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In The Weeds: There’s a Food Allergy Community? Really?

December 8, 2009

food-allergyPeople just love them some communities.  I mean, they must.  After my Reader’s Digest piece was picked up by both the Today show and, the “food allergy community” opened up a peanut and gluten-free can of whoop ass on me.  Some scolded me for not caring if their children died, others asked for a full retraction and apology to the community, and others reminded me, again, that they could die.  Do you know of any other job that requires so little training but includes the burden of sudden death on your hands besides the job of waitress?

Who knew there was a food allergy community?  Can you imagine the poor restaurant that is chosen for their weekly meetings?  The waitress nervously approaches the chef with an order the size of the Bible with all the special notes and codes and the words “COULD DIE!!!” hand written on half the tickets.

I have dealt with a lot of food allergies in my serving career, and I care, I really do.   Every case was handled with extreme care.  I would go talk to the chef, who would roll his eyes and then have to stop the line and talk to every cook.  I then had to stop and tell every other server, busser, and assistant to make sure not to touch any plates at table 53 without washing their hands of any and all potential allergens.  She could die!  Meanwhile, the restaurant is completely packed and crazy and this person has put her LIFE in my hands and I have to trust – no, SHE has to trust – that all 95 people who could possibly come in contact with her or her food will completely sanitize their hands, the silverware, the plates, and the very air she breathes of any and all peanut dust.

It’s just too much.  Not for me, no.  I am willing to accommodate you to the best of my abilities.  But it’s too much for you, allergen sufferer, isn’t it?  I mean, if you could truly die, how do you throw caution to the wind and hope that your 12 reminders have done the trick?  Balls, you.

I found a YouTube channel called “Your Daily Tip” that is a video blog, a vlog if you will, from a server working in LA.   He has many tips for both servers and customers that are hysterical.  But this piece directed at the “food allergy community” does a much better job at saying what I’m trying to say.  Caution: Copious amounts of F bombs.  Not suitable for work. Or for you, mom.


21 Responses to “ In The Weeds: There’s a Food Allergy Community? Really? ”

  1. Shannon on December 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

    You know, I think a lot of people don’t realize that the chef has a prep cook that comes in early morning and does most of the chopping, dicing and tedious prep work for various frequently used ingredients. It is impossible for a chef working in the evening to know if a chopped red pepper for a dish in the evening to know whether that came in contact with a taboo ingredient that morning.

    Even if a chef takes the utmost care, there is just no guarantee, ever. PERIOD.

  2. Nat on December 8, 2009 at 9:08 am

    If it’s that much of a concern, then food allergists should be among the best tippers.

  3. Pancake on December 8, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Well done Charity – Anncine and I were dying over this one!

  4. Pancake on December 8, 2009 at 9:57 am

    (and by “dying”, I mean laughing really hard, and not fom huffing errant peanut dust or lactose poisoning or gluten contamination.)

  5. BigCrockofGold on December 8, 2009 at 11:18 am

    One of the sweetest old ladies I know has an allergy list the length of a roll of toilet paper. Luckily I’ve been able to memorize this list over the past four years, so it’s not much of a problem for me. But when she goes out of town, I feel really sorry for the waiter that gets to her table.

    Hey food allergy community: You’re on Notice!

  6. Flybyrtys on December 8, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Food allergists are just anal-retentive picky eaters who don’t have the spine to admit as much.

  7. Sara on December 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

    I often longed to inform parents that their children have a better chance of trotting off to Box City by way of their shrill little screams than anything I could ever serve them.

  8. BettyBostonia on December 9, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Priceless! I’m not nor ever have been a waitress, but I love reading your blog and have learned to be a more considerate diner by doing so. This one struck a nerve because I, like many others, am getting tired of what has become a “special needs” nation full of serious whiners. Just because a person has issues doesn’t mean that the world owes you something. Overcome, adapt, and like the man says, “move on”.

    Thanks for putting a little humor into my lunch hours. BB

  9. greyhound on December 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Seriously, do you really have an allergy to onions, or do they just make you bloated and give you really bad gas?

    Well Done.

  10. sjhill on December 9, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I used to have the same feelings as some of you mention, then I developed an intolerance to gluten. It is not fun when the food you eat makes you physically ill. I’ve learned to deal with the issue and if I go out to eat, I try to pick items off the menu that appear to be safe, and I politely inquire about whether or not they have ingredients that might make me sick. If there is a question, then I play it safe and don’t order it. Most of the time I end up ordering a dinner salad or just grilled meat and vegetables without any seasonings added. I’m ok with that and I tip the wait staff well – it’s not their fault I’m not able to eat a lot of the menu items. I don’t think anybody owes me anything. And the other people I know with food allergies feel the same as me. Don’t lump everyone into the same category just because there are a few people out there who are jerks and feel like the world owes them something. And I hope that those of you that think we are just anal-retentive, picky, and whiny eaters never get food allergies. It really sucks to never again be able to eat your favorite foods and to have to pick apart the ingredients looking for hidden items that make you sick.

  11. jordansmom on December 10, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Amen to sjhill. My 16 year old son was diagnosed 3 years ago with Celiac Disease and must strictly adhere to a gluten free diet. And I must say he is not a typical teenager in that he is vigilant in this matter. Along with learning a whole lot about food and what’s in it and how it is prepared, he has also learned how to speak politely with servers in restaurants in describing what his needs are. (It also doesn’t hurt his case that he is cute and engaging.) However I think the most important thing he has learned is how to quickly assess a server’s willingness and skill regarding helping him have a safe meal. And we have left restaurants without ordering rather than take the risk.

    We do our best to frequent those restaurants that provide gluten free options on their menu. We also try to eat during slower hours and not at peak times. And yes, when served well, we are very generous tippers! I know that most of the gluten free community that I have encountered, try to adhere to these guidelines. And I would just like to say a big thank you to all servers who try their best to be accommodating to my son’s needs.

  12. AiXeLsyD13 on December 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    So, because I have a food allergy… I should never leave my house or dine out anywhere? My friends & family always wonder why I’m so uncomfortable dining out, and this is why. I’m allergic to shellfish. No, I can’t just push it aside, or pick it off, or avoid it. No, I can’t eat steak that’s been cooked on the same grill. No, I can’t trust the waitress/waiter, manager, cook, and slew of other people that you mentioned.

    When I find myself brave enough to dine out, I make the wait staff aware of my allergy once, before I order… and never mention it again. I leave ridiculously large tips if I feel the service was good, because I have an extremely small circle of places to dine out where I feel comfortable, and like to get that great service each & every time I go there.

    If waiting on people annoys you so much, why don’t you go get another job?

    I have been in an ambulance, on the way to the hospital, not able to breathe because I ate food that came into contact with shellfish. It’s not fun. Try letting someone cut off your airways some time and see how it feels.

    Do I need to go live in a hole because I have this condition? I’d say you’re less fit to function within normal society as far as attitude goes. It amazes me how many ignorant and inconsiderate people out there choose careers in customer service.

  13. Mnerva on December 27, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    AiX, you made the statement that is at the top of the list of bothersome things people say about servers/serving. Who ever said that we are annoyed by waiting on people? Obviously we’re not, or else we wouldn’t be doing it. I actually ENJOY waiting on people for the most part. I’ve been given gifts by my regular customers, know all about their lives and families, and love to see them walk through our doors. BUT, there are many people who we HATE waiting on because they don’t treat us like people/humans. It is incredible. They act like since I am a server I: A)have no brains, B)have no life, C)have no status or value in the world and D)can and should be treated like sh*t. Well A)I have an IQ of over 150, B)have a very full and happy life, C)am doing very well financially, tyvm, and D)NO ONE should be treated like sh*t. Having allergies is tough, I know, I have plenty. I think the whole point was if the allergy is life threatening then extensive lengths should be taken to make sure that you do not come into contact with that allergen. And going out to eat definitely broadens the possibility that you WILL come into contact with it. AND the server really does not control a majority of the situations of food preparations. I have no problems trying to help out people with allergies, when and if I can.

  14. shannon c. on December 28, 2009 at 3:11 am

    aix, i happen to agree with mnerva. i think most servers truly do enjoy what they do, but it’s like any industry, and any group of people, they complain about things. when i worked at a grocery store in highschool, people would complain about stupid things customers did. servers complain when they don’t get tipped well, because that’s there bread and butter. personally, i go out of my way to make sure that my guests are getting good service. when i find out about an allergy, i go out of my way to make sure that my guests know how there food is cooked, if it’s on the same grill, or oil, or pans, and how severe the allergy is with regards to some things. i’m not allergic to food products, but friends and family are, and i am allergic to things that could potentially save my life. i’m not trying to make light of your allergy, they’re awful things, but when you’re that allergic, that is one case that it’s ok to push the issue.

  15. SirOtter on December 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I understand why folks with allergies would be nervous about the food in restaurants, but expecting your server to have a degree in biochemistry so they’ll know what is and isn’t safe for you is a tad optimistic. I don’t think it’s fair to make a server responsible for your health. I’d suggest checking with the management of your local restaurants to find out what they know about your allergies and how their foods fit in with your needs beforehand, rather than waiting until you arrive and laying such an unreasonable burden on your server.

    Love the blog. It’s been eighteen years since I’ve waited table, but I’ve had many a smile and a few hearty laughs reading here about the experiences common to all serverfolk.

  16. AiXeLsyD13 on December 28, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Apologies, I was a little jumpy after reading a Yahoo! article last night that led me (eventually) to end up here. My wife has a hard enough time getting me to dine out at new places, these articles just solidified my resolve. There’s no way to be absolutely sure of my health unless I prepare all food myself and read every label, and hope that all labels divulge allergy information.

    It just seems to me that no one takes allergies seriously. Each time I eat out at a place that serves shellfish, I feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with albeit slightly better odds. When I explain my allergy to people, I have to go through the myriad of flippant questions that all boil down to “Can’t you just push it aside” and “A little won’t kill you, will it?”

    I have walked out of places where servers have rolled their eyes at me just for asking.

    I leave RIDICULOUS tips if the server goes to get a manager or cook/chef, but don’t want to ask “can I see the manager/chef” for fear of coming off as condescending or arrogant.

    I have called ahead to restaurants and asked if they had any shellfish, was told no, arrived, and seen the “specials” board touting lobster, shrimp, & clams. At one Amish restaurant in Ohio, I called to ask if they had shellfish… the girl told me “No, we have shrimp, and lobster, and crab, but nothing in the shell.” Now I ask for each individually… and how it’s prepared.

    Perhaps a standard for dealing with allergies needs to be created? I have seen sites online where some larger cities are taking initiative, and it seems like Canada is years ahead of the US as far as warning labels, posters in kitchens, and pushing for requiring restaurants to have an epi pen kit on site.

    I do find your blog to be witty and well written, even if I have a slightly different philosophy on some things.

  17. Shannon on December 28, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Hey AiXeLysD13,
    I am one of Charity’s co-writers, and I read all the comments. I, too, waited tables for a long time and one thing I think I think the average joe does not realize is how much the server is at the mercy of the kitchen staff. You can ask, plead, and beg, but if they are not in a giving mood they may not leave off the tomatoes even though you ordered it that way. Then the table incorrectly assumes that the server screwed up. I think that when someone has a life threatening allergy the safest thing for everyone involved is for the patron to go directly to the management before they are seated. This takes the server out of it, and the kitchen staff will take the manager more seriously. As I have been reading some of the comments about the food allergies, I just keep thinking if people only knew how little the server can actually do about it. Sad but true.

  18. AiXeLsyD13 on December 28, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    It’s odd to me that the kitchen staff doesn’t respect the servers, that’s your point of contact with the source for the business’ income… you’d think any communication would be crucial to customer satisfaction.

    Again, I’ve never worked in the industry, so I have no idea.

    But then again, things like serving regular coffee to folks who request decaf happens all the time. They do this to my grandma, and she’s buzzed for hours afterward. Surely, that has nothing to do with the kitchen staff…?

  19. Shannon on December 28, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Of course that isn’t applicable everywhere, or even from one night to another, but the back of the house definitely have their favorites, and that’s how they wield control. I’m not talking about high end restaurants, but mid range. Do you really think everyone back in every kitchen really cares about the business’ income? They are salaried in the mid range market. Why would they care? Now a chef is a different matter, but true chefs mostly reside in higher end restaurants.
    As for the coffee, you are always going to have good and bad servers.
    Everyone who writes for this blog exaggerates for comedic effect. It is not to be taken too seriously. It is all in good fun. :) We try to make people laugh.

  20. AiXeLsyD13 on January 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Perhaps you ought to suggest something like this for your work place, then all the burden wouldn’t be on the server, and advertising that you’re using the program may bring in more business…

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