IHOP flops

[This AllergyEats Blog post written by Adrienne Walkowiak].

A year ago, I blogged about my horrendous dining experience at Applebee’s (https://www.allergyeats.com/blog/index.php/guest-post-applebees-disappoints), explaining that the staff at my local New Hampshire restaurant were completely uneducated about accommodating guests with food allergies.  It was absolutely the worst restaurant experience I’d ever had… until last Friday night’s dinner at IHOP.

I’ve never been to IHOP before in my life.  Knowing that they specialize in breakfast foods, I always assumed it wouldn’t be the best place for me to eat, given my dairy allergy.  But my stepfather requested IHOP for his 70th birthday dinner, so we gave it a try.  I found the link to IHOP’s menu on AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com), and was somewhat reassured to see some “traditional” meal options, along with the bevy of dairy-centric breakfast choices, which I knew I couldn’t eat.

Our perky waitress came over and took everyone else’s order first.  When I explained about my dairy allergy, she looked confused.  I asked some questions about how various menu items are prepared, and the waitress said she had no idea.  Not the reassuring attitude I was hoping for.  And she didn’t offer to check with the chef or call over a manager to speak with me directly about my special food requirements, as more accommodating restaurants tend to do.

I requested a plain turkey sandwich and asked her to double-check that they had a non-dairy bread option.  She told me, unapologetically, that there was NOTHING non-dairy on the entire menu.  At this point, I would have ordinarily walked out of the restaurant and never looked back, but my stepfather really wanted to stay.  So, I asked if they could prepare a plain garden salad for my meal – with no cheese or croutons – and with oil and vinegar on the side.  The server said she would “try” to get the chef to agree to that.

I waited anxiously for our meals to arrive – and when I received my dinner, I was outraged!  My “garden salad” was a torn up piece of iceberg lettuce on a tiny coffee saucer with three little cucumber slices on top.  The waitress told me that she “couldn’t find” the oil and vinegar, so she brought me a lemon wedge to squeeze on top.  I’m shocked that any restaurant would be so unaccommodating and unapologetic and that they’d actually serve that tiny, unappeling “meal” to a guest.

I understand that I can’t have IHOP’s pancakes, French toast or waffles, and that the eggs are made on a griddle coated with butter.  I wasn’t asking for any of those options to be specially made for me.  (Although in many restaurants, they’d offer to make my eggs in a clean pan or suggest other options that could be made dairy-free.)  What I was expecting, however, was for the restaurant staff to be more accommodating and to be willing to provide a decent, tasty meal that I could comfortably eat.  It’s disappointing that they couldn’t even provide a plain sandwich, and even more upsetting to learn that they wouldn’t even make a decent attempt to prepare a dinner-sized salad that was more than a scrap of lettuce and three sad little cucumber slices.  I was even more enraged when the server couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find me oil and vinegar to dress my pathetic little salad.

When I got home that evening, the first thing I did was make myself a sandwich because I was starving.  Then I gave IHOP a dismal rating on AllergyEats.  Finally, I emailed Paul at AllergyEats to see if he would be interested in this blog post and he stunned me by informing me that IHOP and Applebee’s are both owned by the same parent company, DineEquity!  After my horrible experience at Applebee’s a year ago, Paul invited Applebee’s leadership to participate in a friendly dialogue about improving their food allergy protocols and becoming more accommodating to the food allergy community.  His pro-active efforts to engage them in a productive conversation were (and continue to be) “frustrating.”  An Applebee’s spokesperson maintained that they had “enough” of a food allergy policy because they had an allergen list on their website.  Paul insisted – and I wholeheartedly agree – that they needed to dive deeper into this issue, properly training their staff about food allergy protocols and cross-contamination at all restaurants in their chain.

It’s frustrating and disheartening to learn that my experience at Applebee’s wasn’t just a fluke.  It’s a widespread problem that crosses over into their “sister” restaurant chain, IHOP, as well.  We’ve heard from a large number of folks within the AllergyEats community, all sharing similar stories about Applebee’s poorly trained servers, uneducated managers and unacceptable attitudes about accommodating food-allergic guests.  Now, it’s even more upsetting to realize that it’s a far bigger problem that involves two enormous (and related) restaurant chains – Applebee’s and IHOP – and their parent company, DineEquity, Inc.  I just can’t fathom how two of our country’s biggest restaurant chains can be so close-minded to such an important issue.

[Paul’s notes:  1) Applebee’s and IHOP are DineEquity’s only restaurant holdings.  2) Applebee’s has a horrible 2.48 (out of 5.0) AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating.  3) Even worse, IHOP has an almost unheard of 2.00 AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating!!!]

So, what say YOU?  Have you had similarly disturbing experiences at IHOP?  Does it anger you that a chain of their size doesn’t view accommodating food-allergic guests as an issue of importance (or even a moral obligation)?  Should we reach out to IHOP to address our concerns?  Please share your thoughts and experiences by clicking on Comments or Reply below.

And please remember to rate all your recent restaurant experiences on our core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) or on our NEW ALLERGYEATS APP for iPhone and Droid (download available on iTunes app store, Android market, or via link from AllergyEats main site).  Every new rating you add makes AllergyEats an even stronger tool for our food allergy and intolerance community… and it gives us a greater voice in advocacy as well (demonstrated again in my progress with a governmental body).

Comments

    Author:
    Scotty
    Written:


    Well, I miss IHOP tremendously, since all my food intolerances popped into my life. Dairy is not only a problem for me too, but the glutens and eggs are at the top of my longer list….making IHOP just a silly choice. I’m sorry your father wasn’t more understanding of your dilemma and choosing of restaurants.

    Author:
    Mary Finlay
    Written:


    I haven’t eaten at IHOP but as I read about your experience it mirrored my experience at Applebees almost exactly down to the size of the plate the lettuce was served on. Actually relieved that both these horrible restaurants are owned by the same company.

    Author:
    elissa beth wilkerson
    Written:


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    Nope. I don’t think a privately-owned anything should be “obligated,” to cater to any particular people it does not want to cater to. That being said, they obviously do not want to cater to people with food allergies. So I don’t eat there. Nor do I eat at Applebees. Easy peasy. My money stays in my wallet or goes to restauranteurs that I feel I can trust with my kid’s life.

    Author:
    F.Calgaro
    Written:


    NOT SHOCKED BY THIS…We had a horrific IHOP experience years ago while on vacation. After calling ahead and being reassured that my son with multiple food allergies, would be accomodated, we waited for 35 minutes to be seated, 10 minutes to be waited on, 20 more minutes to have our order taken, and then endless misery! Our server was also oblivious to food allergies and was the least bit empathetic….but then again,she thought “non-carbonated” meant Sprite. Anyway, the same experience as above, told that everything (including the bread) had dairy,they wouldn’t clean a pan to make eggs for us because they were too busy, and we would have to pay $2 for the saltines that my son was eating to combat the acid pains he was having since he took his pre-meal meds over an hour before. The manager just said that the phone call I made resulted in a communication error, and perhaps we should consider dining elsewhere…DUH! To think they didn’t even have cheerios or raisin bran cereals…geezzzzz…I will stop here because I am certain you know how I feel and what I think!

    Author:
    Janelle Reagan
    Written:


    I had no idea that Applebee’s and IHOP were owned by the same parent company. I will make sure my family avoids both, they sound awful. We hardly ever went to either one, anyway, just because the service at the Applebee’s around here (northeastern MA, southeastern NH) is notoriously bad.

    Author:
    Ruby velez
    Written:


    My response may be unpopular. Frankly, the problem lays with your unnaccomodating family. They should never have chosen IHOP, birthday or not. I’m not sure why you would expect a chain restaurant that has a dairy heavy menu to be a good choice?

    My daughter is severely allergic to dairy, I am severely allergic to shellfish. There are some places we just don’t go, even when we have a gift certificate. Red lobster, IHOP, Applebees, Chucky Cheese, etc are places we just don’t go, and if family insist on holding celebrations in these locales we decline.

    We need accommodations. Also, we need to have reasonable expectations. I would never walk into a seafood restaurant expecting a safe meal; if, like Legal sea food, they happen to be able to do that, great.

    I’m not saying don’t advocate for them to imprI’ve, as it is obviously a problem, but sometimes, those of us with allergies can’t just eat wherever we like.

    Author:
    AiXeLsyD13
    Written:


    WOW. That’s ridiculous. I got angry reading it. I can understand that the waitress didn’t care about your allergies, as they probably don’t do any training at all. But for her to check with the cook and then come back to you with a “tough poop” attitude… that’s just ridiculous. What restaurant doesn’t have vinegar & oil?

    I think the problem stems from people in general having an attitude problem… like everyone with a food allergy/intolerance should simply just never dine out, and if they do & get sick… it’s their fault, no one else’s.

    I’ve never been to an IHOP. They weren’t really prevalent in our area, but when they came in, a friend ate there before me and his words were pretty simple… “Dude, don’t go to IHOP. I found a piece of shrimp in my scrambled eggs.” (I’m deathly allergic to shellfish.)

    Needless to say, that was enough for me to understand that they had no grasp of cross-contamination issues.

    It’s really interesting to learn that Crapplebee’s & IHOP share the same family tree and distinct lack of “give a poop” where food allergies are concerned.

    I bet they’ll come out with a gluten free menu.

    Author:
    Mverri
    Written:


    I will NEVER go to either of these places because I don’t trust them. I’m sorry you had an unfortunate experience. I ALWAYS travel with food options in my car for this reason. Just a way of life now…for my 2 children, they are the ones with severe allergies. It’s so sad, when will restaurants finally “get it?” It’s a growing issue..it’s IGNORANCE!!

    One of my call escalated to Applebee’s corporate, they are RIDICULOUS!! Were not cooperative at all in sharing what was in their meals. I had to explain I was simply looking for ingredients my boys could not have. They didn’t budge. Of course I knew I could NEVER go in their to dine. And then I explained to them I’d rather eat in 5 star steakhouse, they just happened to be on our route…sigh…

    Author:
    Mandy
    Written:


    Absolutely ridiculous in this day and age that they can’t be more accommodating. I mean, really, what will they get out of it? My customers and more money in the long run. Get with it. I personally would have spoken to the manager and raised hell, but that’s me.

    Author:
    Jessica Kuney
    Written:


    I can’t believe this! I know that they both have kind of a no care attitude towards the people in general so I can’t imagine how it is with a food allergy! I haven’t eaten at either of these places since I found out I was allergic to gluten and now I don’t think I’m gonna! I do think it is interesting that they are both owned by the same parent company and I think that this helps to explain their attitudes at both places. And I also just wanted to point out that Applebees does have a section of what is gluten free on their website. Its kind of a sad little list lol and I HIGHLY doubt they would take any care against cross contamination but they do have it there in case anyone wants to go and look! Thanks for bringing this to our attention I don’t think I’m gonna go to either of these places any time soon!

    Author:
    Ed Desmond
    Written:


    Hi,
    My wife is wheat intolerant and was disappointed to find out that they added pancake batter to the omelets to make them flufflier. She was able to get plain fried eggs but I know she would love an omelet from there.

    Author:
    Diana
    Written:


    I am so sorry for your bad experience at IHOP. My son has multiple food allergies so I am very sympathetic to your problem. Unfortunately, I have run across so many waiters and waitresses with this attitude (and this is towards an 8 year old, mind you) that it is making me a bit cynical. So I am hoping that more people start blogging about some good restaurant experiences before I become a permanent cynic. We went to Minneapolis recently, and we ate at a really cute restaurant called the Nook. We asked about allergens on some items on the menu and the waitress went to the kitchen and told us all the items on the kids menu that would be okay to eat and which ones were not. And, she also informed us that she told the chef to watch out for cross contamination while preparing and cooking our son’s meal. Well, I was so pleasantly surprised. I was actually pleasantly shocked. Needless to say, this waitress got a substantial tip, twice what we would usually tip. So these waiters and waitresses that don’t make this extra effort are both insensitive and just plain ignorant.

    Author:
    Jennifer
    Written:


    IHOP in Springfield, MO has been very accommodating for my son’s peanut and tree nut allergies! They always prep his food on a freshly cleaned surface and the wait staff has been very knowledgeable on our recent visits.

    Our Applebees experience this past weekend was very reassuring. Our server came out with allergy sheets containing all the major allergies and a list of all safe meals for each allergy. If we had any questions she double checked with the chef. Maybe they are getting the message.

    Author:
    Kathy
    Written:


    What a terrible experience! But honestly, I’m not surprised. This lack of any type of allergy awareness seems to be prevalent in a lot of chains. I feel that it’s probably all economics — their prices are so cheap, and as a result they invest so little in their staff (money-wise) that it leads to high turnover, which leads to them investing so little in their staff (time/training-wise) because it doesn’t make financial sense. For someone with allergies/intolerance issues, I think that for the most part, they’ll have to go out of their way and pay more to feel safe about their meal. A sad reality, but true.

    Author:
    Deb
    Written:


    The last time we went to an Applebees was more than 2 years ago. That evening we walked out of the restaurant after trying to explain my sons allergy to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame to both the waitress and the manager of the restaurant.

    The manager actually said to us that night. I can not guarantee you that anything we serve you won’t have nuts or sesame in it and suggest that you leave. He then handed me a business card with a corporate number on it and told me I should call the number during the week if I wanted to speak to someone about allergies. I am ashamed to admit that I never followed through and called but I have told as many people as I can to avoid the place.

    Author:
    Chrissy
    Written:


    BOO IHOP!! Since my FA son has severe dairy and egg allergies, I will not be visiting IHOP again, um, ever. Sad because I do love their pancakes. But like Adrienne’s experience above, my son would only be able to eat plain salad! Not appealing to a toddler (or anyone with taste buds). Sounds like mixed reviews for Applebees, so maybe we’ll check them out.

    Author:
    AEPaul
    Written:


    VERY interesting debate on Facebook about this…

    Elisabeth – I don’t eat there because they just cannot accomodate people with food allergies. That was easy. No privately-owned business should be forced to try to cater to people they obviously do not want to cater to.

    Kate – I’ve actually brought food to a restaurant for my food allergic daughter – some places I just don’t trust. I’m sorry you had a bad experience – that sucks.

    Sarah – While I agree that I wouldn’t expect them to cater to my FA child or myself the fact that they couldn’t serve a simple decent sized plain salad is appalling.

    Ruby – Frankly, the problem lays with the unnaccomodating family who insisted on eating there. They should never have chosen IHOP, birthday or not. I’m not sure why you would expect a chain restaurant that has a dairy heavy menu to be a good choice? My daughter has a dairy allergy, and IHOP is simply on the list of places we don’t go.

    Diana – I gave up on both Applebees and Ihop a long time ago. I’m sorry I won’t even try to eat there. They could never get orders right before I had to order with an allergy concern! Anytime we’d go to Applebee’s my bestfriend would make fun of me that I was a gluton for punishment. Ihop… It just feels so unclean, and they are always so disorganized and clueless.

    Jeni – That is just inexcusable. I will say that long before I had my daughter and food allergies became a concern, Applebee’s food was enough to turn me away. It was consistently awful. I have not been to an IHOP since jr. high, but I certainly don’t plan to change that now!

    Donna – I took my daughter to Applebees before I realized never to risk cross contamination eating out and the only things she could eat were a plain burger on a plate and applesauce and the server was stunned to find out their fries contained milk lol. As for IHOP it used to be a fun breakfast place but when your allergic to dairy/eggs there’s no safe food.

    Sarah (2) – I understand poor service but, this is a private chain and can serve food however they want. We haven’t eaten at any breakfast eateries since our son was diagnosed with a wheat allergy (among others) and our daughter has a dairy allergy. How can you expect a place that these are probably 2 of their most common ingredients to accommodate you, cross contamination would be a big concern in itself. Sorry, I just don’t feel bad on this one.

    Lori – Phhhbbbtt!

    Sarah (2) – Oh, Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t accommodate allergies either but you don’t see me complaining about that and about 5.9 million children in the United States have food allergies. You would think places would want to be more accommodating but its there prerogative. Here is a link to my blog, no whining about not being able to eat anything, thanks to the internet and a phone call I knew we wouldn’t be able to eat there…doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.
    yesitsanothermom.blogspot.com/2011/08/dear-chuck-e-cheese.html

    Ruby – Actually, I do feel bad for the person who wrote the blog entry; I am appalled that Dad insisted on eating there knowing the allergy. On the rare occasion that my extended family is this dense, I tell them that they can choose to celebrate wherever they like, and that we will be happy to catch up with them at home later, if they Ste interested I can provide a list of alternative locations.

    Elisabeth – Yes, exactly, what Ruby said…it was rude to hold the event there knowing the person with food allergies could not eat there. (Although, granted, we would have brought our own food) This is similar to why we gave up on hosting big family holidays…the menu would always get derailed by people who want the same exact dishes they’ve been eating for 20yrs, and to heck with the person with food allergies. Pppffftt.

    Ruby – Elisabeth, we hosted passover one year when my daughter was still egg allergic. After people yelled and screamed about the lack of hard boiled eggs on the table and the texture of the egg free matzoh balls, I pointed out that God didn’t intend for the holidays to kill my child, and if a damn egg was that important, they could leave. everyone knows that if you eat my house, you do not get to complain about the lack of dairy or other allergens.

    Karen – I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone to choose a restaurant for their birthday meal based on your allergies. If the restaurant can accommodate you, great, but I would have called ahead of time and then brought my own food, in this instance. It’s never a good time if you’re hungry. Same for family holiday functions. I understand that people want their traditional foods. It’s up to me, as the allergic individual, to make sure I have food I can eat by either bringing a pre-prepared meal for myself or bringing things to the potluck that are safe and that will provide a substantial enough meal. If I host at my house, which I prefer so I can more easily monitor cross-contamination with serving spoons, then everything I provide is safe, and if the others want their traditional foods, they can bring them to share with everyone else. Full disclosure: my allergy list is very long, and accommodating me can be complicated and difficult, so I feel like it’s an imposition to even ask.

    Lisa – Wow. Basic courtesy should be required in the service industry. Even if they wouldn’t or couldn’t accomodate, there is a way of working with the customer to accomodate – seems like a big part of the problem was the attitude. It’s disppointing because we loved to go to IHOP as a family before my food-allergic son was born and now it is a rare occasion.

    Heather – When it comes to family holidays, I don’t have a lot of family, so it’s a small amount of people at the gathering. My mother almost always hosts it. There’s always one or two plain vegetables, at least one plain meat, and I make whatever I want for desert or bread. So I’ve never had any fear at my own house because the dishes with what I can’t eat are further down the line, away from what I can eat. My family is careful and respectful to my needs. And yes I do choose my birthday restaraunt depending on my experience with their allergy accomodation. I know most places just don’t give a s*** so I go with the places I know are safe. I mostly choose either pf changs or magianos, and both are 2 hours away. I also choose when I do eat out places I know have something safe I can eat or that I know from experience will accomodate me to the best of their ability. If they do, that’s great. If they don’t and land u in the ER, lesson learned and you never go back.

    Author:
    Heather
    Written:


    Ok, it is infuriating how they treated you. However, I do agree with the above statement that your family should have thought of you when thinking of a place to eat. I go out for family functions, and my family does think about where I could have a safe meal. My mother insists on it. Or, since I’m a legal adult now, I just don’t go if they really want to go somewhere I could not safely eat. I would just suggest next time, don’t go. Appologize for missing it, but frankly, your own health and happiness is the priority. You can go see that family member another time in their home.

    Author:
    AllergyMama
    Written:


    I say boycott the Applebees and IHOP chain. Would you ever really trust them to cook your food properly after hearing everyones bad experiences above? I spend enough time going out to eat that I only go to safe and accommodating places. Many restaurants are offering Gluten Free menus. As a very general rule, if the company went to the trouble of making a Gluten Free menu they can accommodate food allergies. We have 5 food allergies in my family including gluten free and we find a way to eat out at breakfast, lunch, and dinner places.

    Author:
    Carrie
    Written:


    I have 2 children with several food allergies between them. We walked out of I-Hop about 2 years ago b/c they were so ignorant and rude when it came to food allergies. We have not been back, and my husband and I will not even dine there without our kids because of their attitude.

    Author:
    Betsy
    Written:


    We have had only positive experiences at the two different Applebee’s we have eaten at. My daughter has severe allergies to milk and egg. Most recently, at the Applebee’s in Ocean City, MD, we were given specific milk and egg-free menus to choose from and the manager came out to talk with us. When he realized that my daughter would not be able to eat the french fries that she desired due to possible cross-contamination in the fryer, he insisted on personally cutting up and frying french fries for her in a separate pan. He brought us ingredient listings on several items for us to double-check. We were so impressed with the way her meal was handled that we went to Applebee’s website and commended them on our experience.
    Maybe they are learning.

    Author:
    Erin
    Written:


    I am sorry about your recent experence with IHop, I have never been there but the last time I was @ Applebeees in vestal ny they were very accomadating brought me out a seprate menu, and what I ordered came with cloeslaw so she so she made a sepeate trip to ask if I wanted something eles. She seemed very knowlable and was quite helpful and plesant.

    Author:
    Nicka
    Written:


    I am actually surprised to read the bad review of Applebees. I always avoided chain restaurants like the plague, but now dealing with egg and milk allergies we have found a few that have better food allergy procedures and have stuck to those. Shockingly, one was Applebees! The local chain has a food allergy notebook that lists the safe foods by each allergen. They do not that fried foods may have cross contamination, but otherwise you can double-check the listing to find safe foods. The staff has also been helpful, so I am wondering if this was an aberration in our area? Regardless, large chains need to get with the program if they want to maintain a large customer base. I expect at least a desire to be helpful and some option that may be safe.

    Author:
    allergicvegetarian
    Written:


    IHOP corporation I’ve had a bad experience. When I complained about corporate’s non-gf friendly menu, they forwarded my compliant to the restaurant as if the restaurant had any say in the menu. Applebee’s does NOT know how to NOT plate a plate. I got a little sick even though I had asked for them to not plate the plate as I was sure I was probably at least intolerant of whatever they’d put on the bottom of that plate. I was right. I did get a little sick, but because I didn’t get enough of it in me, I was alright.

    The biggest problem with allergy free cooking is that almost all chefs are not trained in how to cook allergy free and avoid cross contamination when they go to chef school, if they even go at all. It also doesn’t help that when they do try to accommodate, some people who are extremely sensitive react anyways even though most do not. Then, they get negative feed back from the minority who are extremely reactive and this makes them want to give up as they can’t afford to have a 2nd kitchen just for celiacs. They are trying to make a profit while the owner makes a killing. (England pays waiters a real wage and still pulls a profit, so some USA restaurants could definitely afford a 2nd kitchen given how crappy they pay waiters (those places who pay less then minimum wage that is or pay minimum wage). )

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