Dining Out with Food Allergies: Perspective on Restaurant Reluctance
A Lifetime of Food Allergies
My son started life with a much longer list of severe food allergies, a list that’s been whittled down to 5 allergens since he was first diagnosed right before he turned 2. Now in his mid-twenties he’s still allergic to eggs, peanuts, and peas, and to the lentils and chickpeas he added in his teens. We’re grateful it’s only 5.
But still, it’s FIVE.
Five that make business lunches, happy hours, and dinners not simple for him. Five that make dashes to the grocery store not simple. Five that make every airplane flight not simple. Five that make family get togethers and holidays not simple. Five that make spur-of-the-moment socializing not simple.
I want to share a recent dose of perspective he gave me from his side of the table at a restaurant.
A Precarious 'Work-Joy' Balance
It was a rare evening out at a restaurant as a family — my husband, my son with food allergies and me. We know the restaurant and they have handled my son’s food allergies well in the past.
Each of us ordered our meal, my son waiting to go last to go through his allergy explanation. The server didn’t initially write the list of allergies down and he asked her to write them down so she wouldn’t forget one. She complied, but not happily. He repeated the list, taking particular care to mention his cross contact concerns.
After the server left to ask the chef (and we were confident his choice would be fine, he’d ordered it before, the restaurant had safely accommodated him before) he said,
“This is why I don’t like to eat out. I don’t like to make such a big deal about my food allergies and have so much attention paid to me and my needs. I’d just rather not eat out because it’s a hassle...”
He also took a pass on a side dish we ordered because he hadn’t vetted it in his first go round with the server. He preferred to forgo a dish he would have really enjoyed (and he was hungry, too) rather than have a Round 2 allergy conversation with the server.
Eating out safely with food allergies takes effort. I can see this. I know this after 23 years of food allergy parenting.
I feel his frustration, his tiredness with the whole deal. Deeply.
From his perspective the joy of a shared meal out with family (& friends), even with wallet cards and digital tools at his fingertips, does not offset the ‘chore’ of communicating his food allergy needs to ensure his food will be safe. It does not offset the niggle of worry that the kitchen might make a mistake.
It's just the way it is.
I’m so grateful when he agrees to go out with us to a restaurant because I am ever mindful it’s more ‘work’ for him. Less joy.
“Often it isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out,
it's the little pebble in your shoe.”
– Muhammad Ali
About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and raced to the ER. Her professional and personal experiences fuel her passion for creating tools for people with food allergies. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat
Image: Charlie Firth on Unsplash