Since food allergies affect 2-4% of adults and twice as many children, servers at restaurants can bet that people with food allergies are their customers every day. While a restaurant should train its staff on the contents of the food as well as how to handle an allergic reaction, it is always best for the customer to take responsibility for finding out what’s in the food. It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you.

Do research in advance

If you have a severe food allergy, the kind where even smelling the allergen will cause a reaction, check out the restaurant menus online and/or call the restaurant to find out if your trigger is being served there. It’s best to do both. Be sure to ask about a daily special that may not be listed online.

Do they prepare their own food?

If food is prepared fresh, from scratch, then the chef and management controls the ingredients of the food. If food is purchased prepared or from a commissary, then there is less control and very likely less knowledge about its contents. You can have more confidence in the answers you’ll get to questions in a restaurant like this. If your server is not sure, he can always ask the chef and get an immediate and correct answer.

Make sure your server understands your questions

In many ethnic restaurants, the authentic cuisine comes from native owners. They may speak English well enough to serve average people who are there to enjoy exotic food, but they may not understand your need to know ingredients or the threat of an allergic episode. In an attempt to please, they may nod and agree without understanding the consequences. Make sure your questions are understood.

In any case, trust your instincts. If you think you’re not getting an honest answer, if you don’t think they understand your question, if they have no idea . . . . go somewhere else. There are many fabulous restaurant choices – find one you can work with.

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