When dining out, Americans with food allergies can find restaurant visits stressful, if not hazardous. Cross-contamination, uninformed servers or mixed-up orders can easily turn a dinner date into a fiasco involving EpiPen and ambulance.
The good news? Many restaurants are taking steps to accommodate America’s 12 million diners who have food allergies. Consumers can make informed decisions, whether they’re sensitive to shellfish or have celiac disease, a condition in which the body cannot process gluten.
“There have never been more tools available to the consumer with food allergies to access health information and to act on what they find,” said Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. Levario, on behalf of UNO Chicago Grill, offers the following tips to help consumers enjoy safe and healthy restaurant meals:
– Research your options online before you come in. Responsible chains put menu information online. For example, UNO presents detailed health information, including notes about its gluten-free dishes, on its Web site, www.unos.com. If a restaurant doesn’t post nutrition and ingredient information online, try calling ahead to speak to a manager.
– Take advantage of posted information. Many restaurants offer nutritional information through lobby kiosks. Other establishments may have pamphlets that they can provide upon request.
– Alert your server. A good server will make your experience his top priority — he will want to ensure that you have an enjoyable, safe meal. Tell your server about your specific allergies, and ask him to communicate your needs to the kitchen.
– Ask the manager for special accommodations. Managers should personally check special-needs orders, adding another safety-control measure to your meal.
“Dining establishments are growing in their understanding of food allergies and other customer health needs — some in response to new laws, some voluntarily like UNO,” said Levario. “I believe these activities are an example of a very positive health-consciousness trend within the restaurant industry.”