No one’s perfect – not even Disney World!
I don’t know how many times I’ve refered to Disney World as the “gold standard” when it comes to food allergy dining, but I stand by that statement. I have sung the praises of Chef Joel Schaefer, the pioneer of Disney World’s special dining request program, and I will continue to do so. I have encouraged countless families with food allergies to consider Disney World as their first big vacation, and that will not change.
But… even Disney has some chinks in the armor!
Based on feedback that food-allergic families have shared on AllergyEats Disney World, as well as comments on message boards across the Internet and my family’s own personal experiences, there seems much to be concerned about at a few of the restaurants in the “countries” at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT.
Don’t get me wrong – some of the restaurants in the World Pavilion at EPCOT do a great job catering to our community! I would especially note Teppan Edo (Japan), with a 4.9 AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating, and Rose & Crown (Britain), with a 4.8. Germany also generally gets high marks.
But there are those who significantly disappoint: Les Chefs de France (France) – 3.2, San Angel Inn (Mexico) – 2.3, and a smattering of other low marks, including Norway. When looking at these ratings, recognize that I consider anything below a 3.5 NOT to be allergy friendly. And a 2.3??? Horrendous. Well below even Applebee’s!
So why does Disney World – with its stellar reputation for managing food-allergic diners – have these hidden “losers?” First of all, many of the EPCOT country restaurants are independently-managed (i.e. Disney does not run these restaurants). And while Disney still holds them to high standards, they just aren’t trained the same in terms of catering to special dietary needs. Secondly, there are some communication barriers with the wait staff at many of these restaurants. Much of the staff is native to the country represented by the restaurant, and many of the accents are thick. To prove this point, my family had a very hard time communicating with the waiter at Tutto Italia (Italy)… and amongst our party were 2nd generation “off the boat” and many who grew up or spent significant time in immigrant Italian neighborhoods. So don’t even get me started on Mexico! But most of all, some of these restaurants just don’t “get” guest service (any may not even care to do so)! Read some of the comments below from AllergyEats Disney World users and decide for yourself.
Here are some of the comments on AllergyEats Disney World about Les Chefs de France: (bold text added by me)
geeksrx (dairy allergy) comments: “By far my worst experience in all of Disney! The staff, Chef and waiter were all RUDE. I had to ask multiple times to speak with the chef and after waiting for a very long time he finally came. He asked what allergy I had, I told him dairy and he said, “Then nothing will taste right!” I was floored, then I was served 3 courses all with cheese! The server was mad when I had to send back.”
And mir444 (egg and peanut allergy) said this: “Worst experience we had at Disney World. Even though I had called ahead and was assured that my child could get some egg-free pasta, that was not the case. Waitress was rude, my child didn’t feel safe eating anything.”
Incidentally, mir444 also shared a comment that I experienced first-hand about Les Chefs de France. The wait was unbearably long! I don’t know if that had to do with the food-allergic meals or not, but it’s worth noting. Also, of all the comments I’ve read elsewhere about dining with food allergies in EPCOT, “France” always seems to get the worst marks in terms of trying to communicate with the chef.
But as disconcerting as the comments about Les Chefs de France are, they don’t even begin to approach the negativity surrounding San Angel Inn (Mexico): (again, bold text added by me)
Tico3169 (peanut, tree nut, dairy, egg, and sesame allergies) wrote: “Waiter didn’t understand food allergies. Didn’t know what “dairy” was. Didn’t seem to take food allergies seriously. Wouldn’t bring a chef over initially (until we insisted). A very bad experience.” I can share similar sentiments first-hand!
phanooky (peanut, dairy, and tree nut allergies) said: Besides the chef, “the rest of the staff was poorly educated on food allergies.”
selketine (peanut, tree nut, and shellfish allergies) put it more directly: “The server was a ditz – and since the chef doesn’t come out it was hard to know if she had the sense to communicate properly with the kitchen.”
Suzie (peanut, dairy, wheat, sesame, tree nut, egg, and shellfish allergies) had these interesting thoughts: “A bit of a language barrier was almost our undoing; I said our son was allergic to legumes as there are a lot of beans in Mexican cuisine, but our rice still came mixed with peas. Also, this indoor restaurant is set to look like outdoors at twilight–i.e. it is very dark and hard to see; I find this stressful especially when hives can be your first sign that a problem is coming.”
And unfortunately, there’s this from jrmbelle (peanut, tree nut, shellfish, fish, and soy allergies): “They claimed that they made me an allergy-friendly meal, however, I ultimately had an allergic reaction and got very sick from the food so they clearly did not.”
A “not-so-honorable” mention must go here to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway), which is known for its princess dinners. My family had an interesting personal incident here this past April. Two mistakes turned out to be better than one! When my middle son’s (peanut, tree nut, dairy, egg, and sesame allergies) dinner came out, the chef – who personally took the order – sent out mashed potatoes with butter. Obviously not good for a dairy-allergic child. When we informed the waitress, she then noted that the dinner my son ordered – again, personally with the chef’s blessing – was NOT safe for him! Meatballs were a centerpiece of this meal and while the chef told us they were safe for my son, the waitress was the one who noted that they had egg in them. So the chef actually made TWO errors… and we wouldn’t have known about one without the other being so obvious! HUGE kudos to the waitress for being so well-versed on food allergies. And as a side note, we were her last customers on her last day before she headed back to Norway the next morning! Would your head have been in the game so well?
Other comments about EPCOT country dining: (for the last time, bold text added by me)
jillac1 (peanut, tree nut, shellfish, fish, egg, sesame, and soy alliergies) on Tangierine Cafe (Morocco): “Not up to usual Disney standards. They did not have an ingredients list. The manager did come over but had to come back to me several times when he discovered something we had ordered was unsafe. I think my DS had just a plain hamburger.”
Evangeline (peanut, tree nut, egg allergies) on Tokyo Dining (Japan): “Manager not a chef came to our table to discuss allergies. She was chilly, brusque & dismissive. She seemed put out by request to have their sushi made on fresh mats etc (to avoid cross contam), would not take my sons’ food orders & said to give it to server.”
Now I know I’ve committed heresy by criticizing some of Disney’s restaurants on their ability and desire to accommodate food-allergic diners, but it’s important that everyone recognizes even dining at Disney World requires vigilence. We need to be our own advocates EVERY time we dine out and take as much responsibility as possible for our own safety EVERY time.
I would also re-emphasize what I said at the beginning: Disney World IS still the “gold standard” for food allergy dining in my opinion, and most restaurants around the various parks have very strong AllergyEats allergy-friendliness ratings. (Remember that you can check them at AllergyEats Disney World – www.allergyeats.com/disney.) Further, I wouldn’t even discourage those like my family who like to dine at the various EPCOT countries from doing so. But I would strongly suggest you heed the warnings presented here and be extra vigilant at certain restaurants!
So where do I start in asking for feedback? How about I just say “fire away!” I’m sure there are passionate opinions out there and experiences that many of you would like to share. So please click Comments or Reply below and share your thoughts.
And lastly, please remember to rate all of your dining experiences (whether at Disney World or anywhere else in the country) at our core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) or at AllergyEats Disney World (www.allergyeats.com/disney). We also have an iPhone and Android app for the main AllergyEats site. Each new rating that you add makes AllergyEats a more valuable tool for our food allergy and intolerance community!