Memorizing Your Order, The Washington Post

I’m incredibly wary of any server who doesn’t write down my food order, especially with multiple food allergies. So I was intrigued by this article in The Washington Post, which looks at the old school waitering style, one wherein the waiter rattles off the whole menu and takes your order without writing a thing down. The Wash Po and admits that because of the way diners eat now, memorizing a table’s order is not as practical, nor as elegant, as it may have been.

“The old-school way of memorizing diners' orders is fried” by Steve Hendrix:

But the days of the waiter who doesn't write things down appear to be numbered, according to restaurant owners and industry experts. As Washington's annual Restaurant Week brings waves of new diners into local eateries, the venerable waiter memory act is in serious decline, a result of increasingly complicated orders -- customers who customize because of nutrition concerns or allergies real or imagined -- people going out in larger groups, and a generation that seems less comfortable with memorization.

For those of us with dietary restrictions, it’s imperative that a waiter does not try to memorize them. It's your job to memorize your allergies, not a waiter’s. So if a waiter isn’t writing down your order, I suggest kindly requesting that they do so. Smile, say it nicely, not in a demanding way, but make sure they write down your needs. Or hand them a chef's card, where it's all nice and written out for them. I like

Now, about that "allergies real or imagined" line above. It’s a fact: many non-allergic diners say they are allergic to an ingredient when in fact they just don’t want it. For example, I've had kosher friends tell me that they tell waiters they're allergic to dairy to ensure they get a diary free meal. Another example: restaurants tell me that patrons say they can't have an ingredient because they are allergic and then when the waiter says the dish they ordered has that ingredient, they say: "Oh, a little is okay." That confuses everyone. For the truly allergic, a little is never OK, and many restaurants know that. No wonder some restaurants think some allergies are "imagined".

The solution: all patrons, allergic and non-allergic, be honest about what you want and need; restaurants listen to your patrons and give them what they want and ask for. It’s that simple. Once there’s a better line of communication and an increased trust between restaurants and the patrons they hope to serve, we will all be better off.


On the matter of "a little is ok" this comes about because people don't respond to the word "intolerance" the way they do "alergy".

My lactose intolerance is now so bad that it's now moot, but for a long time, a little really was ok, and I needed to be able to make a judgement call. I know it's annoying [I'm gluten intolerant and a little really isn't ok] but it isn't people being blase, or pretending a reaction, just a consequence of not being able to get any respect if you say (as used to be the case for me), "I can cope with butter if it's cooked well into the food, but not if you've fried the egg in it". Sadly those days are over for me.
Anonymous said…
I loved your article on ordering while eating out and have experienced a lot of the same frustrations when ordering for my food allergic son. I've found that sometimes you have to scare dining staff to convince them sometimes. A shame really! Thanks!

Jenny said…
Great post with excellent suggestions. If we want great restaurant service and reaction-free experiences, we need to be proactive and honest.

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