How Can A Restaurant Be Allergy-Friendly if They Serve Foods Containing My Allergens?
Every year, particularly around the time when we release our AllergyEats Top 10 Allergy-Friendly Chains in America List, I am asked how AllergyEats can deem a restaurant “allergy-friendly” for a variety of different reasons. One of the most common questions is “How can a restaurant be allergy-friendly if they serve foods containing my allergens?” Recently, I was again asked just that:
“Why does P.F. Chang’s come up as being nut allergy-friendly? There are 8 items on the menu containing nuts!!”
This question suggests that the individual – like some others – believes that the presence of one’s allergen on a restaurant’s menu immediately makes that restaurant “allergy-unfriendly” for him or her. I strongly disagree with this as a blanket statement (though I do respect each individual’s different level of comfort when choosing a restaurant).
Here is my answer to the question. I hope this explanation will help those of you with similar concerns, regardless of whether your allergy is to peanut, shellfish, dairy, wheat, or another allergen.
Good question and thank you for asking.
Let me start my answer with two questions. How many restaurants use milk or eggs? If we excluded those from being considered allergy-friendly, would we have any restaurants left?
My point is that many restaurants carry peanuts and tree nuts. That, by itself, has little bearing on a restaurant being allergy-friendly or not. Sure, a restaurant with no peanuts or tree nuts would be a safer choice for those with a peanut and/or tree nut allergy, but that shouldn’t be a limiting factor.
What truly differentiates allergy-friendly restaurants – and these are usually allergy-friendly regardless of the specific food allergens – is the ability to accommodate the food-allergic diner through staff training, proper procedures and protocols, good communication, etc. The key for your question is training and proper procedures. Well-trained restaurants with proper procedures will know how to prevent the peanuts and tree nuts in their facility from ever coming near a peanut- or tree nut-allergic diner’s meal. They will cook the meal in a separate, sanitary area to avoid cross-contact. Every member of the staff that might come into contact with that plate will know what to watch out for, especially as the plate may be a different shape or color from the rest (or at least will have a prominent allergy ticket attached).
So the answer is that any restaurant can be allergy-friendly if they’re trained to know what to do. In addition to P.F. Changs, another restaurant on our list (of the Top 10 Most Allergy-Friendly Chains in America) is Legal Sea Foods. Not only do they generate an astounding 4.5+ AllergyEats rating out of 5 FROM THOSE WITH FISH AND SHELLFISH ALLERGIES, but I’ve personally recommended them to a family with a fish allergy… and now it’s that family’s” go-to” restaurant.
I hope that answers your question.
Recognize that while this answer was related to a question specifically regarding nut allergies, it would have been similar regardless of the allergy the individual mentioned. Sure, there are exceptions for restaurants whose theme is built around an allergen (e.g. Five Guys and peanuts), but for the most part a restaurant that knows how to properly accommodate individuals with one allergy is well-suited to accommodate other allergies.
My children with (combined) allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, and sesame have eaten out hundreds of times. I can’t imagine we’ve ever been to a restaurant that doesn’t have dairy or eggs on the menu (and doing so for breakfast is virtually impossible) and we’ve never taken a restaurant out of our consideration because they serve nuts. Whether or not they can keep those allergens away from my kids’ meals? THAT’s what I’m concerned about.
Again though, while I absolutely believe in the allergy-friendliness of those restaurants and chains strongly-rated on AllergyEats (since these great marks are determined BY YOU and other raters in the community!), I respect each person’s individual level of comfort and would never suggest someone stray outside that comfort zone based on the reviews of AllergyEats users, myself, or anyone else.
What do YOU think? Do you avoid restaurants that carry your allergen? Or have you been surprised by experiences at restaurants that you didn’t think would be able to accommodate you based on their menu? Please share your thoughts on this topic below.
And don’t forget to help us help you! By adding even just ONE restaurant review to the AllergyEats app or website (taking only a minute or two), you are making AllergyEats even more valuable for our entire food allergy community. Thank you!