Dining Out Tip: Choose Higher End
It may be hard if you’re on a tight budget, but choosing more upscale restaurants can often work in your favor. Typically, higher end restaurants hire more experienced chefs and waitstaff. That can pay dividends when it comes to safely preparing meals for those with severe food allergies and intolerances like celiac disease.
One of the worst signs at a restaurant is when I tell a waiter or waitress that I have a severe gluten intolerance and they look at me with a blank stare. Now I’m not saying this has never happened at an upscale establishment, but it occurs much more frequently at lower-priced cafes, diners and pubs. Those places tend to hire more of their waitstaff from the high school/ college pool who may not have knowledge of food-related conditions. That can be problematic when it comes to them communicating the needs of a customer to the kitchen. Likewise, the kitchen workers may not have the training that chefs and sous-chefs in high-end restaurants have. So, they may not know to use separate preparation space, and separate pots and pans when making a dish for a person with celiac disease or a similar allergy or disorder.
Many times how well-trained a restaurant’s staff is can be the difference from getting poisoned or not.
Recently, I decided to try eating at a new bar that had opened up near my house that my brother raved about. They had a roasted vegetable and black bean burger on their menu, which I thought could be gluten free and vegan if I asked for no cheese or bun. They had lots of potentially good sides and salads, too. Before going, I called the bar and spoke with the owner about my needs and my concerns about cross-contamination. He assured me that everything would be fine; that the burger, prepared how I specified, would meet my dietary restrictions and that separate pans and utensils would be used to prevent any gluten-exposure. Our young waitress seemed to understand my concerns and took good notes on my order. My salad came out perfectly, so I had high hopes for my burger. When it arrived, it looked great! Just grilled and served on a bed of spinach. However, as soon as I cut into it, I noticed a white substance on the bottom of the burger. Sure enough, there was feta cheese on it when I flipped it over. I had asked for no feta. So, realizing the kitchen didn’t take the precautions to leave the feta off, I knew I couldn’t trust it was prepared safely either. I sent the burger back. I was repeatedly apologized to and offered another burger, but I no longer trusted the kitchen staff and didn’t want them to bring me anything else.
This example illustrates, no matter how confident the management is, it comes down to the people who take the orders and prepare the food. If they are not well-informed and educated about food allergies and intolerances, mistakes can happen. Fortunately, I caught that one before I got potentially glutened (not all feta is gluten free).
It’s also why I, from my experience, advise choosing more higher end restaurants that have a better likelihood of having a more experienced and trained staff. I understand that’s not an option for everyone, and it’s no guarantee of safety, so do the best you can before selecting where to eat out. It’s one of the reasons I don’t eat out very often.