Eating Out With Food Allergies: A Lesson Learned

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Eating Out With Food Allergies:  A Lesson Learned~Mom Vs. Food Allergy

We went to Red Robin last night for dinner.  We’ve been going several times a year for about two years, and allowing Superman to have their french fries from the dedicated, gluten-free fryer.  Only french fries are cooked in this fryer, in soybean oil.  We bring the rest of his meal, usually chicken nuggets, that they gladly heat in the microwave for us.

It was BUSY.   The waitress was about 5 months pregnant, and looked tired.  She didn’t look friendly or happy either.  Usually we have great servers that are outgoing and willing to chat a bit.  Not this girl.  It made me nervous.

We ordered, starting with my husband.  Next, I ordered for the kids stating, “They both need fries from the dedicated, gluten-free fryer. My son’s allergies are dairy, egg, and peanut.”  She didn’t write it down, and some annoyance flashed on her face and in her eyes, so I quickly added, “So if you’d please write that on our ticket we’d appreciate it it.”  She did.

Our food came, and the fries from the dedicated fryer were in yellow baskets, just like usual.  But they looked different.  I examined them, thinking there was seasoning on them so my husband tasted them to confirm there was seasoning.  I was right.  I can spot that fry seasoning a mile away at this point.  See my note at the bottom on why the seasoning isn’t safe.

In the meantime, my husband had sent the chicken nuggets with the waitress, asking that she just microwave them in the container.  When the chicken nuggets were sent to be warmed, someone at our table had requested a side of ranch and a side of campfire sauce.  We had also requested an extra plate, but didn’t say why.  We also sent the wrong fries back, requesting the corrected, gluten-free fryer fries without seasoning.

A few minutes later, Superman’s chicken nuggets from home returned…

ON A PLATE,

OUT OF THEIR CONTAINER FROM HOME,

NEXT TO A SIDE OF RANCH AND CAMPFIRE SAUCE.  TOUCHING THE RANCH AND CAMPFIRE SAUCE.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

So, initially my husband starts cutting off the portions of nuggets that are touching the ranch and campfire sauce.

Here’s what starts going through my mind….

No big deal, we’ll just cut that part off.  He’ll be fine.

I can’t believe she put them on the plate.

WHAT IF SHE TOUCHED THEM WITH HER HANDS!

At this point, Superman had started eating them.  And then, my mind took off….

WHAT IF THE PLATE WASN’T CLEAN TO START.

WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT BEFORE WE LET HIM START EATING.

WE CAN’T LET HIM EAT THESE.

IT’S NOT WORTH IT.

SHE’S SO STUPID.

WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THEM TO BE PUT ON A PLATE.

I’M MAD AT MYSELF FOR NOT THINKING THIS THROUGH.

I grabbed the chicken nuggets that we had put back in our container from home, stopping Superman mid-bite.

Eating Out With Food Allergies:  A Lesson Learned~Mom Vs. Food Allergy

“Is everything OK?”, the waitress asked, snapping me out of the whirlwind of thoughts.

“Um….not really.  Did you touch the chicken nuggets with your hands?”

“No.”

“Well, he’s got a severe dairy allergy.  And you put his food on a plate touching the ranch and campfire sauce, which is dairy.  We didn’t ask you to put them on a plate, and that’s a big no-no”.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think about it.”

Of course you didn’t.  And I’ve learned my lesson.  And I’m mad at myself that my son only gets to eat french fries tonight for dinner.  I want to cry as I stare at him across the table.  He’s 5 and got the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He’s resting his chin on his hand like an adult would when they’re overwhelmed, a sad look on his face, slowly munching on his seasoning-free french fries.

The lesson?  Pretend every waitress, manager, or restaurant staff is none other than Amelia Bedelia.  Yes, that’s right-Amelia Bedelia.  Say exactly what you mean, and don’t assume they know what you’re talking about, or you’ll end up with a mess of a problem like in an Amelia Bedelia story book.  Spell it out, clearly.  There’s one other thing.  Always, ask for a manager.  We had gotten out of this habit, and we paid the price.

Superman never had an allergic reaction last night, but it was a close call-TWICE.  Trust your instincts, and PLEASE learn from our careless mistakes.

Will we go back to Red Robin?  Yes, we probably will.  In the future we’ll be more clear and ask for a manager-EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.  Because Superman is worth it.

NOTE:  See the Red Robin Allergen Menu here.  **At our location they have a dedicated fryer for the gluten-free french fries, where just french fries are cooked.  When working in their interactive allergen menu, fries come up as a safe side with gluten & peanut allergies, but disappear when I add milk as an allergy.  I’m thinking there must be some sort of issue with the fry seasoning and milk.  Typically the gluten-free fryer fries come without seasoning.  We’ll be asking about this on our next visit.

 

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16 thoughts on “Eating Out With Food Allergies: A Lesson Learned

  1. I could feel my eyes filling up with tears as I read through this. I am so glad that Superman didn’t react but I could envision your face, looking upon him from across the table. I know that look. I know the fake smile while you try to fight back the tears. Many hugs my dear friend.

  2. Oh, no! I feel like littles things like this happen to me at least once a year. A “DON’T PUT YOUR GUARD DOWN” reminder. It’s rough. So sorry. I am curious about the seasoning, too. We were told it’s the same seasoning that is put on the table, which is safe for dairy allergy. At least at our RR. We always ask for the fries plain anyway, but I clearly remember reading the label. UGH. Now I’m dying to know.

  3. I’m so sorry you had to go through that! The anxiety, frustration, and stress of it all… as if we need more. Superman is blessed to have an amazing Mama!

  4. I have been burned by RR twice now. The first time my daughter reacted from supposedly “safe” food for her there I complained and the head of RR nutrition personally called me to apologize. I gave them a second chance and again followed all the suggested procedures when ordering. Shortly into my daughter’s meal she started up with hives and later went into full/on anaphylaxis. My daughter wound up being ok after an Epi Pen and an ER visit. But now, RR is dead to me.

    • Katie,
      I’m so sorry you’ve had bad experiences at Red Robin. The manager at our local RR has been fantastic and very helpful. Our food allergy support group had a meeting with her and one of the head cooks recently and it was a great meeting. I know you don’t feel comfortable returning, but I hope that there are other restaurants that you do feel comfortable with. I’m glad your daughter was OK after the reaction there and so sorry to hear it happened.
      -Rachel

  5. Rachel, I really feel you on this! Going out to eat is SO stressful, and when you have a flaky server, it’s just not even worth it. I could stay home and be calm rather than deal with that! I’m sorry you had this experience. My youngest is allergic to treenuts and sesame and it just makes eating out very scary. Hopefully the next time you go it will be better!

    • I agree, staying home is sometimes (almost always) easier. Luckily, we talked to the manager and got things straightened out and have had several good experiences since then.

      • Not that this makes the situation ok by any means, but the red robin seasoning salt is gluten free, has been for some years now I believe. That being said, they have gotten worse at allergen awareness than in previous years .Most cooks aren’t even aware of what is in the items they prepare in regards to possible allergens. It’s sad really. They now put the burden on you as a customer to know what needs to be removed from an item to fit your needs by using an app yourself to customize the item. They don’t keep the information available in house like they used to. If you don’t know what you need withheld because of what it’s made with or how it’s prepared, chances are neither will they.

        • We don’t avoid gluten, but we’re avoiding the fry seasoning due to other allergens.
          I actually get a different impression with our local Red Robin in regards to food allergies. I think the use of the iPad is do that all locations are the same. Their cook staff is highly trained on cooking for food allergies. Sorry to hear your location may not live up to your expectations. Our manager has looked up ingredients for us. Maybe the manager at your location can help?

    • I did ask a manager about this and they said it was because of possible CC between fryers. I’ve also talked to the head cook who said that CC is very unlikely because the fry baskets are so heavy that they wouldn’t be carried over other fryers. So, we have continued to enjoy the fries that are fried in the gluten free fryer without any problems. We feel confident at our location that it’s a safe option for us.

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