I had the chance over this Thanksgiving holiday to discuss with a family member (who is a waiter at a very trendy and upscale restaurant) what he really thinks about those of us who have food allergies. He saw me bringing in containers of food that contained my gluten free, dairy free, egg free, nightshade free and shellfish free Thanksgiving dinner. I explained to him that I had prepared my very own feast the day before knowing that there would probably not be anything I could eat at my mother-in-law's house due to my insane amount of food allergies. I even brined and cooked my own organic non-gmo turkey! Here is what he had to say:
Relative: Don't even get me started on the whole "food allergy thing". If one more person orders a meal, then changes the entire way it is prepared and what sides go with it...I am just going to tell them TO GO HOME! We have this lady who orders our grilled chicken strips, green beans and mashed potato dinner. She has the nerve to tell me to relay to the chef that she wants the chicken sauteed only in olive oil (extra virgin if you please), switch the potatoes to broccoli, replace the green beans with a salad (no croutons or cheese) AND make sure the meal is prepared 100% gluten free and is Paleo approved. I mean SERIOUSLY if your dietary needs are that complicated, do me a solid and STAY HOME! I know she doesn't really have food allergies...she just says she does so we will make her food that way she wants it...it totally pisses me off!
(After his rant, he seemed to remember that I was in the room and nervously looked at me and said "Your situation is different because I know for sure that you have food allergies".)
For once in my life, I was speechless. I couldn't decide if he was totally insensitive and clueless or totally justified for being frustrated with such a needy customer. I recently owned a restaurant and we offered gluten free options. We were ready and willing to accommodate those with dietary restrictions...to a certain point. There are only a few restaurants that I will eat at because I know they are able to accommodate my dietary needs without an attitude. But what if a restaurant is up front about not be able to safely accommodate food allergy requests? I personally do not even go into a restaurant that I can't eat at safely. For example, if my other family members want to eat at a seafood restaurant that specializes in fried food (no GF options offered and major cross contamination) then guess what I do? I. Stay. Home.
My relative said that the chef made the meal as specified and he (the waiter) brought the meal out to the table with a smile on his face. He and the chef always make comments about what a "pain in the ass" this customer is (behind her back of course) but they do in fact accommodate her. But what about the rest of us? I can't decide how I feel about the comments made by my relative. I can see both sides of the conversation. Having food allergies, I would like all restaurants to accommodate my dietary restrictions, but I also know how unrealistic that request is due to the fact that I owned a restaurant. I know from personal experience how difficult and expensive it can be to separate a space in your kitchen to ensure safe food preparations.
In the end, it was a very enlightening conversation. I have read the complaints from waiter/waitresses about serving customers with food allergies on other websites. This was the first time that I had an opportunity to speak to a waiter in person and hear his honest opinion.