Tuesday, March 15, 2011

please inform your server of all dietary concerns (real or imagined)

Are you allergic?  I mean really allergic?  Is there some kind of food that even if its nearby will send you into anaphylaxis?  Your wind pipe immediately closes, your lips/tongue/throat swell to twice their normal size and you break out in hives from head to toe - the only thing that will save your life is an epi-pen and an ambulance to the hospital.  If so please leave the restaurant, it's really not safe.

For everyone else, call ahead!

First off, there is something that people with allergies should know - particularly for the more severe allergens (nuts, shellfish, gluten) TELL YOUR SERVER!  This should happen prior to ordering/consuming your dinner (preferably when you make your reservation).  A chef certainly does not detail every ingredient that he puts into a dish, and most cooks don't know what ingredients are in the pre-packaged foods they serve you.  Do not dive into your tasty looking dessert and when you get to the oh-so-delicious crunchy centre, turn to your server and ask "Are there nuts in this?".  Even if the answer is no, there are probably nuts somewhere in the kitchen, those nuts were possibly on the cutting board that your over ambitious apprentice chef just chiffonaded that lovely mint garnish on.

However, if it's not really an allergy, don't pretend!  You'll probably end up missing out on something delicious.  For example: stocks are used as the base to most sauces found in a restaurant and stocks are made with onions.  So if consuming an entire raw onion causes a little unseemly late night flatulence, then tell your server that you "don't much care for onions - but it's not an allergy".  This will allow the server to properly communicate with the kitchen - they will remove all large quantities of onion but you will still get the red wine demi-glace that makes your prime rib so wonderful.

Be an informed guest.  If you are allergic to an onion then it is likely you must also avoid shallots, leeks, garlic, chives and scallions.  With a 'nut' allergy, there is often a significant difference between legumes (peanuts) and tree nuts (walnuts/almonds/cashews/hazelnuts/pecans/macadamia nuts/chestnuts/pine nuts/pistachios).  Does your shellfish allergy include both crustaceans (shrimp/crab/lobster) and mollusks (clams/mussels/oysters/scallops), or just one set or the other?  Have celiac disease?  Don't assume you know what to look for, there could be Guinness in your ice cream, or your pork ribs could have Ale in the the BBQ sauce!  And don't forget, if you say you're allergic to dairy that can include butter, goat/sheep/cow cheeses, yoghurt.

In short, information is key, no server wants to be responsible for someones untimely demise, but the more often the word 'allergy' gets thrown around, the less we believe you. Stop crying wolf!

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