26 Jul 2021
How to Find a Restaurant When You Have Dietary Restrictions
26 Jul 2021
We all know the struggle. You’ve got a hot date lined up or you’re planning a fun night out with friends. Food plays a central role in our social lives, so you probably want to share a delicious meal with your romantic interest or buddies. But if you have a dietary restriction, you need to be careful about which restaurant you choose. Choosing the wrong restaurant or menu item could trigger symptoms, ruining the evening and likely the following days as well. It can be hard to know which place to choose when you want to dine out or order delivery. Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered on how to find a restaurant when you have dietary restrictions. Also, be sure to read to the end of this post because I’ve got an exciting new app to share with you that does all the steps below for you!
Here are my top tips on how to choose restaurants and dishes that won’t trigger symptoms
1 . Do some sleuthing online.
Once you know which restaurants in your area you’re interested in, check out their websites.
- Some restaurants have an allergen chart on their site, often in PDF format. The chart will have each of the menu items along the side, with allergens along the top. The list of allergens will include the most common food allergens (also called “priority allergens”): peanuts, crustaceans & mollusks, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree nuts, wheat & triticale. Many food allergen charts also include gluten in their list. You can go through the chart to look for items that do not have check marks in the categories you are allergic/sensitive to.
- Take a look at the menu. The descriptions of each dish will include the main ingredients. This will help you to see what options might be available to you. However, depending on the severity of your dietary restrictions, you may have to consider the risk of cross-contamination as well (ex: celiac disease, nut allergy). In that case, if the restaurant you’re interested in serves many dishes that contain the ingredient you’re sensitive to, it’s not likely to be a good choice. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination from using shared preparation spaces, utensils, and appliances, choose a restaurant where there are very few dishes that contain the ingredient of concern. If you need to keep cross-contamination in mind, buffets are also not a safe option. Customers often absent-mindedly use the same serving utensil for multiple dishes, which can contaminate a dish that would otherwise be safe.
- Look for indicators that the restaurant accommodates customers with dietary restrictions. Some restaurants have a statement on the website (often on their menu page) about their willingness to cater to their customers’ dietary needs. You can also check out the reviews of the establishment. Restaurants that are rated highly in the area of customer service are more likely to be accommodating.
2. When you’ve identified a good candidate, give the restaurant a call.
- Call outside of the lunch and dinner rush so that the staff member you speak to is not too distracted or overwhelmed to answer your questions. It’s also a good idea, once you’ve selected a restaurant, to dine outside of peak hours as well. This will make it easier to clearly communicate with your server and the kitchen staff will be less likely to make mistakes with your order.
- Let the person you’re talking with know that you are interested in dining at their restaurant, but you have x, y, z dietary restrictions and want to see if they have any options that are safe for you. If the staff member does not take the time to answer your question or inquire about your restriction to the kitchen staff, that’s a big red flag! Choose a restaurant where the staff has knowledge of food allergies and the ingredients of their dishes.
- If relevant, ask some questions relating to cross-contamination. As a hypothetical example, if you have a fish allergy and are interested in ordering a burger with fries, ask whether the fish sticks are made in the same fryer as the fries. As another example, if you have celiac disease, ask if the same utensils are used to make the regular and gluten free sandwiches.
3. Communicate with staff
After collecting all the information above, you’ll be ready to pick the restaurant that best suits your needs. When you get there, be sure to maintain clear communication with the staff. There’s no need to feel guilt or shame for asking questions or making special requests. Your health and well-being is important. If you’re very anxious about making your dietary needs known, ask a friend, family member, or romantic partner if they can ask your server some questions on your behalf.
- Before you place your order, inform your server of your dietary restrictions and their level of severity.
- Let them know that you called ahead of time and the person you spoke with let you know which dishes you would be able to order. Ask your server if they could please verify with the kitchen staff if those dishes are safe for you to eat. The kitchen staff will know the ingredients and preparation methods of those dishes, and should know if the menu items are safe options. Once you’ve had your options confirmed, place your order.
- When your order arrives, confirm with your server that it’s the correct dish. For example, “Just checking that this is the gluten free version of the Mediterranean pizza?”
- Remember that manners go a long way. Thank your server for being so helpful!
If at any step of the process you feel your needs are going unheard, you have every right to send your food back or leave to go to a different restaurant!
There’s an App for That!
There’s a steep learning curve to figuring out how to dine out with dietary restrictions. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out about trying to figure this thing out on your own, don’t despair! It turns out that there’s an app that was made exactly for people like us: Honeycomb.ai.
This app was designed specifically for people with dietary restrictions to help them find suitable restaurant options in their area. Since I myself have celiac disease, I tend to write content online for people with dietary restrictions. Also, being a dietitian, I see many clients in my practice with various dietary restrictions. The developers of Honeycomb.ai asked me to join their partners team. They gave me a one-on-one demo of their app and let me tell you – it’s awesome! I have already registered for the app and I’m encouraging everyone I know to do the same.
You can find out more about Honeycomb.ai here:
The Honeycomb.ai app covers many types of diets:
– gluten free (non-celiac)
– and many more!
The app developers have partnered up with restaurants in all major cities in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. They have verified the recipes and cooking practices in all these restaurants so you can get vetted menu options that are safe for your specific needs. There are also lots of awesome functions of the app. It links directly to major delivery services such as UberEats and Doordash. There also a Group Mode that you can use to find the perfect place that fits the needs for everyone in your group.
Honeycomb.ai will be launching in September. However, you can register now to check out the beta version of the app before the launch. By registering now, you get the opportunity to pay a one-time fee of $17 for a lifetime subscription to the app. After the app launches in September 2021 this deal will no longer be available and subscribers will have to pay $6 per month to use the app. Take advantage of this deal now so you can always find the best restaurant options for you, no matter where you go!
If you are looking for additional support when it comes to dietary restrictions and nutrition, a dietitian can assist you! Book a meet and greet with me today at Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph.
-Karissa Giraldi, Registered Dietitian
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