I’m all about communicating clearly and often to a restaurant to let them know about your food allergy ahead of time, asking the kitchen if they feel comfortable about accommodating you, and then continuing to be clear and polite in your communication with staff etc., etc., etc..
(And it works. See the Dell’anima post just last Thursday. Update: I thanked Joe by email. He said, “It was my absolute pleasure to make sure that you were taken care of last night.” How lovely is that?!)
When I talk about how to get your needs heard, I’m referring to those of us with food allergies for whom eating a specific food will cause a negative immunological response on the spot, quick and severe. (Food intolerant, you are in here too, no one wants a three day tummy ache or instant diarrhea or exacerbation of your genetic disease).
What about those for whom a certain food or ingredient is an aversion? It doesn’t make them sick; they just really *really* don’t like it? How should they get their needs met?
Through Serious Eats "Should picky eater fake allergies?" they report on a story pubbed by City Paper in Washington DC that talks about people who tell a restaurant that they are allergic when in fact they just don’t want a particular item. The story is called: Breaking Out in Chives. By Ruth Samuelson
“For the ingredient-averse, a dinner out can be a horrible experience. If they consume something that torments their taste buds, their meal will be ruined. So they learn to adapt.
And while chefs and servers know that particular ingredients are unlikely allergens, they don’t dare call out their patrons—that would be discourteous and unprofessional. They have to take allergy requests seriously. So pretty much anyone can claim to be allergic to anything and, problem solved, the ingredient is removed!
But just because the kitchen staff doesn’t object doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on.”
The article interviews Jeff Black of Black Restaurant Group, which owns BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant in the Palisades and several other establishments in Maryland.
His advice:"Just be an adult, explain what you want, and his cooks will make adjustments. “Don’t play games. And don’t lie,” he says. “I’m expected as a business owner to have a certain amount of integrity. If I say something is going to be a certain way, it’s going to be a certain way—and you hold me to it. It should cut both ways.”
It should but it doesn't always. Not nearly.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about this phenomenon usually as a complaint from chefs. They know who those people are, the ones who say they are allergic but quickly prove they aren't (usually by nibbling the offending item on a friend's plate, say) and it pisses them off. “Just tell me what you don’t like and I won’t put it in there,” chefs say to me about those folks.
As anyone with allergies or food intolerances or celiac disease or is diabetic or has any special dietary condition knows “just telling the chef what you need” doesn’t always work. This Allergic Girl blog is my chronicle of just that: which chefs don’t need to be told twice to really get it and those that are simply clueless.
My hunch is that these people with ingredient aversion have had the same experience we've had, namely: not being heard by restaurant staff. So they go to extremes, lying or misrepresenting the seriousness of their dietary request in order to be taken seriously.
This is a problem for everyone in the food allergic, food intolerant and yes, the food averse populations. It’s creating confusion and hard feelings on both sides of the kitchen.
The solution? Restaurants listen to your customers. I’m fairly certain that if these ingredient-averse patrons felt heard to be begin with the wouldn’t feel the need to break out the big guns and say that their dislike or oranges is in fact a life threatening allergy, when it’s no where near.
Food averse customers: don’t lie. Be honest and clear in communicating your needs to a kitchen. Chefs are people too; a good chef will want to accommodate you, whether you have an allergy or aversion. And if the chef doesn’t listen to your needs, go elsewhere.
From City Paper: Over at Vidalia, near Dupont Circle, Chef R.J. Cooper sees allergies, fake or real, as just part of the job.
“If I have a guest that walks in the restaurant, I’ll do whatever I can to make that guest happy. Any kind of allergies, any kind of modification,” he says. Cooper says the best thing a patron can do is call beforehand. The more time the kitchen has to prepare, the better it can make adjustments and write up a new menu, often with multiple dishes.”
Food allergic, food intolerant, food averse, and picky food eaters: take heed. Communicate early, often, assertively and politely. More often than not you will get just what you ordered.