A significant part of my life every day is reading. I read everything I can find about food allergies and intolerances, restaurants, and any related subject. I read newspapers, glossy magazines and trade journals, medical studies, online e-zines, social media posts, and blog entries – from the most popular to the most obscure. Going through this process helps me become as educated as I can possibly be about food allergies and dining out. It also helps me find great content to share with you via this AllergyEats Blog and our social media pages.
So it was that I came upon a blog which I had never heard of before the end of October. Titled “Food Allergy Gal,” it is written by a woman (Lara) who was diagnosed with food allergies 10 years ago (to 9 foods) and started her own food allergy consulting practice for commercial kitchens 2-1/2 years ago. To quote her background as she shares it: “I love food. Food is the essence of everything wonderful. I hate that I have food allergies. I would do anything to be able to eat everything again. Enjoying one of everything on the menu and sharing with a group of 10 was the way I grew up.“ Lara is one of a rising number of individuals who have developed “adult onset food allergies,” which get less media attention than the staggering number of children with food allergies.
What caught my attention the day I came upon Lara’s blog was a post she had written which I thought was simply awesome, titled “Now taking Reservations Nov 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012. The lunch with Food Allergy Gal Challenge.” It is exactly what it says it is – a challenge to restaurateurs to have lunch with her (“It’s not a bashing session or a public humiliation; it’s just a day in the life of what we [food allergic diners] go through“). The challenge stemmed from her frustration with “so many people in the hospitality industry [being] so ‘not nice’ to me.”
Personally, I have experienced more individuals who were willing to go the extra mile for my food allergic children than those who weren’t accommodating to us, but the genuineness with which Lara expresses her frustration shows she has in fact been much less fortunate in that regard. “I occasionally find some [restaurant staff] who understand. I don’t want to be food allergic, and I’m not trying to be a pain in the neck. I just want to live well, and part of that includes eating out with friends, clients and family. I am basically begging you (restaurant, bakery, catering company) to let me spend my money with you, so please stop saying ‘No!’ and better yet, please stop making me sick. I’d love to come back to your restaurant and know I can eat there safely.” Lara also bemoans the fact that many chain restaurants have allergen guides, gluten free menus, and nutrition info online, but that “everything is very different” when you actually go into the individual restaurant. I can attest to this being the case with some of the poorer AllergyEats rated chains in the country, but on the flip side the best are the best for a reason – they “get it” and are consistent.
So, as Food Allergy Gal put it, “tough times call for drastic measures!” And so it was that she decided to put out the challenge at the top of her blog post which read:
October 29, 2012
To: VP, CEO, Chef or Owner of foodservice
From: Food Allergy Gal
Please let me buy you lunch at your facility.
It doesn’t matter what type of kitchen you have from a grocery store hot meal kitchen, to a restaurant to a hospital. Lunch with me is always, a challenge. Let’s eat out together. It’s an education and enlightenment, not to mention a major challenge. Let me show you how to attract new customers who will be loyal and bring their friends too.
Later, she says about this challenge: “Let me take the chef, the cook, the VP, the server, the manager, the CEO, the COO out to lunch with me at their restaurant and let’s see what happens. It’s like undercover boss… but no one can know what we are actually doing.”
So why the fuss? Lara states her belief that 9 out of 10 restaurateurs have likely never eaten or shopped with a food allergic individual and makes it clear that she is issuing this challenge to help restaurateurs become more aware of what the food allergy community goes through every time we step foot in a restaurant or even contemplate doing so. By accepting her challenge – if any do – Lara hopes they will become more aware and compassionate – and that they’ll also understand the beneficial effects to their business of becoming more accommodating to the food allergy community.
I loved this piece. If nothing else, it certainly caught my eye – and isn’t that half the battle? I don’t know how many restaurateurs will see this challenge and my sense is that none will accept it, but when I stop to think about it – how brilliant would it be for them to say ‘Yes’ to Lara?! First-hand education about what it’s like for customers with food allergies (a valuable potential customer base) to dine out, and an undercover look at how a restaurant’s front-line staff is portraying the restaurant and/or its chain to the public. Restaurateurs pay good money for this kind of feedback elsewhere.
Good luck Lara. I hope to read updates on your blog about who steps up to the challenge.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of Food Allergy Gal’s challenge? Is it: Ingenious? Ridiculous? Effective? Dramatic? Do you think restaurateurs will take her up on the challenge? Should they? What would you do? Please click Comments or Reply below and let us know what you think.
After doing that, please remember to take just a moment to rate any restaurants you’ve recently visited on our core AllergyEats site at www.allergyeats.com or on our free smartphone app. With your support, we have grown at an astounding rate over these first 2-1/2 years, but we have so much further to go. And the more input we receive from you, the more valuable AllergyEats will be for our entire food allergy and intolerance community.