How Should Restaurants Accommodate Allergies?

Two thought-provoking blog posts have recently been published about how restaurants should, and can, deal with severe allergies. Paolo Lucchesi from the San Francisco Chronicle's Inside Scoop blog asked yesterday, "When It Comes to Diners’ Dietary Demands, How Much is Too Much?" and today Phoebe Damrosch on Grub Street asked, "Are Restaurants Responsible for Your Food Allergies?"

Lucchesi details an experience had by Douglas Keane, chef-owner of Cyrus in Sonoma, Ca. A diner had presented a card that listed many items he could not eat: no nuts, nut oil, wheat, chocolate, cow’s dairy products. After some debate, Keane ended up accommodating the diner, which wasn't easy.

Then, there was the case of another Bay Area restaurant which received an email that said in part:

No sugar, very low or no carbs, no wheat/gluten, no dairy, no vinegar or alcohol and mostly only green vegetables (tomatoes and red peppers are OK too) – and only grapefruit, lemon/lime, green apples, some cantaloupe and strawberries for fruit…all meat, fish, shell fish and poultry are fine as long as they are fresh and plain; not marinated and no butter. We don’t eat anything from a can or anything that might have additives or preservatives; that includes any and all ingredients used to prepare anything.

The restaurant planned out the meal ahead of time, and then the couple cancelled the reservation just a few hours prior to dinner.

On Grub Street, Damrosch writes:

The proliferation of restaurants that say, in no uncertain terms, they won't accommodate food allergies is relatively new. Of course, so is the proliferation of diners who travel with food-sensitivity cards that explain in strongly worded language exactly what they can and cannot eat.

It gets more complicated from there, thanks to diners who claim to have allergies when they really just don't like something. Restaurants like Momofuku Ko will not accommodate vegetarian diners, since they only serve a prix fixe meal without a la carte items.

Neither Lucchesi nor Damrosch offer solutions for restaurants and perhaps that's because there is no obvious choice. It's challenging for kitchens to accommodate special requests that require significant time (such as scrubbing down prep surfaces, dishware, etc.). But people with severe allergies deserve an occasional meal out of the house as well. It's a messy situation, and with food allergies potentially on the rise, it sounds like it is only going to get worse.

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