When outside your safe bubble (peanut example):
1) have an angel with you if at all possible, it makes it so much easier
If you don’t have an angel, but have a friend or someone sympathetic to your situation it 10x more stressful. Even So, if you screw up their meal experience, they aren’t going to want to eat with you again. Trust me, it’s true, it’s happened to me. This is when you learn who your real friends are.
If you are at a business dinner it is 100x more stressful.
If you have a business dinner in a foreign country it is 1000x more stressful.
If you have a business dinner in a foreign country where english is not the primary language it is 10000x more stressful.
2) pick a restaurant, based on how adventurous you are feeling:
a. Not very –> go to a safe national chain that you’ve eaten at before, like fast food, or Pizza
b. A little –> steakhouse, Italian
c. Moderate –> Mexican,
d. Very –> Something else that I’m not familiar with
e. Suicidal –> Chinese, Thai. (Just kidding, I never eat here. If invited I decline to go, even to a business dinner.)
3) read the menu outside, if it seems ok go in
4) try to get away from the door and near the kitchen if possible
5) breath –> do you smell/sense any sinus reaction? If not, stay, if so, leave.
Unless you can talk directly to either the owner or cook don’t bother asking about allergies
6) Get seated, don’t touch anything if this is a wipe down establishment, except the menu
7) read the entire menu in detail, it might not be the same as the one posted outside
8) look for the specials
9) you are looking to see if there is ANY indication there are peanuts in the kitchen
10) If you see there are any peanuts on the menu or in the kitchen then make sure you order first (most restaurants will customarily want to serve the ladies first) and start with the cross contamination question below.
If there is no reason to think there are peanuts in the kitchen let everyone else order first. The waiter has now invested time in serving your party and will not want to screw up by the time they get to you. Make sure you are dining with people who are not difficult. You should have the most difficult order that they need to take care of and you should be exceptionally nice to them.
If the waiter wants to take your order across the table I usually ask them to come closer. I’m old enough to feign a hearing problem.
“I am deathly allergic to peanuts and I read your menu and it looks like you have no peanuts in the kitchen. Can you confirm that?” If the waiter doesn’t have an immediate answer and has to check then follow up with the second and third question before they go:
#2 “and please check on peanut oil also”
#3 “and I also also allergic to , but it won’t kill me. Please check on those also.”
make sure they write it down before they leave, and then say: “You are going to talk directly to the cook, right?”
In my more recent experience the waiter USUALLY has a very clear understanding of these issues and can address the questions on the spot, indicating the restaurant has a clear policy on the matter, in which case if there are no peanuts on the menu there usually aren’t any in the kitchen.
It’s important to feel that the waiter is confident in what they are telling you. Look them straight in the eye and if for a moment you think they don’t know either ask them to ask the cook for you, or ask to speak to the owner, or ask to speak to the cook directly. A good waiter would never want you to circumvent them, so they should be very responsive at this point. The second worst thing that could happen now is for the entire party to leave, the worst that could happen is that you have an allergic reaction since you were explicitly clear to them and you have a bunch of witnesses.
If after all this it looks like from the menu there are no peanuts, but it turns out that there actually are then you should ask to talk to the manager on duty or the owner regarding this hazard and the implications on whether or not you stay. Explain the situation and that it would be helpful to you and people like you if the menu could be more explicit. [This has not happened to me recently, but it used to a lot.]
At this point if your anxiety will prevent you from enjoying the meal thank the waiter and leave. If you think you might want to stay then go to the cross contamination questions below.
” I see you have dish(es) with peanuts. I am deathly allergic to peanuts. How well does your kitchen manage cross contamination?”
If in a Mexican or BBQ restaurant:
” I am deathly allergic to peanuts. Does your mole, enchilada or BBQ sauce have peanuts in it? ”
— Northern Mexican style – probably Yes
— Southern Mexican style – Probably No
— >> If yes, follow up with the cross contamination question.
If you are satisfied with the response then ask about peanut oil and inform the waiter about all other non-ANA food allergies and ask if those will be a problem.
If you are satisfied with all the answers and even if you completely trust what they are telling you it is still OK to leave if you aren’t going to enjoy the meal. If you decide you are still ok with eating in a restaurant with peanuts then indicate the others at the table can order. This will give you time to de-stress and decide what you want. Take a deep breath and try to relax, you’ve passed the first gauntlet.
The last time I chose to stay in a restaurant with peanuts in it we had a fantastic meal and no one at our table ordered food with peanuts, but unfortunately the adjacent table did. I had a few bites before they were served, but I am not able to bring myself to eat anything if I can smell peanuts, so, because I had grilled the waiter and they had passed my test I thought it would be unreasonable for me to make a stink about it. I was there, it was my choice, I knew the risk. I didn’t finish my meal and went outside to get some fresh air. Lesson learned. Had this been a business dinner I probably would have stayed and had the waiter clear my plate. Sitting there and not eating the food in front of you makes your fellow diners uneasy.
Now, time to order.
You cannot order ANYTHING that is deep fried, you have no idea what else went in that fryer. Choose a meal that is the most bland and safest option on the menu, Ask for all sauces and dressings on the side. The waiter will look at you like you are nuts, like “you just gave me the 3rd degree over the menu and kitchen and you’re ordering that??” And when you are done ordering, remind them that it is a very serious allergy.
When they bring you your food the server should repeat back everything special about the order, or give some sort of blanket guarantee that they double checked with the cook and there are no allergens in your meal.
Now, to eat.
If by chance anyone else has ordered what you ordered wait for them to eat first and assess whether or not the food is safe. If you have any concern about your own food ask the angel to taste test for you.
Start with the sauces and dressings, dip one tine of your fork in the sauce and dab it on your lip. Depending on your sensitivity to the allergen wait long enough before doing the next.
Decide which item you want to eat first and break off a tiny piece, chew, but don’t swallow (I usually start with the steamed vegetables.) Hold it in your mouth long enough to determine if it is safe, if not, or if there is any question, cough or sneeze into your napkin and SPIT IT OUT. If you have any concern ask your angel to taste test for you
Because of my prior experience and belief that a full stomach will delay onset of a reaction I’m in the habit of eating all of one item at a time, starting with the safest. Never mix, and pause between items long enough to ensure there is no reaction.
I do all this very discretely and no one can tell, except my angels, if someone asks me if I don’t like the food they also run interference for me.
After completing the main courses successfully and feeling at ease
you may be tempted to eat dessert. WHAT, ARE YOU NUTS?? Dessert is the most dangerous item on the menu! Usually from an outside bakery. Don’t tempt fate. You had a good outcome, don’t screw up now.
If your waiter took good care of you tip them AT LEAST 20%. If you aren’t paying the bill then slip them some cash for taking care of you.
This whole experience is merely a trial run for the next time you come back here to order what you really want.
I am, just thinking about it, but you still have the burden of deciding if this restaurant is any closer to moving into your safe bubble.
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