Fewer waiters relying on memory

Food Allergies Make Order-Taking at Restaurants More Challenging

The 1/12/10 issue of The Washington Post carried a front-page story called “The old-school way of memorizing diners’ orders is fried.” The article points out a myriad of reasons why “the days of the waiter who doesn’t write things down appear to be numbered.” One primary reason is the increased complexity of orders. Of course, the increased prevalence of food allergies is one of those complexities.

This trend is of course good news for those with food allergies or intolerances, where one slip of a waiter’s memory can have devastating effects. I doubt highly that I would remain in a restaurant with my two food-allergic boys if the waiter refused to write down our order and our restrictions. Quotes in the article from waiters and restaurateurs suggesting that “usually” the pad-less waiters get the orders right are not comforting in the least. As everyone with food allergies knows, orders can’t be right only “most” of the time.

Lives depend on getting them right – and even in the best of circumstances, there are mistakes! And even if the order is right, is it worth the worry? Frankly, this isn’t exactly good business for the restaurant owner either. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to defend against a lawsuit where there was serious injury because your waiters wouldn’t write down orders?

I think The Washington Post also did an injustice to the food allergy community when it referred to “customers who customize because of nutrition concerns or allergies real or imagined.” It amazes and distresses me how many people continue to imply that a large part of the increased prevalence of food allergies is make-believe, especially by those in the food service industry! This doesn’t help the attitude of so many young waiters and waitresses who blog online (or respond to blogs) about being tired of having to deal with people claiming to have food allergies, and saying “Why don’t they just stay home.” Consider this comment attached to the electronic version of the article: “Stop trying to show how clever, needy, or allergic you are. It’s annoying, and I think rude to the restaurant.” In my opinion, The Washington Post showed a little of the same irresponsible naïveté as this last poster.

But let’s end this with a positive tone. The trend away from memory-only waiters is a good thing for those with food allergies. The fact that food allergies are one reason why restaurateurs are insisting on everything being written down (and even read back to diners in some cases) is a positive recognition of the needs of this community. And of course there are other trends, such as greater food allergy training for staff and readily-accessible ingredient lists, that can increase our comfort level when eating out with food allergies. I hope www.allergyeats.com becomes another key resource in helping to increase this comfort level by providing valuable dining information about restaurants you’re considering.

Would you still eat at a restaurant where the waiters relied solely on their memory? Do you have any personal experiences you would like to share? Finally, is my disappointment at The Washington Post justified? Please add your thoughts by clicking on Comment below.


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