Never a night off

I’ve written before about how when eating at restaurants, I always bring food for JT. But that wasn’t always true. There was a time when I felt that he could eat at a restaurant. There were a few restaurants that we trusted and we would order JT plain pasta, white rice or even french fries (depending on their frialator). He’s never had a reaction to eating food at a restaurant, which is really impressive, I think.  We’ve been very lucky. What really made me change my mind about him eating in restaurants was research. While preparing for JT to enter Kindergarten I did all sorts of research on food allergies and in the process came across some really terrifying stories involving children and anaphylactic reactions. The common thread among these stories was that all of the children involved were eating food that was prepared for them by a restaurant or school cafeteria. That got me thinking about who I really can trust to feed JT.  Then I had this horrible (not horrible in the allergic-reaction sort of way, just horrible in the clueless-waitstaff sort of way) restaurant experience…

My mom and I were out shopping for some craft supplies one day and it was nearing lunch time. We had the kids with us and everyone was getting  hungry. There was an Applebees in the same area as the craft store and my mom suggested we grab a quick-lunch. I was a little uneasy about JT eating at this restaurant since he had never had any of Applebees food before but I figured there had to be SOMETHING he could eat there. The waitress came over and right off the bat I explained JT’s allergies to her. She left and came back with an “allergy binder”. The binder was categorized by allergens (wheat, milk, egg, etc) and within each category was listed foods that would be safe to eat if you had that specific allergy. Our problem was that we had to cross-reference every single category with every other category and by the time all of my cross referencing was done there was nothing left that JT could eat. There wasn’t a meal that was free of all of the allergens, which was fine, I expected as much anyway. When I explained this to the waitress (who was very nice) it was clear that she didn’t know what to do or say in this case so she left to get the manager. The manager came over to the table and again I explained JT’s allergies and why the binder didn’t work for us. I asked if we could maybe get him some plain pasta or white rice but that I would need to see the ingredients. He answered with “all pasta has egg in it”. I said I realized that a lot of times that was the case but that if I could look at the ingredients to some of those staples I could choose something for JT. He said that was fine and left to get the ingredients. But, he came back empty-handed. He told me that the kitchen doesn’t keep ingredients on hand. I found that really, really strange and dangerous.  But at this point I just wanted to get us something to eat so I thought maybe they would have some sealed, pre-packaged foods. I asked “OK how about a banana or maybe a fruit cup?” And he said….ready for this? “Why don’t you teach him to eat grilled chicken and salad so he can eat at restaurants?” I’m guessing that this guy doesn’t have a child with food allergies and knows NOTHING about feeding a child with food allergies. Not only is my child a normal picky 5-year-old boy but he has a legitimate fear of trying new foods. And if this guy thought that I would even consider feeding my child ANYTHING that was cooked in their ingredient-less kitchen he was crazy!! I was furious. For someone who has NO idea what it’s like to parent a child with food allergies to think that I should feed my child differently just so that they can eat at a restaurant is absurd.

When I got home I emailed Applebees and explained to them what happened. I told them that I felt that the allergy binder was being used in place of properly training their staff about food allergies.  I told them that I was astonished that a manager would attempt giving me advice on how to feed my child and that I thought that it was incredibly unsafe that the kitchen didn’t have ingredients on hand. They did respond with a generic apology but I would never go back there again. I don’t know if a simple comment like that would spark the same sort of anger in me if he were talking about feeding allergy-free Molly or if it’s specific to JT and his allergies. But I don’t think anyone appreciates unsolicited parenting advice from strangers and there was just something about what he said that really got to me. While writing this I came across many blogs and articles sharing a similarly disappointing experience regarding Applebees and food allergies, so I guess we aren’t the only ones to have had a bad experience. And so I will never go empty-handed to a restaurant again. We bring JT’s food with us and that is just the way it has to be for now…

never a night off from making dinner 🙂


One response

  1. I am so sorry and angry at the same time. I know I have said many times it would just be nice not to have to fix dinner. Since I have been doing LDA therayp I have gained some foods and there a couple of places I can now go to but only if I bring it home or eat outside because I still have all the other allergies to contend with as well.

    You are a wonderful parent. I will remember this whenever anyone suggests Applebees.

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