[This AllergyEats Blog post written by Adrienne Walkowiak].
A year ago, I blogged about my horrendous dining experience at Applebee’s (http://www.allergyeats.com/blog/index.php/guest-post-applebees-disappoints), explaining that the staff at my local New Hampshire restaurant were completely uneducated about accommodating guests with food allergies. It was absolutely the worst restaurant experience I’d ever had… until last Friday night’s dinner at IHOP.
I’ve never been to IHOP before in my life. Knowing that they specialize in breakfast foods, I always assumed it wouldn’t be the best place for me to eat, given my dairy allergy. But my stepfather requested IHOP for his 70th birthday dinner, so we gave it a try. I found the link to IHOP’s menu on AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com), and was somewhat reassured to see some “traditional” meal options, along with the bevy of dairy-centric breakfast choices, which I knew I couldn’t eat.
Our perky waitress came over and took everyone else’s order first. When I explained about my dairy allergy, she looked confused. I asked some questions about how various menu items are prepared, and the waitress said she had no idea. Not the reassuring attitude I was hoping for. And she didn’t offer to check with the chef or call over a manager to speak with me directly about my special food requirements, as more accommodating restaurants tend to do.
I requested a plain turkey sandwich and asked her to double-check that they had a non-dairy bread option. She told me, unapologetically, that there was NOTHING non-dairy on the entire menu. At this point, I would have ordinarily walked out of the restaurant and never looked back, but my stepfather really wanted to stay. So, I asked if they could prepare a plain garden salad for my meal – with no cheese or croutons – and with oil and vinegar on the side. The server said she would “try” to get the chef to agree to that.
I waited anxiously for our meals to arrive – and when I received my dinner, I was outraged! My “garden salad” was a torn up piece of iceberg lettuce on a tiny coffee saucer with three little cucumber slices on top. The waitress told me that she “couldn’t find” the oil and vinegar, so she brought me a lemon wedge to squeeze on top. I’m shocked that any restaurant would be so unaccommodating and unapologetic and that they’d actually serve that tiny, unappeling “meal” to a guest.
I understand that I can’t have IHOP’s pancakes, French toast or waffles, and that the eggs are made on a griddle coated with butter. I wasn’t asking for any of those options to be specially made for me. (Although in many restaurants, they’d offer to make my eggs in a clean pan or suggest other options that could be made dairy-free.) What I was expecting, however, was for the restaurant staff to be more accommodating and to be willing to provide a decent, tasty meal that I could comfortably eat. It’s disappointing that they couldn’t even provide a plain sandwich, and even more upsetting to learn that they wouldn’t even make a decent attempt to prepare a dinner-sized salad that was more than a scrap of lettuce and three sad little cucumber slices. I was even more enraged when the server couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find me oil and vinegar to dress my pathetic little salad.
When I got home that evening, the first thing I did was make myself a sandwich because I was starving. Then I gave IHOP a dismal rating on AllergyEats. Finally, I emailed Paul at AllergyEats to see if he would be interested in this blog post and he stunned me by informing me that IHOP and Applebee’s are both owned by the same parent company, DineEquity! After my horrible experience at Applebee’s a year ago, Paul invited Applebee’s leadership to participate in a friendly dialogue about improving their food allergy protocols and becoming more accommodating to the food allergy community. His pro-active efforts to engage them in a productive conversation were (and continue to be) “frustrating.” An Applebee’s spokesperson maintained that they had “enough” of a food allergy policy because they had an allergen list on their website. Paul insisted – and I wholeheartedly agree – that they needed to dive deeper into this issue, properly training their staff about food allergy protocols and cross-contamination at all restaurants in their chain.
It’s frustrating and disheartening to learn that my experience at Applebee’s wasn’t just a fluke. It’s a widespread problem that crosses over into their “sister” restaurant chain, IHOP, as well. We’ve heard from a large number of folks within the AllergyEats community, all sharing similar stories about Applebee’s poorly trained servers, uneducated managers and unacceptable attitudes about accommodating food-allergic guests. Now, it’s even more upsetting to realize that it’s a far bigger problem that involves two enormous (and related) restaurant chains – Applebee’s and IHOP – and their parent company, DineEquity, Inc. I just can’t fathom how two of our country’s biggest restaurant chains can be so close-minded to such an important issue.
[Paul's notes: 1) Applebee's and IHOP are DineEquity's only restaurant holdings. 2) Applebee's has a horrible 2.48 (out of 5.0) AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating. 3) Even worse, IHOP has an almost unheard of 2.00 AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating!!!]
So, what say YOU? Have you had similarly disturbing experiences at IHOP? Does it anger you that a chain of their size doesn’t view accommodating food-allergic guests as an issue of importance (or even a moral obligation)? Should we reach out to IHOP to address our concerns? Please share your thoughts and experiences by clicking on Comments or Reply below.
And please remember to rate all your recent restaurant experiences on our core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) or on our NEW ALLERGYEATS APP for iPhone and Droid (download available on iTunes app store, Android market, or via link from AllergyEats main site). Every new rating you add makes AllergyEats an even stronger tool for our food allergy and intolerance community… and it gives us a greater voice in advocacy as well (demonstrated again in my progress with a governmental body).