Applebee’s contacts us directly – a good sign

Thanks to the amazing show of support our members and Facebook fans demonstrated after our last blog post (Applebee’s responds to criticisms in AllergyEats Blog post… weakly!), Applebee’s decided to proactively initiate a phone conversation with me.  This call was greatly appreciated and, in my opinion, a step in the right direction for all of us.

Late Wednesday, I spoke to the Executive Director of Communications.  Let me say in advance that this call wasn’t the last – we’ve decided to follow-up next week.

In any case, the main message she wanted to emphasize was that Applebee’s had in fact added allergen info to their website last April.  (You can find it on this page of their site – bottom left.)  The decision to add this info was driven by an increasing number of calls from guests demanding it.  The process took quite a bit of time as they had to check with every vendor on every food product brought into the restaurants and then had to work with their nutritionists to organize this list, showing which menu items are safe for individuals with each specific food allergy.  She did state what a lot of our readers said in their comments – this list is constantly changing as their menu does, so it needs to be centrally managed.  Given that, she admitted that they might need to remind restaurants to print out the list more often and keep it readily available.  The problem as I see it, however, is that restaurant managers are currently not informed when the list changes; thus, the list they have on hand may already be obsolete… and this can be dangerous.  Applebee’s should find a way to “push” the new lists to the units as they are released.

For my part, I expressed my sincere appreciation for her willingness to open the lines of communication and also shared my gratitude that they made the decision to post allergen info on their website (which will soon be on our main AllergyEats site as well) – this was a good first step.

Of course, in order to represent our constituency, I stressed that the main issues our readers have had were not so much with the menu itself, but with the level of knowledge and training of the staff in the restaurants.  While having the list available is important, it doesn’t replace proper training about cross-contamination, substitutions, understanding the customer’s exact needs, the severity of a potential mistake, etc.  I shared with her my belief that it would be beneficial for all of us to take this conversation further, and I know most AllergyEats followers would agree.

We still want to understand more about the efforts Applebee’s has in place to increase their allergy-friendliness.  Frankly, as a former restaurant analyst, I think they would benefit greatly from our input as well!  I expressed my desire to run an interview with a senior member of management and/or have a representative write a guest post here with more detail about their plans and efforts.  (I prefer the interview so we can be sure the key issues are addressed as fully as possible.  That said, I hope to work WITH Applebee’s on this, not attempt to dictate terms.  This should be a friendly, albeit direct, discourse aimed at benefitting all of us.)  Thankfully, the Executive Director of Communications had already been looking into having me speak to a member of the operations team.

And for now, we left it at that.  We plan to follow-up in the middle of next week.

I give Applebee’s credit for rising to the occasion and opening a direct line of communication with us and I look forward to keeping this dialog open for the benefit of all parties.  And while many key unanswered questions have yet to be addressed, I am cautiously optimistic that our concerns will soon be discussed in more detail.

Stay tuned!…

And meanwhile, please continue to share your thoughts as this dialog continues.  By posting, you are helping me best represent our community, and you’re helping Applebee’s learn more about our real concerns.

Also, please consider sharing these blog posts widely (via your own blogs, others’ blogs, message boards, support groups, Facebook, etc.) as I believe this is an important conversation that would be of interest to a much broader set of our community.  How often has a large food allergy constituency had the ear of one of the largest casual-dining chains in America?  The more input, the better.



    Thank you so much for all of the work you are doing in behalf of all of us!! We truly appreciate it!


    All efforts are paying off. Recently, I visited Applebee’s in Easton, Maryland and received the best service from a well-informed staff member. She exhibited a high level of compassion and care when placing our orders when we shared our allergy concerns (nuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish)for our young child. She was well aware of the risks of cross contamination when we placed our orders and ensured our allergic child items were prepared and served separately. I was highly impressed, compared to other restaurants we’ve visit during our summer travel. We enjoyed a family meal on the road to hit the beach with ease.


    I am happy that Applebees decided to talk to you and it is a sign in the good direction. I would love nothing but being able to add more restaurants to my very short allergy friendly and safe restaurants.
    I am not sure if people red the disclaimer on top of Applebees pdf.
    “Please be aware that during normal kitchen operations involving shared cooking and preparation areas, including common fryer oil, the possibility exists for food items to come in contact with other food products. Due to these circumstances, we are unable to guarantee that any menu item can be completely free of allergens.”
    Well for me that is enough not not be able to take my severely nut and shellfish allergic son; I need to know they can guarantee it is not cross-contaminated….can’t guarantee ANY ITEM… I am not about to play Russian roulette, they have to know they handled it correctly and cross-contamination did not occur.


    Good catch, Valeria!

    While I would expect some “normal” level of disclaimers given legal realities, I too am a little dispirited by the degree to which Applesbee’s has warned patrons.

    Once again, I think the issue comes down to whether or not Applebee’s itself can trust the knowledge and training of its own staff, even in the franchisees.

    Let’s hope that we have a chance to address this issue with a senior member of Applebee’s management soon.


    Responses from our Facebook fans:

    Pamela Ressel Sweet! Especially since our home town college (which my husband coaches at) has a kids club for all the athletic events and the kids get to eat free at Applebees. This is so awesome! Good job Applebees! Definately do go GF!!

    Emily Clough-Paabo Excellent news!

    Ann Noviello nice:) Applebees in hadley,ma has always been a great choice for our family & friends (down the street from UMASS Amherst) they have always been great about checking for my daughter heavenflowers MSG allergy (i patiently explained time&again to new eager 2 please young staff over the years that MSG also goes by the misnomers “autolyzed yeast extract” “hydrogolyzed vegatable protein” and “natural flavoring” not just monosodium glutamate~they were great kids~all very appreciative to learn something new (college town mentality?) and really were great about checking the frozen/canned/premade products (90% will def have MSG) and we usually stick to raw ingredients that are prepped on site or substitute such and they were wonderful about it
    i don’t hesitate to recommend the Applebee’s on StAugustine Rd in Valdosta,GA as well, they have always been great about everything!

    Anna Chambley Yes. Some sort of training is in order. I know at Mimi’s Cafe they use a separate clean skillet to prepare my son’s entree. Red Robin lets us know when a separate fryer is not used for a particular item, etc… Red Robin has gone so far as to have all kitchen staff change their gloves and it seems that the kitchen manager almost every single time prepares the meal for our son himself. Cross contamination is a real issue that many do not realize is an issue. I think I am like most people that have a child with a food allergy issue. It’s a real treat and relief when we can safely dine out w/our child. We almost feel like a regular family for an hour and we tip very well for all the extra effort the staff goes to. I also go to the corporate site and compliment the staff using names when we get home. They should be recognized for the good work they are doing.

    Kara Brock It’s about time Applebees! You are beind the times!

    Melinda Munro Red Robin is the only chain restaurant that I have been to that I felt really understood allergies and go out of their way to accomodate customers. Applebee’s should use them as an example.

    Carolyn Strong DaCosta We had a bad experience last night at the Applebee’s in Federal Way WA. Asked if they had a gluten-free menu and the host said no, but that he’d have the manager come talk to us. She came over and asked us what we needed. We asked her if she could help us with possible gluten’free entress for our 11yo daughter. her response (said with a laugh),’ oh heavens, I have no idea, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I have no idea of any of the ingredients.’ The waiter helped us the best he could and did go back and ask the cook a couple questions. He also wrote on the order ticket ‘gluten-free’. She ended up getting the grilled herb chicken and did all right. The kitchen even put the sauce on the side for her.
    Very dissapointed with the manager though. She really didn’t seem to care.

    Yael Walters Kozar SO glad that you stirred things up in such a positive direction! I commend them for responding. We have never even eaten at an Applebees as I assumed they were never safe for nut allergies. Now if you could do the same thing with McDonalds and esp. regarding the peanuts and open metal tins of broken up reeses peanut butter chunks near the ice cream, and food cooking I would even help make calls and write letters.


    Great job! This is grassroots and it is so rewarding when you see something good come from all your efforts. I think the best news it that a major restaurant chain is paying attention and taking it seriously.


    The manager at the Applebee’s my parents like to meet me at has been very helpful with my MSG allergy. She usually prepares the meals for me herself from raw ingredients. They do have an allergy menu, but it doesn’t contain MSG information which is extremely frustrating for me.


    Trying to figure out what items contain MSG or some form of it but when I go to their allergen information link on the site it says it’s not available like the page doesn’t exist…

    Ava Stark

    I have severe intolerance to maltodextrin, carrageenan, MSG and sucralose/splenda. I am trying to find a grilled chicken dish that does not contain any of these ingredients. I tried the Asian Grilled Chicken Salad last week and it did not go well. I wasn’t sure if it was the dressing of if the chicken has a marinate that contains maltodextrin. Can you help me find a dish i can safely order?

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