Do you have reservations? Not just a table waiting for you at your chosen restaurant, but possible concerns about dining out? Does the establishment cater to your needs? Is it going to be a huge hassle to ask for your dishes to be modified so they are safe for you to eat?
If in doubt, ask. I always make note of my special needs, due to allergies and sensitivities when I make a reservation, giving the restaurant an opportunity to be prepared for what I require or to be honest with me, that they can’t serve me. Knowing beforehand is so much simpler.
What if you are invited to join others at a restaurant you are unfamiliar with? First, take a look at their menu on line. Does it appear to contain dishes that are safe for you, or could be easily modified? Next, give the restaurant a call. Discuss your specifics. This should give you the information you both need to create a safe environment. I have encountered times when the person on the phone, really didn’t have clear answers for me. Your next option is to stop by the restaurant to chat before the day of the event. If you don’t have the opportunity to do that, try to get there before the rest of the party is due. If possible, speak to the server that will be waiting on your table. Explain what you need. She/He will potentially know the menu and preparation well enough to guide you. If not, a good server will find someone in the kitchen to talk to about your needs and give you some insight on how to best order. Keep in mind, this is potentially a BUSY restaurant. The Chef and his staff really don’t have time to do this, so be very gracious!
I prefer to have chits with me to share with the server and kitchen. This would be a small card with concise information regarding the ingredients I can not ingest. With some ingredients, it is a good idea to list potential locations in the cooking process that that ingredient might be lurking.
Unless you visit a specific restaurant a great deal and they truly know you and your allergies, you will always need to make the proper inquiries. Kitchens make changes all the time. There could be a new Chef running things or the existing Chef could easily have changed brands on a base ingredient. The dishes don’t necessary look or taste different, but could contain something that will be disastrous for you.
I am seeing a profound change in Seattle regarding this subject. Not only are restaurants opening to offer menus free of specific allergens, but most are really listening and trying to help. You will always run the risk of encountering individuals that simply don’t care or think you are ‘just another customer that claims allergy, when they simply don’t like an ingredient’. You need to remain aware, be patient, knowledgeable, prepared and gracious. Communicate and make it easy for the staff. Above all, they are there to help make your visit a positive experience.