Last night I went out on a date to an Italian restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island on Federal Hill called Constantino's. Not only was it an aesthetic atmosphere with an open outdoor patio alongside the room we were seated in, and live music outside, but the restaurant was able to accommodate my food allergies without any problems. Since I didn't know the restaurant, I called the day before to make sure they would accommodate my allergies. I didn't want to arrive at the restaurant, and find out they wouldn't serve me. This is why calling ahead is always a good idea! That way, if they won't accommodate allergies, I can make different arrangements ahead of time, and not go through the process of being turned down. They assured me over the phone that I would definitely be able to eat, and told me to make sure I told my server about my allergies (of course).
Looking through the menu, it appeared there was a wide selection of dishes that were more than likely safe for me to eat. There was a note running across the bottom of the menu that said to tell the server if you have any food allergies, so that they can accommodate your needs. I appreciate when restaurants do this, because it shows they recognize food allergies, and have at least some knowledge about them. They will also more than likely be willing to help you find a dish that is allergen free.
I ended up deciding on a pasta primevera dish that was excellent, with homemade pasta, veggies, and a light wine cream sauce. When I told the server what I wanted, I said, "I am allergic to all tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and potatoes, and would like to order the pasta primevera. Here is a card with all my allergies on it to give to the chef." When the server came back a few minutes later to tell me that the dish would be fine, he said, "You don't know how much the chef and I really appreciate this card. We often have people come in, and they list off foods they can't eat, and it makes it much more difficult. It is so nice to have it all written down." This reinforces my point, that chef cards are not only easier on the allergic reactor, but also on the restaurant staff. It is also a more effective way to get the point across that food allergies are serious, and there is a meaning to what is said, not just to add more work to an already full plate for a server.
Going out to dinner in social situations can always be a challenge. Depending on the situation, there are a few different ways I handle it. If I know the restaurant I am going to does not accommodate allergies, or is at a high risk for cross contamination, I usually eat ahead of time, then sit and have a drink while everyone else is eating. For example, a few weeks ago I met some girl friends at a Mexican restaurant for dinner and drinks. I decided to eat ahead of time because I had been out to eat pretty often recently, and was a bit exhausted from dealing with my allergies. I thought it would be easiest on me to just eat ahead of time. I also could have called and asked before going there, but most Mexican restaurants use nuts, so I decided not to take the risk, and to eat ahead instead.
Coming up: more examples of eating out scenarios...