Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Allergic to Eating Out

Here is a scary little story: A woman came in one afternoon to buy her kid some ice cream. I was in the kitchen doing afternoon clean-up, so I was only peripherally aware of the conversation at the front counter. When my counter girl came back into the kitchen and started scrubbing the ice cream scoop, I asked her what was going on. She said the woman had told her that her son was allergic to nuts; counter girl assured her that none of our ice creams had nuts in them, but just “to be safe” she would take the scoop back into the kitchen and give it a thorough washing.

I almost hit the ceiling. “Ack!” I croaked. “What are you talking about? What do you mean none of our ice creams have nuts? What about chocolate peanut butter and coffee almond fudge? Holy &*%$... You go right out there and tell that woman that we are not prepared to cater to children with severe food allergies, and I am sorry, but we’ll have to refuse to serve her child any ice cream.” Counter girl, thoroughly cowed, went out to the counter and did what she was told. And the woman was pissed. I may have saved her kid’s life, or at least saved her a trip to the Emergency Room, but she was royally p.o.’ed that we would not serve her kid ice cream.

Come on, people. Severe food allergies are nothing to fool around with. You DO NOT want to put your life in the hands of an uneducated restaurant owner who may be ignorant of the dangers of anaphylactic shock, and you especially do not want to put that responsibility in the hands of an overworked, underpaid wait-person. I have neither the time nor the expertise to take the kind of precautions necessary to make my product safe for someone for whom one molecule of peanut will induce a life-threatening reaction. As far as I’m concerned, if someone could DIE if they eat something they’re not supposed to, they need to prepare their own food in a completely controlled environment. It is neither safe nor sane for a person with dire food allergies to expect a restaurant to take that kind of responsibility. I wouldn’t touch that potential liability with a ten-foot pole.

After the Ice Cream Episode, I had to create a simple, all-encompassing policy to deal with the increasing number of “I’m allergic to…” claims that come up on any given day. And that policy is to refuse service to anyone claiming to have a food allergy. If you come into my establishment and claim to be allergic to something, it is not my job, nor is it my wait-person’s job, to commence the twenty question routine. I am not going to waste time trying to ascertain HOW allergic you are to something. Like, “Will you die if you eat this, or will you just break out in hives, or does it give you indigestion?” The safest thing—both for me and for you—is to assume your life is in danger if any trace of this substance touches your lips, and refuse to serve you.

It seems to be all the rage, these days, to claim to be allergic to something. Onions. Bell peppers. Turkey. Wheat. (Wheat is a big one, currently. If you are tired, lack energy, suffer mysterious aches and pains, have digestive troubles—wheat is your culprit. Never mind that bread has been a staple of most human diets practically since we learned to walk upright. Suddenly, wheat is the devil. Sigh! )

If you choose to omit something from your diet, that is your prerogative. Maybe you are lactose intolerant, or maybe you get dire indigestion from onions or bell peppers. Maybe you just don’t like garlic. Perhaps you have decided not to eat wheat or beef or eggs. That is fine. Let us know, and we will do our best to accommodate you.

But, be warned, the minute the word “allergic” comes out of your mouth, you most likely won’t be getting more than a glass of water at my restaurant.

1 comment:

emmapeelDallas said...

Oh Lisa, I LOVE this post, and I so agree with you. Of course, I have a bias; I handle consumer complaints for pharma products for a Fortune 500 company, and people love to say they're "allergic" to anything they don't care for. I think you handled this beautifully.