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.

18 February 2009

Allergy Menus--Friends or Foes?

On Tuesday, we ate at a restaurant--part of a national chain--not far from home. We've had good luck at other locations and thought we'd give it a try here at home. (See A Food Allergy Friendly Restaurant Tip.) It was a good learning experience because I was reminded of an important piece of information--an allergy menu is only one part of what makes a restaurant a food allergy friendly destination. Without a food allergy conscious staff, the allergy menu is useless. 

I might even go a step further and question whether allergy menus are even a good idea at all. They do help the diner sort through the meal options, but is that where their usefulness ends? Using the same  arguments as those against peanut bans and peanut free zones, are allergy menus counter-productive? Do allergy menus create a false perception by restaurant management and diners that a restaurant is more aware of food allergies when the staff's knowledge and awareness of cross-contact might not match the care that was taken to create those allergy menus? I'm still trying to make up my mind. The one thing I am sure of is that many restaurant staffs need more training and education on food allergies and associated the risks of cross-contact.


ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

I like the allergy menu because it allows me to do my "homework" before I get there (but I have to add that we've only eaten out at BK and Outback so I've fully tested the allergy menu). But I know what you mean. We went to Burger King on Tuesday. We've been to this one only one other time (we have our "go to" Burger King). And the big mistake I made was that it was lunch time when we stopped. It was actually 12:45 so not THE lunch time but close enough and it was VERY crowded. They just remodeled it and before this no one went there. The lady at the register didn't speak very good English and couldn't find the manager (who I realized later was dealing with a problem at the drive thru). I gave her my allergy speech, asked that they take the fries directly from the basket so we don't get a stray onion ring and she just looked at me. I could watch them and see that they weren't doing what I asked. The good news was that things were so busy and moving so fast that as fast as they dumped the fries, they were using them so there wasn't much chance of the onion rings getting mixed in, but I couldn't tell if they were using the onion ring scooper for the fries too. By the time it was over I was sooo stressed and had tried to stare at the scoopers so hard to see what they were using them for I had a migraine. Clearly the lady I spoke to had NO allergy training. It's hit or miss at BK. Just because they have the menu doesn't mean they are trained and I realize that. But it would be so helpful.
My potentially fatal flaw was that I went at lunch time and didn't make a fuss and demand the manager (I hate scenes) or just walk out (I hate children hungry and crying). I did an onion ring check in the car and didn't see one, and asked him the whole way home "How are you feeling"? It so wasn't worth it. Never again :(

Unknown said...

Thanks Chupieandj'smama. I have appreciated getting a menu in advance too. The place we visited Tuesday does not put their menus online, so you're outta luck till they hand you one! This time, it took them wayyyy too long; they were all discombobulated! I have to say, it has worked wonderfully in the past--a smooth-oiled machine.

Jenny said...

Thanks for sharing this experience. I'm glad it ended well for you! Whew.

You rightly point out that allergy-free service is only as good as the knowledge of the staff.

I truly don't want to give up restaurants but it just goes to show you there is always a risk--no matter what the menu says. Cross-contact happens so easily!

On the plus side, I think allergy menus at least give me a clue that somebody thought about food allergies at that particular eatery--but that somebody is probably at corporate HQ and not at the restaurant. Do the staff get it? That's the real question.

I'm certain that you will share what happened with the restaurant in question -- please let us know what there response is. Staff need requisite training in cross-contact. That doesn't make it foolproof but I think it would really help!

Unknown said...

Jenny, thanks for commenting. You are 100% right--it's fantastic that the corporate office are more aware. That is a big step, and a lot in life is "trickle down". Now, if we can just get their staff more food allergy aware too!

Allergic Girl rightly pointed out earlier on Twitter that it's especially difficult in locations where there is a lot of turnover in staff. That is so true, and I think that tends to be the case at many restaurants, including family friendly chain restaurants like the one we just visited. Baby steps are better than none!

Vivian Mahoney said...

Now I wonder why I've seen an allergy menu only once in these past few years. Though, we do get the chef or manager who will come out and talk to us. I really like and appreciate that.