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Do most restaurants have ingredients available?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!  

We took my nephew out for his 25th birthday  (he's special needs/developmental delays, and my older DS and DS13 took him to the movies before lunch, so he was  so happy to have his special day. We went to one of our local restaurants, and I was able to talk to the manager in great detail about DS13's food allergy, and they were able to prepare him chicken tenders (breaded in plain flour and buttermilk) and fries without any seasoning, and I checked the ingredients list in their "book" of recipes and ingredients. (I wonder if all restaurants have such a thing. It was super helpful!) I was really pleased and told the manager I really appreciated all his help.  What a great lunch–not needing Benadryl, Epipen, or a trip to the ER is a success! 

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Comments 6

  • K8sMom2002

    Hey, Dory, hope you don't mind that I forked your excellent question into a new topic so others could find it more easily … 

    For the most part, many restaurants don't publish their ingredients and only have the Top 8 allergens and gluten allergy charts available. The staff at those restaurants look so bewildered when we say we avoid corn, which is NOT on their charts.

    I love it when restaurants include all of their ingredients in one easy-to-find place! Chain restaurants that I know of that have had ingredients listed include McDonald's, Subway (be careful not to accidentally get the Canadian website, as the ingredients are different), Dairy Queen, Wendy's, Steak n Shake, and Arby's, as well as Chick Fil A. 

    Sit down chains that are really great at food service include Carrabas and Long Horn. 

    Chipotle is usually a great option for folks with food allergies — but since you guys are avoiding peppers, that might not work as well for you. I will say that it is one of the few Tex Mex type of restaurants that DD is able to eat at with her corn allergy — they really work hard to make it possible for her to eat there.

  • StephM

    In general, I find that eating out experiences will vary dramatically depending on the ingredients you are trying to avoid.  My immediate/extended family has a mix of needs so everyone all at the same time is… hard.  The hardcopy ingredient book is generally pretty rare.

    Cross-contamination can be a huge issue in some places even when ingredient lists are available. Being willing to get up and leave is important, or just not eat if something seems off.  Most places will talk with you but sometimes people just don't know. I've had hotel breakfast buffets where the server had cut out all the labels and could pull them out for review, which was awesome.  I've had others where they looked at me blankly and I ate snacks from my luggage.

    My favorite places tend to be small, owner-run places that have family members with severe food allergies.  This sort of relationship means that someone will catch you as you come in and tell you to go sit outside because today's special might trigger you. There are also some larger places that have strict allergy protocols (calling ahead to find out about these can be helpful)– things like the manager on duty reviewing your order and delivering it with a specific flag can indicate extra awareness/training.  

  • K8sMom2002

    Steph, that is absolutely first class advice, and it mirrors my own experience as well. 

    Another thing we have to remember is that website updates frequently trail actual updated menus and ingredients … and sometimes restaurants can run short of particular ingredients due to supply chain issues. That means they may run to the nearest supermarket and grab a replacement. So we always ask if anything has changed.

    We tend to frequent the same actual locations of even chain restaurants, as the staff tends to see you as a "regular." "

    Other tips …

    • At a sit-down restaurant (or anywhere tips are suggested), tip WELL, at least 25% if they get it right, and jot down on the receipt, "Thank you for taking care of our food allergies." I've actually overheard restaurant staff tell newer staff members, "Oh, I know her! She's the one with the food allergies who tips really well!"
    • Use a chef's card — here's a  courtesy of Allergy Translation.
    • Before you try a new restaurant, talk to managers and chefs at non-busy times — 2-3 in the afternoon is usually a lull between lunch and dinner.
    • If a restaurant has an online menu, pick two or three entrees that look like they would either be safe or could easily be tweaked safe, and ask the manager or chef to check on those.
    • Avoid restaurants on holidays — Valentine's, Mother's Day, Father's Day … these can be really chaotic.
    • Ask for a seat in a quieter area so that the server or manager can better hear you.
  • Kathy P

    Another great chain is Red Robin. They have a binder with ingredients and allergen listings. Chain restaurants have the advantage that things are super consistent. The down side is that it's harder for them to alter a dish because everything is preseasoned. 

    We've also done well with smaller family run places as Steph M mentioned. These are the places that are more likely to be able to make something special, unseasoned depending on what you need to avoid.