Restaurants are definitely getting better and better at marking up menu’s, with it now being pretty much standard to mark up gluten free and vegetarian options (thank god!). However when your food intolerances expand to anything further it can be a lot trickier.
Following a low FODMAP diet and being highly gluten intolerant (I haven’t been tested for coeliac disease as too scared about having to ingest gluten prior to the test!) my main triggers are gluten, garlic, onion and lactose. Helpfully, these are possibly the most common ingredients of pretty much every dish! I have written an eating out guide to help with picking a restaurant/ meal and overall have had a massive success with following this process, however every now and then I still get caught out – especially if I can’t research and pre-select the restaurant.
The two biggest problems I encounter…
A few months back I went to Barcelona for a city break and stumbled across a lovely little restaurant called Meson Barceloneta. The restaurant marketed themselves on being allergy friendly and the menu and service backed it up 100%.
Not only was the menu marked up with gluten free and vegetarian options, it also listed the main allergy groups and explicitly encouraged diners to notify them about any allergies – and when doing so the staff were extremely knowledgable about the ingredients and were happy to consult the kitchen to amend the dishes I fancied.
Another restaurant I have seen do this well is Rock Salt in Folkestone. When you sit down they pass you the menu, talk you through the specials and then explicitly ask whether anyone at the table has any dietary requirements.
Imagine a world where this was the norm and you no longer have the wince at the thought of trying to explain your needs to your waiter, them awkwardly running back and forth to check with the kitchen – or even worse handing you a 50 page thick ring binder with an allergen list that makes you lose the will to live. A world where you trust what the waiter has told you and don’t spend the meal worrying about how you’re going to react once it’s over.
I don’t think listing the ingredients on the menu is necessarily essential, but by calling out the fact that dietary requirements can be catered for, and following this through with staff actively asking if anyone has any, is such a positive thing! Restaurants being completely transparent about their ingredients could have such a great impact on their business, never mind our experience as customers – which makes me so confused as to why is every restaurant not doing it!?
I find those that are proactive rather than reactive give me so much more confidence about ordering. I personally think the key lies in the staff training. I have had so many bad experiences where staff either react badly when you even mention a dietary requirement, have no idea what’s in the dishes and no incentive to check with the kitchen to find out, or even worse they just guess (!?). I remember numerous times when I’ve asked if there’s garlic in dishes and the waiter has said “I don’t think so” and even after explaining that I’m highly intolerant, they still don’t take it seriously. I used to be a lot more trusting but after ending up with my head down the toilet after a meal out more times than I can count, I TRUST NO ONE! (exaggeration but not far off!).
With about 40% of the population suffering from mild IBS, 1 in 100 being coeliac plus all the other food allergies and intolerances, I feel so strongly that restaurants need to better educate themselves and their staff on ingredients and dietary requirements. I also think that we as consumers have some control over this; by being forceful about your needs when in a restaurant and also by sharing your positive experiences. I always thank the waiter and manager if possible when I have a good experience, plus ensure I write a positive Google review and usually mention it on my social platforms too! As restaurants start to see that this is a marketing opportunity as well is ethically brilliant, it will slowly become the norm (just as catering for gluten free has become!).