Dining out is a lovely treat, but it can also be anxiety-inducing for individuals with allergies particularly anyone with anaphylactic food allergies. As with everything to do with allergies preparation and forward planning is the name of the game to create a safe environment and reduce anxiety and stress.
Here are our top tips for dining out with allergies so you can manage your anxiety and still enjoy the experience safely.
Research the restaurant beforehand:
Most restaurants have an online presence. This is excellent news for allergy and intolerance sufferers – as it is now quite simple to obtain a menu for a given restaurant. Under current EU laws, restaurants and other eateries must inform customers if their dishes contain any of the 14 most common allergens. I like to vote with my feet and go with restaurants that include allergen info on their menus. Then you can see if you like the choices you will have and whether the restaurant consciously caters for food allergies and intolerances – reducing any anxiety you may have around making special requests or not being able to thoroughly enjoy your meal due to restrictive ingredients.
If it’s not clear from the menu call ahead and ask to speak to a manager to make sure they can cater for your food allergies.
In addition, you will find many reviews online by simply googling a restaurant’s name. Look for menus, reviews, and customer experiences.
TripAdvisor Reviews and Google reviews (if you access them by searching for the restaurant on Google maps first) allow you to search for keywords like ‘allergy’ – highlighting reviews where other customers mentioned the restaurant’s handling of food allergies and intolerances.
Inform the waiter and chef:
When the waiting staff come to your table to take your order be ready to communicate your requirements and allergies confidently, ask them to make a note of your allergies and pass it to the chef or use a chef card. Ask how the food is prepared and how they avoid cross-contamination to make sure your food won’t come into contact with your food allergens in the kitchen. Request that the chef uses clean utensils and fresh oil if there is a potential for cross-contamination.
Empower your child to speak up:
With kids, it is good to get them to practice reading menus for ingredients and allergen information. Encourage your child to speak up and communicate their needs to the restaurant staff. Teach them to ask questions and make requests, such as asking for a dish to be prepared without a certain ingredient. This can help them feel more confident and in control of their dining experience. It will also help them be confident doing this when out with friends or at parties without you.
Latex Allergy – Avoid restaurants that use latex gloves:
Many restaurants use latex gloves when preparing food, which can trigger an allergic reaction. It is important to ask the restaurant staff if they use latex gloves and avoid restaurants that do.
Have an Emergency Plan& carry your medications at all times:
Just knowing you have your bases covered in the event of a ‘worst-case scenario’ can go a long way toward alleviating any stress, worry or associated anxiety arising from dining out. If you have a severe allergy, always carry your medication with you. This can include an EpiPen, antihistamines, and any other medications prescribed by your doctor. Knowing that you have your medication with you and showing friends and family how to use adrenaline auto-injectors can help reduce your anxiety and give you peace of mind. Having an EpiPen to hand – stored in a temperature-regulating case, along with medical alert jewellery and communicating your allergies to your table and restaurant staff are all excellent, straightforward methods of feeling comfortable in your situation and environment.
Be mindful of your emotions:
A common trend with anxiety is catastrophising – imagining the worst possible scenario. For example – “If I eat out tonight, the kitchen will make a mistake, put peanuts in my food, and I’ll go into anaphylactic shock” It may seem like and irrational thought to some but unfortunately for some who have experienced life-threatening Anaphylaxis the fear of another reaction can impact anxiety levels. You can combat these feelings by laying out a clear action plan, which will give you a sense of control and preparedness in the face of a potential reaction. If you feel anxious during the dining experience, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or visualization exercises. This can help calm your mind and reduce your anxiety levels. You can also bring along a stress ball or fidget toy to help distract your mind and relieve anxiety.
Bring a supportive dining companion:
Consider bringing a friend or family member who understands your allergies and can support you during the dining experience. If you get nervous or have difficulty with staff not understanding the seriousness of your allergies, they can help you advocate for your needs and provide emotional support.
Avoid restaurants with a high risk of cross-contamination:
Certain types of restaurants, such as Asian or Mediterranean, may have a higher risk of cross-contamination due to the shared use of ingredients. For nut and peanut allergies it may be best to avoid Asian restaurants as they often use peanut oil and nuts in their cooking. Instead, choose a restaurant with a lower risk of cross-contamination, such as a steakhouse or a restaurant that specializes in simple, uncomplicated dishes.
Stick to familiar restaurants:
If you have had a positive dining experience at a particular restaurant in the past, consider choosing that restaurant again. This will help reduce your anxiety and give you a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Choose the right time to dine out:
Where possible pick a time to dine out when the restaurant is less busy, such as during the early or late hours. This will give the staff more time and attention to cater to your needs and reduce your anxiety levels.
Allergens and Alcohol:
Remember to check drinks for allergens too. If you deviate from your usual tipple it’s important to consider allergens such as
- Pine nuts in craft beer
- Almonds in some gins such as Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire
- Dairy in Cream liquors, White Russians or Pina Coladas
- Egg white – Whiskey Sour or other cocktails with white froth may contain raw egg white
- Egg White – To salt or sugar rim cocktail glasses
- Chickpea Liquid (Aquafaba or Garbanzo) – may be used as an egg substitute to create white froth in cocktails such as Passionfruit Martini or Gin Fizz
- Gluten in beers & spirits
- Sulphites & Histamines in wine and beers
- Sodium benzoate in soft drinks, wine & beer
Dining out with food allergies can be anxiety-inducing, but with preparation and planning, you can still enjoy the experience. Remember to research the restaurant, inform the staff of your allergies, carry your medication, and be mindful of your emotions. By taking these steps, you can manage your anxiety and enjoy a safe and pleasurable dining experience.
Stay safe, stay informed with AllergyLifestyle.com
Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Allergy Lifestyle Limited (t/a) Allergy Lifestyle) uses reasonable endeavours to check the accuracy of information provided however no warranty is given that they are error-free. Always seek the advice of an allergy specialist and follow your anaphylaxis emergency care