I haven’t written about any new restaurants because I didn’t go anywhere new recently. I know. Shock! However that doesn’t mean I haven’t eaten out safely and well of late.
Last week I went to Otto Pizzeria, Candle Café, Souen, Chipotle, Better Burger, a local diner and had a date at Stand. I had a full range of dining experiences, some which were completely anonymous and still safe. For example, at the Stand, where I’ve been about six times in the last 12 months, I didn’t talk with the general manager, didn’t have a long convo with the server. (I did however, have an “allergy action plan” demo with my date, who was understanding about my food allergic needs and said, “Let’s go wherever you know you can eat safely”. Rock on!) The Stand only makes burgers and I’ve talked with them many times about where they make the salmon burger versus the beef (separate grill) and whether or not they have a dedicated fryer for the fries (I’ve gotten mixed answers on this so I’ve stayed away). I usually order their burger salad and this time was no different. I asked for no dressing, twice, and no croûtons (saying I couldn’t tolerate wheat) and left it at that. My meal came without croûtons, yay, and ramekins of dressing and Parmesan cheese were on the side, double yay! There wasn’t a big to do, the line cook didn’t come out to say hello, and I don’t even know our server’s name. It was a completely anonymous, yet culinarily safe for this Allergic Girl, experience. [I am NOT recommending this.]
Then there’s what I call “The Cheers Experience”. I'm sure it's a result of many factors, some quantifiable, many subjective. One factor may be the result of patronizing restaurants that really care about creating a safe dining experience. In any case, your assistance to restaurant management in creating a great allergen-friendly experience is vital.
Here are my steps:
• I call ahead and talk with management about the Allergic Girl, situation.
• I get the name of the general manager and if they say they can accommodate me, I make a ressie.
• Then when I go to the resto, I present myself to said manager. I present an allergy card, give the manager the run down, and go over the menu.
• I am friendly, I smile; however, I am also assertive about my needs. I am not aggressive, I never raise my voice, I never threaten with liability or lawsuits or righteous anger. I aim for honey versus vinegar. The Golden Rule comes into play here: I aim to treat others as I wish to be treated.
• Very often the manager has alerted the Executive Chef or the Chef de Cuisine, who may join us at the table to discuss the menu (or the manager may
act as go-between).
• By this point too, everyone’s been introduced by name. Names make everyone so much friendlier and if you have a great experience you know not only whom to thank but whom to ask for next time!
• Once I’ve completed a hopefully delicious and allergen-friendly menu, I sincerely thank the server and the chef and the manager by name.
• I tip the server GENEROUSLY!
• Very often, I will call the next day to thank the manager for ensuring a safe meal. What our mothers told us is right-on: please and thank you do really make a difference.
• NOW here’s the trick. If you do this all once and have a safe and yummy dining experience that is great. But go back within a few weeks and replicate it and then go back again and they get to know you.
• By the third time you return, you and your needs have become a “Norm!”
Otto Pizzeria has become one of my gluten-free, allergen-friendly Cheers experiences. It is such a pleasure to be a Norm there. I went on Thursday with a friend. Of course it was packed, it always is, but we were able to grab a seat at the bar and before I could say anything, the GM had a convo with the bartender about the Allergic Girl sitch (Thank you again Chris!). I repeated my needs to the bartender cos that’s just the kind of Allergic Girl I am and we had a wonderful meal. Having a place I can go and literally everyone knows my name is such a treat. And you can do this as well. It’s not about going every week (which helps) but it's about creating that special relationship with a restaurant.
Have any of you been having a Cheers-like allergen-friendly experience in your local haunts?