Recently, my friends at Epicurious and Bon Appetit asked me to bring to life the importance of personal touches that make a difference from my point of view as a diner and influencer in the food community. Specifically, about the time someone’s attention to detail, focus on service, or passionate approaches have made all the different in my experience. This is an issue I think about often as a graduate from a Culinary Management program.
Dining out is often a challenge for our family. Going to restaurants was one of my favorite things to do up until 8 years ago when my oldest son had his first anaphylactic reaction. Flash forward a few more years to my middle son and I being diagnosed with celiac disease and well, I suppose you can understand how the experience I once loved is now tainted with some anxiety and fear.
In my carefree past, I was one of those people who relished going to a different restaurant every time we went out and had to taste each dish as it came to the table. I would insist everyone tasted my food as well. My favorite places were the ones where the waiters would recommend ordering multiple selections to share. Throw in a creative cocktail menu and I was hooked.
Now it is totally different. My biggest concerns are whether they will understand our food allergies and intolerances. Will they really get it? If they do, will the importance of these issues be translated well to the chef? Will they even remember or truly be able to accommodate us in the extreme chaos that is dinner service at any restaurant? What if there is a mistake? Even if they are very well intentioned, one of my children or I could end up sick or even worse, have a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
How can we truly enjoy a meal with this underlying fear? As a result, we rarely go out to eat. Isn’t pleasure the whole purpose of dining out? Sustenance too but, I really miss the joy of dining out at and experiencing new restaurants.
Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had some great experiences. Some inspire me to get out of my kitchen and try our hand at eating out a little more regularly. Recently, I was at Red Hat on the River. I go there pretty often but as is the case with every restaurant, I never order anything fried. There is too much of a risk the food will be cross-contaminated and make us sick.
Imagine my surprise when they brought these bistro French fries to the table and told me they have a separate fryer they keep to use for guests who are gluten-free. I was ecstatic! There are some things I crave and just haven’t been able to eat since going gluten-free 4 years ago and deliciously crispy restaurant fries are high on that list. Besides the fries, the service for our entire meal was wonderful. The staff was incredibly knowledgeable and accommodating.
As my kids get older, it is important for me to help them identify restaurants, like Red Hat on the River and many others, which are knowledgeable and willing to accommodate our food allergies and celiac disease. I want them to experience the pleasure of dining out and to help them travel more freely.
Want to meet other purveyors who are making a difference with their customers? Check out BonAppetit.com’s “Out of the Kitchen”, an ongoing exploration of the relationships that build and sustain the food industry. See how hyper-local food markets operate and how their focus on quality and service keep customers coming back for more.
There are very few spots where a dash of worry doesn’t enter my mind even if I’ve dined there multiple times and I know there are good cross-contact policies in place (such as separate prep areas or fryers). I do love how education is spreading, and speaking with chefs is becoming the norm in many of the restaurants where I choose to eat. Of course, my favorite restaurants are those that contain no gluten ingredients. (The best selection that I’ve found of these so far is in the Pacific Northwest so far. It’s a celiac wonderland.) I try to blog about all my experiences (good or bad), and share them on food allergy apps such as (Find Me Gluten Free and YoDish) because I use them so frequently as a starting point. Hopefully, you have the chance to travel with your family in a safe environment too! (We usually pack a meal the first time we go to a new spot, just in case, or at least a snack.)
Instead of business cards, I printed food allergy cards and give them to the waiter to help the kitchen conversation go smoother. Since using the cards, I’ve haven’t had bad surprises and the restaurant staff is super grateful. Moo.com has real cute cards you can customize…so the allergy thing can be less of a drag.