Great lesson for my kids (and maybe yours)
Readers of the AllergyEats Blog know that I recently finished a 3-day weekend with my 2 food-allergic boys (peanut and tree nut / peanut, tree nut, dairy, egg and sesame) and my father to Toronto and Montreal. I wrote a piece in this blog on the “Big 8” allergen-free restaurant, Zero8, in Montreal (Zero8 Resto-Bar, free of ALL “Big 8” allergens… and then some!).
On this same trip, however, we had what many would consider a negative experience – though I saw it as a great training opportunity.
We were in a food court and my youngest son wanted a little food to hold him over until dinner. He asked for french fries from Burger King. We’ve never had problems with fries from BK before, so I agreed. Of course, as always, I asked the question. “Do you use peanut oil to cook the fries?”
Blankish look, before a hesitant side-to-side shake of the head.
“Are you sure? My son has a severe food allergy?”
Affirmative nod of the head, but not very encouraging.
Finally, I asked the key question. “What kind of oil do you use?”
He goes back to the cooking area for 15 seconds or so, then comes back shaking his head side-to-side. I said “Peanut oil?” and he says “yeah.”
On the one hand, you might think “bullet dodged”… that was my first reaction. Though a close second was “I bet they don’t actually use peanut oil – they were just too lazy to check, or were scared, or just plain clueless.” Either way, I’m glad we had that conversation in front of my boys and then of course walked away.
I used this simple encounter to point out a few important lessons to them.
Lesson 1: Most of us know this one. A “deer in the headlights look” and non-committal response is a HUGE yellow flag. For some, that’s enough to leave the restaurant; generally, however, that indicates to me that I need to know more and ask someone else. I like the fact that my sons saw me press until I got an answer that gave me a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Even though I told them that I still wondered if that BK used peanut oil, they saw that a little doubt is too much doubt, and there are simply many other options – so take one!
Lesson 2: I like this lesson the most because it isn’t often discussed in articles about what to do when dining out. This lesson was about how to “interrogate” the server. After he hesitantly indicated that the fries were not cooked in peanut oil, rather than me asking “Are they cooked in canola oil?” or “Are they cooked in vegetable oil?”, etc., I asked an open-ended question designed to force him to go get an answer. I simply asked “What kind of oil do you use?” By not asking a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, he can’t give a lazy response designed to keep me happy. And lo and behold, what happened? He went to get information that turned out to be incredibly critical to us. Again, you don’t see this kind of tip in most dining out articles (including ones I’ve written – I’ve got to start correcting that!), so please keep it in mind as a great strategy.
Lesson 3: When in doubt, walk away.
Again, whether or not BK cooks their fries differently in Montreal than in Boston is irrelevant. I still don’t know for sure, but I don’t need to. The important thing is that I got enough information to know it was smartest to walk away.
As an aside, I decided not to give the server a long, angry lecture on how dangerous his answers were. Maybe I should have as a “duty” to our community. Sometimes that mood strikes me, but sometimes I just want to move on. I think the choice of whether to do that or not is a personal one and I would never discourage either reaction.
So what do you think? How would you have reacted? What would you have done the same or differently? Are these lessons useful and valuable? Would you have been happy as I was that my kids were able to see and learn from this encounter? And by the way, does anyone know if Montreal Burger Kings use peanut oil? Please share your thoughts with us! Click Comments or Reply below.
Since AllergyEats is still only U.S. based, I can’t rate this experience. However, YOU can rate all of your restaurant experiences – positive or negative – on our core AllergyEats site at www.allergyeats.com or our mobile app for iPhone and Android. Rating a restaurant is a very simple process that just takes a minute, but helps our entire food allergy and intolerance community by making AllergyEats a more valuable tool for everyone. (And don’t forget to rate your Disney World experiences on AllergyEats Disney World as well!)