I have intolerances, how do I eat out?
Of course there are some restaurants or cafes that either refuse to adapt. Some may not acknowledge or recognise the wide variety of intolerances or allergies people deal with daily. It is often a process of educating café and restaurant owners about allergies and intolerances, and at the start that can seem really daunting, especially when you’re hangry!
We understand that it can feel uncomfortable asking questions about the menu, that you may feel like you’re being ‘difficult’ or a burden to the waiter. It is important to note you should not feel ashamed. You should not feel embarrassed. You are doing the best you can in living with your allergies and intolerances, and you’re making healthy choices with the food you eat and the food you avoid. At the end of the day, you are paying for a service and simply need to grow your confidence about asking questions to ensure you don’t get sick or sit in discomfort for the whole night. Food is life and you want to enjoy eating out, no matter if you have 1 intolerance or 50!
Here are some handy tips to squash your fear and replace it with rock solid confidence to speak to any waiter, barista or food truck server!
1- Call Ahead
This is a quick, simple, effective method you can do to alleviate the pressure beforehand. By ringing up the place and asking if they cater for your specific intolerances or dietary requirements you can feel at ease when you are there. You then know you do not have to worry about ’trying’ to find something that is friendly to you or opting for (drumroll please) yet another side-salad-as-main-course. Look we all love a salad, but without the dressing and added ingredients they don’t seem as fun or interesting.
2- Make the Suggestion
Do you have a go-to restaurant you know that caters to your dietary requirements? A place where you know the service is amazing and they don’t make you feel like a burden when asking questions about the menu? Making the suggestion for dinner dates can alleviate the fear or worry about whether a restaurant can cater to your needs. If you have a go-to place and know the food is of a high standard, the staff are friendly and they go out of their way to accommodate you, why wouldn’t you go support them?
3- Eat Simple
If you like a dish full body in flavour and spices, it may be useful to note that some of those flavours have hidden ingredients in them that may step outside of your dietary requirements. A lot of flavorsome dishes have various dressings that can have hidden gluten, soy and dairy in them. If you are unsure, opt for the simpler dish or ask for the dressing on the side so you can see if it will upset your stomach or if you want to pose the risk of trying it. The control is back in your hands and you can decide what you want to do (no judgment on our end if sometimes you give in or want to deal with the pain later… we have all been there).
4- Always Take Your EpiPen with You
Sometimes we can be guilty of forgetting to take our EpiPens with us. We think, “No I won’t need it. I will be ok. What is the worst thing that could happen?” Having an allergy means we must own our actions and be aware of the protocols we must take to look after ourselves and those around us. It is our responsibility to treat our allergy with importance and not put ourselves in danger or create potentially scary situations for people around us if something were to happen and we did not have our EpiPen. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed about the allergy that you have. It is not your fault. Treat this with importance, take it on board and take it seriously to ensure you look after yourself and those around you. So next time you leave the house, remember your little partner in crime aka your EpiPen. It always has your back. 😉
5- Own Your Allergy. Own Your Intolerance.
Do not feel embarrassed about your allergy or intolerance. OWN IT. You cannot get rid of it (in most cases) so you need to learn to accept and respect it. It is a part of you, and we can guarantee it will teach you a lot in life.
There is a period of denial or avoidance that most people in our community go through. Some people even LIKE their intolerance now because it kickstarted a healthier lifestyle for them. Others have gone on to study nutrition and health – not just seeing the silver lining in a diagnosis, but truly unlocking a brand-new life that all started with OWNING their intolerance.
6- If Staff Are Not Taking You Seriously, Say You Have an Allergy
Sometimes when you mention an intolerance to a waiter, they do not take you seriously. They think “it’s not life or death” or “it’s just a preference” and may not treat it with as high importance than if you were to say you had an allergy. A little handy tip to avoid confusion or worry is to say you have an allergy to the ingredient/s you are intolerant to, in order to ensure your food will come without it. It may seem a little cheeky, but in the interest of clear communication it’s a quick food ordering hack.
7- Plan Ahead
Technology has become our best friend. A little tip is too scope out the menu online to ensure you are across what they offer and that they can accommodate to your needs. Head over to Instagram to look at their presentation and food quality (warning this may result in 🤤…) Look at reviews online and see if others have mentioned anything about accommodating to intolerances or allergies.
8- Touch Test
If you are skeptical of a dish that is presented to you, trust your intuition. Sometimes waiters forget things and despite them reassuring you they have accommodated to your dietary requirements; something could have happened in the interim. Use the touch test as an added safety check. Put a small amount of the food on your outer lip. If you get a tingling, swelling, burning or chilli-like feeling — it is safer not to eat that food. The touch test does not guarantee that food is safe, however, it is an extra check you can use.
9- Safe Snacks
Sometimes despite the amount of prior research we do, restaurants can change their menus without having time to upload or communicate to their community. Our suggestion is to take safe snacks with you, just in case you find your options are limited or eat something prior to your reservation to avoid taking a risk later on due to hunger cravings bypassing you (no one needs a hangry person…)
10- Chef Cards
Chef cards are a handy tool to have when you want to communicate in a concise way to the chef. Sometimes we don’t want to feel like a burden or the message from the waiter to the chef is not passed on correctly (haven’t you ever played Chinese whispers before? Sentences can easily be mixed up). Take personalised chef cards that you can pass onto the chef explaining your food allergy and the need to be cautious. Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia has chef cards you can print off or order online.
11- Reporting Reaction
If you have an allergic reaction to a food after checking the ingredients list, it’s important to report your reaction to protect others and avoid someone else experiencing this. After you have managed your reaction and recovered, you should report the reaction to the health department. Information about who to contact can be found here.
Remember, you are not alone. We understand that you may feel apprehensive about how to live with your intolerances and allergies. There is no reason to feel embarrassed about taking steps to ensure you live a happy, healthy life. Join our FFACOMMUNITY to interact with others who may have similar experiences to you and share resources, lessons learned and support one another. We are all on this journey together.
For more tips, check out Luke Mangan’s video on how best to prepare for eating around Christmas time.