Eating Out with Allergies and Intolerances

Eating Out with Allergies and Intolerances
You all know that I follow the Free From Food and Free From Skincare Awards. I am certainly very interested in the recent addition of The FreeFrom Eating Out Awards. Back in September I wrote about changes being made to how food allergens are labelled on products. The new requirements come into force this year, in December. Along with how packets are labelled it also effects the information given to us when dining out. The new regulations allow allergen information to be provided orally by wait staff. This concerns me a great deal.
I enjoy eating out but it can be a little daunting when you have allergies/intolerances. There are many restaurants who do a good job at providing information and others that fall short. I stick to the same restaurants where I have gained knowledge of the food on offer or they provide separate detailed allergy menus. For me, Wagamamas is a shining example of how it should be done. Yes, they are not 100% perfect and I've encountered some hiccups but wait staff always seem attentive and assist with difficulties or mistakes. However, I have come to noticed that it does depend on what allergy/intolerances you have or maybe the branch you visit. I remember my Twitter timeline singing the praises of Nandos, Zizzi and Pizza Express but they were Coeliacs. I've had terrible experiences in all of these restaurants and will not go back. I know Italian food traditionally contains egg and dairy but I manage to not starve when I visited Rome. I ate my own body weight in dairy free gelato and no one questioned me when I ordered cheese free pizza. I can order from Papa Johns without a fuss but how come when I'm in Zizzi and Pizza Express wait staff look at me like I just asked them to poop in my shoes.

A recent email grabbed my attention and I wanted to share the findings of a survey conducted by the Freefrom Eating Out Awards team at the Allergy and Free From show in Liverpool in October. According to the survey, only 17% felt that asking their wait-person or the front of house staff about allergens would be a safe and reliable way to go. 54% thought that talking to the chef was the safest option although many of those (45%) also wanted to see a written list of ingredients for each dish, or to be provided with an ‘allergen-free’ menu. I have to agree. Whilst I don't feel the need to speak to a Chef, I do want to see an allergen menu as I would like to take responsibility for ordering and not be reliant on second hand information. Also, if you are in a noisy and busy restaurant, it allows me time to select my meal without a fuss, especially if a number of items on the menu take my fancy.

Other findings from the survey were -

Asked how often they ate out:
19% ate out twice a week and 18% only ate out once a week
25% ate out twice a month and 19% only ate out once a month
(A Survey of eating habits in London conducted for the Zagat Restaurant Guides in September 2013 showed that, in the London area at least, people now eat out, on average, four times a week)

Asked why don’t they eat out more?
67% said there was not enough choice to make it worth their while eating out.
53% said that they did not trust most restaurants to understand their allergies or special dietary needs
44% said it ‘was too much hassle’
16% said that they did not like ‘to feel different’

Asked which were the best and the worst places to eat if you have an allergy or coeliac disease: 
Best were fine dining restaurants and family run restaurants, scoring 3-5/5
Worst were sandwich bars and Indonesian and Indian restaurants, scoring 1-2/5.

Asked what precautions they took to ensure that they get safe food:
53% phoned in advance to discuss their needs
50% asked to speak to the chef on arrival
(32% both phoned in advance and asked to speak to the chef when they arrived.). However, the largest number, 75%, whether or not they had phoned in advance and/or spoken to the chef, just chose to stick to simplest menus anyhow.

Of those who filled in the survey: 46% had coeliac disease, 20% suffered from wheat allergy/intolerance, 14% suffered from dairy/cow's milk allergy/intolerance, 20% suffered from a range of other allergies/intolerances

I would be very interested to hear if you agree or disagree with the findings of this survey. What would your answers have been to the questions? Do you have good or bad experiences when dining out with your allergies/ intolerances? Do you have a favourite restaurant/cafe that caters to your needs?

Sarah x