In addition, the allergy menus are updated on a monthly basis and more frequently if necessary. Red Robin aims to be a leading family restaurant destination, and they certainly have my vote.

Do you know of a great food allergy friendly restaurant?  Write a comment here or send me an email at jennifer@foodallergybuzz.com.  Who knows--your restaurant tip might help make someone's summer vacation even more special!

EDITED on 02/18/2009 to add that management and service will vary from one location to another in any restaurant chain. A recent dining experience reminded us of that: Allergy menus--Friends or Foes?


Anonymous said...

The two most food-allergy-friendly restaurants we've encountered are Blue Ginger in Wellsley, MA, and Zaytina in Washington DC. Blue Ginger is run by celebrity chef, Ming Tsai. He's the father of a child with food allergies, and is a national spokesperson for FAAN. See http://www.ming.com/ for more information.

We recently ate at Zaytinya, a new "middle-eastern tapas" restaurant in DC with an extensive menu of small plates. We were not expecting anything "special" in terms of allergy awareness; however, when we arrived at the restaurant, we were pleased and surprised to find that the restaurant prints separate, specialized menus for patrons with food allergies (i.e., there's a nut-free menu, a dairy-free menu, an egg-free menu, etc.) Most gratifying!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment! We have not visited Blue Ginger yet, but plan to soon. Ming Tsai is one of our family's heros. Very interesting info about Zaytinya in DC as well. Both Boston and DC are popular summer vacation destinations, so your tips are especially timely! Thanks!

GeonHui's Bakery said...

This is so great to know! Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, found you blog online while searching for restaurants for my child who has peanut allergy! Appreciate the post.

Cupcakes and Cutlery said...

I just ate at Red Robin with my food allergic son on Monday and then last night realized that California Pizza Kitchen, another national chain, had an allergy menu online. My son got the kids chicken and broccoli meal which looked fantastic. You should check it out!!

Unknown said...

Linds, Jenny, and cupcakes and cutlery, thanks for your comments!

I just checked out the CPK website--thanks for the tip. I appreciate any restaurant that actually takes the time to look into the allergens in the food they're serving. Of course, cross-contamination and mistakes are still possible, but it shows the company is aware and they are making an effort to be accommodating. That's really important and it is a step in the right direction!

Jesus Chick said...

We too, just visited Red Robin. I had put off trying to go because of cost, but we ended up there. I was blown away. The check even said "Allergy Alert." Thumbs up to Red Robin.

Thumbs down to Chili's who has decreased the foods that children with dairy allergies can eat. Grilled chicken is no longer safe!!

Anonymous said...

Also wonderful are Flatbread's Pizza in Portsmouth, NH and Portland, ME - they don't use many, if any nuts, and even have a dairy free vegan pizza. Waitstaff very responsive to allergies. Also good is Pepperland Cafe in South Berwick, ME. They do use many nuts but also make many things from scratch and are a small cafe that goes the extra mile to make sure the food is safe. One final tip, the Bubble Room in Sanibel Florida was great.

Anonymous said...

I have found that this allergy friendly restaurant directory has been helpful for finding local restaurants who cater to people with allergies. It is free to join too.

Food Allergy Friendly Network

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mark. We had a nice introduction to the network from one of its founders, Margaret Mitsock, right around the end of 2008. Here is a link to that post: http://www.foodallergybuzz.com/2008/12/new-website-aims-to-connect-food.html

There is also a new restaurant rating and review site for food allergies at myigea.com.

In addition, there is a blog named Can I Eat There?. The url for that blog is: http://www.canieatthere.blogspot.com/

Lots of great new resources out there!

Jaaf Family said...

I am glad that I have found this blog . We have been dealing with food allergy for the past 12 years.

My 12 yr old has life threatening peanut allergy (and are allergic to the major 8 allergic foods), but we also like to travel. We have found the following restaurants (Chains) friendly as well

Olive Garden
Ask to speak with the culinary manager. We have been to Olive Garden in six different states and the chef always come out to speak with my child and prepare something delicious for her. The best one we found is the Olive Garden located in Branson Missouri. The manager is very compassionate and friendly.

Olive Garden

Ted's Montana Grill
We like the one located in Overland Park, KS. Very friendly manager.

CheeseCake Factory
http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/ The Chef in Kansas City, MO (Plaza) came to talk to my child. She is aware of cross contamination and uses a brand new clean pot for my child.

Chinese Restaurants- Some Chinese restaurants are extremely accommodating. Some are not.

If you live in Kansas City area, Fortuna Wok (Lee's Summit, MO) is extremely accommodating. They prepare healthy and delicious food for us (peanut free, egg free, soy free, gluten free, seafood/fish free, tree nut free, dairy free). Talk to Ms Jou (a beautiful petit lady). Only eat there when Ms. Jou is working (she has two restaurants in the area).

Disney world has a very good list of allergy friendly restaurants and they are wonderful.

Unknown said...

Hi Jaaf Family, thanks for the tips! We have had good and not-so-good at chain restaurants, but that's the case whether or not you're dealing with food allergies! :) The management and service can vary widely from one location to another, as you mentioned. Your tips are appreciated, especially for the Kansas City area. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm the owner of an organic restaurant which is certified and trained to safely cater to all common food allergies (gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, nut, soy, etc). I am however very disappointed to see that families living with food allergies (who know and understand the dangers and effort required to prepare a safe meal) many times come to my restaurant only for the allergy meal and go elsewhere for the rest of the family's meals. My prices? About $1-2 more than my non-organic competitors for a pizza. I often ask myself whether we've made food into a commodity - no one is willing to pay for truly quality, pure, and nutritious food. We'll pay big bucks to be seen in the high-fly restaurant and drink $50 wines but won't pay an extra $2 for a 100% organic meal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog! I have found it very interesting especially in light of my recently diagnosed lengthy list of allergies...

I have found that as far as fast food restaurants go, Taco Bell seems to be the most accomodating. I recently discovered I can have only salad at McDonalds (hard if you have little kids that love the place) as they have milk and wheat in just about everything (even the French Fries and grilled chicken patties!)

In regards to Anonymous' response about his restaurant catering to food allergic folks -I wish your restaurant was where I live. You sound like an awesome place that really caters to food allergic people. I GUARANTEE that our entire family would eat there -even the members with no allergies!

Kira said...

I have 2 restaurants to recommend (my son is extremely allergic to milk and also beef). One is Josie's in New York City (Murray Hill). The menu was well labeled and they were very accommodating.
The other is the One World Cafe in Baltimore, Maryland They have a separate vegan grill which is great for my son's milk allergy. The fries are baked and not fried, as well, and the menus are well labeled.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is allergic to Dairy, Peanuts and tree nuts. The best place we have found to go out to eat is Joe's American Bar & Grill. There are Several Locations all over Massachusetts. If you go there let the server know a member of your party has a food allergy and the manager will come and explain what menu items the can cater to your needs. Always friendly service and great food, I would highly recomend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info everyone. I found your site while searching "Food Allergy Friendly Restaurants". Our Daughter is Peanut, tree nut and egg allergic. We too rarely eat out. Red Robin and Chipotle are our 2 spots. Last I checked (and I sent an email to their Corporate office) Chipotle has no nuts of any kind in the restaurants or manufactured with any of their products!!! What a rare find! It's such a bonus to find a healthy take out option when we are scrambled for time.

Anonymous said...

trader joes also has a menu for those with food allergies.

Unknown said...

I recently dined at PF Changs with my daughter who is allergic to peanuts, eggs and milk and they are very accomodating. They do marinate their meat in eggs, but sometimes they will have some unmarinated meat, they will use brand new utensils, and pans and will go out of their way to make sure that your child is safe!

Anonymous said...

Restaurants that we have success with:

1. Red Robin (kids love it, great allergen menus, and sign up online for birthday coupons)

2. PF Chang's (great allergen menu, we usually do take out to avoid long wait with toddlers in tow). My 3 year old LOVES the sweet & sour chicken/pork (can be ordered dairy and nut free)

3. California Pizza Kitchen is okay, but my 3 year old didn't love his meal...

4. A local Asian market (Grand Asia in Raleigh, NC) has it's own restaurant and is able to make us something our kids can eat.

Not so great experiences:

1. Chilis, We've tried it 3 times, and only 1 went well. 1 time my son reacted (hives, swelling, itching) and the staff realized AFTER that they had sauteed his veggies in margarine that contained dairy, and another time he didn't react but he just didn't like his burger and fries at all.

2. Dairy-free pizzas at restaurants that offer them. Soy cheese is just gross- I've tried plenty kinds plenty ways.

I'm a pediatrician and mother of a 3 year old allergic to cow milk and peanuts (and we avoid tree nuts to be safe.)

Over 3 years, we've slowly gotten more adventurous about eating out (you can't pack all the food they'll need on car or plane trips...) and we've had some pleasant surprises, like Red Robin. I hope you do too.

Unknown said...

So many great comments and tips! Thanks everyone! We continue to try new things when the opportunity presents itself.

I'm no longer a fan of Red Robin since my son actually broke out in hives after eating something off their peanut-free menu during our last visit there.

I wrote to PF Changs to inquire about the use of nuts and peanuts and they recommended we NOT eat there due to the severity of my son's allergy.

Here in Massachusetts, there is a pizza chain called Papa Gino's. We have eaten their pizza many times with no problems. (Yay!)

And McDonald's works for us too. The kids are very happy about that. I just try to keep the visits to McDonald's infrequent due to the health benefits or lack thereof! :)

Finally, Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA. What can I say?? Ming Tsai obviously "gets it". He's a national spokesman and advocate. Wonderful wonderful experience there!

Anonymous said...

P.S. (from the pediatrician and mome of 3 year old allergic to dairy & peanut).

We recently went to a Burger King somewhere in Virginia (driving NC to MD) that had an ALLERGEN MENU on the WALL! I couldn't believe it. It is the first time my 3 year old ate at a fast food restaurant IN HIS LIFE. And no reactions and he gobbled up his food. I do NOT know if all Burger Kings have allergen menus up. Their fries were dairy-free & peanut free- yeah! Always check your restaurant, as things vary by location and menus & recipes change...

Anonymous said...

Didn't see this mentioned before sorry if I missed it. The PANERA BREAD restaurant chain has an allergy binder that you can ask for at the counter. It lists ALL its products and what allergens are present. My son loves to eat there because it has bakery items that are safe for him to eat. We usually avoid that type of thing. We love Panera!!

Anonymous said...

Love this blog. My daughter is allergic to all 8, plus some weird ones too...

Disneyworld had great options, and I recommend you make reservations ahead.

Chipotle has a detailed list of all plates vs. the 8 most common allergens. One of the best, the entire staff knows how to deal with allergies.

Pei Wei is normally safe. I don't trust it 100%, but we never had a bad reaction.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous Poster, posting on June 14, 2009, who is the owner of an organic restaurant,

We would try to eat at independant, wholesome restaurants like yours before discovering our son's peanut and tree nut allergies. Now, we just don't eat out, but I am constantly on the lookout for restaurants like yours who not only offer fresh food, but who also accommodate people with food allergies.

Lucy said...

New to this allergy world. Panera and Legal Seafood. Thanks for all the great tips!

Anonymous said...

We recently ate at UNO Chicago Grill in Florida, they have an electronic ingredients list and the Kitchen manager came out to see us. Bravo, they even had two sweets that my egg, nut, sesame, coconut, citrus allergic son could eat. The food tasted more like home cooking rather than out of the freezer and my kids now choose it as their Birthday dinner destination. Can't say enough good things about their food!!!!!