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!

Comments

    Author:
    Colette
    Written:


    I agree completely! I will add that when there is an alternative food that can be subbed for a common allergen, that is the optimal way for a restaurant to handle an allergen. For example, I love that some Legal Seafoods locations are now using only gluten-free batter in their fried seafood dishes (even if you aren’t allergic to gluten). To the extent that the same can be done with dairy (subbing olive oil for butter, for example) and other allergens, that makes it much easier for them to manage their kitchens and keep us safe.

    Author:
    Kim
    Written:


    I completely agree. To me, being “allergy friendly” is having an awareness of allergies, along with safe handling procedures and a well trained staff. We’ve dealt with allergies to multiple foods and it’s pretty much impossible to dine out at a restaurant that is free of all of our allergens. (It would be pretty narrow minded to only deem a restaurant “allergy friendly” based on nuts – ANY food can be life threatening, it all depends on the person and the severity of their allergy. No restaurant could be allergy friendly if we went by the rule that no allergens could be served.)

    Author:
    Natalie
    Written:


    I completely agree with this. Our peanut and tree nut allergic daughter has eaten many times at Pei Wei, P.F. Chang’s less-expensive restaurant. Great experiences since they have great training, processes, and protocol.

    Author:
    lacey
    Written:


    I too agree. We are fortunate that our son’s allergies to dairy and egg are not airborne. If that is problem, and I understand that for some with nut allergies it is, I would be hesitant to eat out at most restaurants. We have yet to find a restaurant that is free of dairy or egg. Even “vegan” establishments we have tried often give a disclaimer that they are vegan, but not necessarily safe for those with life-threatening allergies to dairy and/or egg. We have found that our comfort level in allowing our son to eat out relies on a restaurant’s procedures and understanding of allergies an willingness to avoid cross-contamination. Some places will never get it, and many places with lots of dairy and egg do a great job.

    Author:
    Jennifer Callaghan
    Written:


    Thanks for posting – it’s very interesting (especially re Legal Seafood! I ate at the original one when I was a very small child, but wouldn’t have dreamt I could take my fish-allergic daughter). I’d add two things, however: (1) there is a difference between being comfortable with a restaurant in relation to a mild allergy/intolerance and being comfortable in relation to a severe allergy. My daughter’s allergies are all anaphylactic and so I am probably more nervous about eating out because of that; and (2) I’d add most if not all Chinese restaurants and Middle Eastern restaurants to the “Five guys and peanuts” category, for people with a severe sesame allergy. As the lovely and kind and helpful owner of a nearby Palestinian restaurant told me “this place is sesame heaven, so keep your daughter away”. That said, your post has made me more optimistic about finding places to eat out and thanks again!

    Author:
    Michele
    Written:


    Yes, to me “allergy-friendly” means they understand how to be careful and keep my daughter’s meal safe for her, not that the restaurant doesn’t contain my daughter’s allergens. She has several, including wheat and dairy, so I can’t expect to find a place that doesn’t have those basic foods.

    Author:
    Laurie
    Written:


    If I were never to eat in a restaurant that served my allergens, there would not be a single one. Already I very rarely eat out. Like— once a year. This started when I had my last round of testing and soy and dairy were added to my long list which now now numbers 59. Add to that the anxiety of getting food that makes me sick and …… There are a couple local places where they make my meal very carefully and in close communication with me, which I will visit, but not readily, mostly to please my husband. I mostly eat at home and then just sit while my family eats.

    Author:
    Drummond
    Written:


    On this topic there are a couple of factors or situations when I wouldn’t of taken my child to a restaurant that has her allergens. We never really dined out with our daughter at restaurants when she was younger for two main reasons. She had multiple food allergies at one point it was 10 items and I never thought it would be fair nor safe for someone to try and keep a meal completely safe for her to eat. It was hard enough for us at home never mind a stranger to attempt this. Also I wouldn’t take her out to restaurants when she was younger because it was hard for her to realize and communicate she was having a reaction and we didn’t enjoy our meals anyways as we were too worried about her. Fast forward now our daughter now 15 and just down to one allergen Egg after passing food challenge in summer to hazelnuts.
    We now take her out to restaurants when we are on vacation such as New York City last year and our annual vacation to Florida where as in the past we would of always had a room with a kitchen and feed her there. As for at home we still don’t ever go to restaurants that serve all day breakfasts just not a relaxing meal for any of us. Usually when asked if she wants to go out to a restaurant or have her dad barbeque her a steak. She usually wants her dad to cook for her as he makes it the way she likes it. One great side effect of having food allergies in your household at least one person becomes a better cook then if they would of never had a child with food allergies. In our house it is my husband.
    So yes I would take my child with food allergies out to a restaurant that has her allergens present only if she was old enough to communicate that she was having a reaction. Only if she didn’t have too many multiple allergens for a chef to worry about. We still stay away to eat out for breakfast or stay away from all day breakfast places. Within the first few minutes of talking to a waitress/waiter in a restaurant we can tell if they are confident in taking her order and have safe cooking practices in place. We also look on the Allergy Eats site before picking a place to eat out. The only problem is we live just north of Toronto in Canada and don’t have the reviews to guide us to the good restaurants up here.

    Author:
    Jeanne
    Written:


    Yes, I will eat at a restaurant where my allergens are handled/served. One exception I make is in regard to my celiac disease: I don’t eat at restaurants where bread is made/pizza is made/beer is brewed. I’ve never succeeded in having a safe meal at a place like that. Just too too much flour/wheat/barley/rye in the air, I think, and it gets everywhere, including on surfaces in the designated safe-prep area. So, I had to finally draw the line there. As was mentioned above, I know within the first few minutes of talking to a server whether or not I can eat in a specific place. And if I can’t eat there safely, I leave.

    Author:
    Laura
    Written:


    My son is allergic to peanuts, eggs, sesame and has Celiac Disease. When eating out I will search for a restaurant that is knowledgeable of food allergies and cross contamination first before looking for one that doesn’t serve certain foods. We have safely dined at restaurants that serve my sons allergies. Communication is crucial.

    Author:
    Kes
    Written:


    For those of us with severe food allergies (read insta-death) eating out is precarious. Unfortunately, the restaurants are not always aware that certain food items may come to them with those allergens not listed by law in a pre-packaged situation and unknowingly poison the immune-challened eater. I was in my favorite sushi joint… had my usual roll after becoming allergic to … a myriad of things too long to list. I told the sushi roller of my woes & was informed to my delight that I could feast upon said favorite roll. Yay! Right? No. Sadly… I saw the light and have never eaten out again. Except that one time I took a teenie bite of gluten free pizza. Face swelled up before I could even grab my phone to set a “allergy-test” timer. Please be careful eating out. If the allergy is severe, call the restaurant in advance and have the owner or manager really look into it. The manager/owner is often surprised when he calls his suppliers and discovers that there ARE sulphites or whatever in the items in question. And I’ll tell you, there are few things more mortifying than ending up meeting the grim reaper for lunch in a crowded restaurant XD

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