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Food Allergy or Allergic to Flavor?

I know this topic has been brought up again and again, but after working tonight, I suppose I needed to vent?

I've worked in various kitchens for the last 12 years, and the only thing I hate about this field is "Well, I'm not REALLY allergic... I just don't like ____" after I've spent a good 20 minutes or more trying to come up with a solution. While I'm fussing over a fake allergy, I'm neglecting the other guest's orders.

I, along with all of my coworkers, take allergies VERY seriously. We do have separate cookware for certain allergies (nut, seafood, etc.). Getting out that specialty cookware, the utensils, and all the special ingredients takes time - but for someone who has a real, severe allergy... it is worth it. I would say all of the real allergy-guests are more than understanding, and gracious. They let us know "Hey, I can't have ____." when they make their reservations, and we prepare ahead of time. I like the challenge of allergies and dietary restrictions when they are honest. I have made sugar-free dessert platters, gluten-free dessert tastings... and my proudest moment: a totally vegan dessert platter (5 desserts, with accompaniments).

Over the last few weeks, I've had several 'gluten allergies'. A few of the guests were very happy as I pieced together gluten-free desserts from things on the menu, and a few thing not on the menu. The rest? One of the guests tonight claimed we ruined her night by not having a selection of gluten free desserts. I offered the same pieced-together dessert as I have been all month (menu changes monthly), and I offered some 'works still in progress' (for next month's menu). The outcome? After 20 minutes or so of 'this won't do', it turns out 'gluten allergy' actually means 'special diet'... and she ordered off the menu.

Lately, on orders and reservation sheets I've seen: 'Allergic to all cheeses, except cheddar and swiss', 'Highly allergic to all peppers - wants extra chipotle sauce on the side', or my favorite 'Extremely allergic to onions, onion powder, garlic, etc.'. Oh the onion allergy: you can't have any of the sauces. Huh? The sauces are made with stock which is made with about 10 pounds of onions. Oh, well it's not REALLY an allergy...

I guess my point is, restaurants DO take allergies very seriously... and my question is: Nearly every GOOD restaurant will try and accommodate your likes and dislikes - and where I've been working for those honest people who say "I just don't like___" we go the extra mile, so why fake an allergy?

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  1. I have a friend with an onion allergy, and it covers everything in the onion family. But the weird thing about her allergy is it's related to the actual onion itself. She can eat onion oil, powder, and stuff where the onion has been cooked in it and removed, like stocks. But if she gets a piece of onion she breaks out in itchy ugly hives in the next few minutes. I've seen it happen to her multiple times. She'll tell someone that she can have something in which onions were a flavoring but she can't have anything with bits of onion in it, get reassurances that something is onion bit free, eat it, and have a reaction before she leaves the table. Now she tries to avoid anything where the onions were diced because she knows it's near impossible to get all the bits out. But it's really hard for people to understand her allergy until they've seen her have a reaction.

    1. Amen brother from a nut and venom allergy person and mrs jfood shellfish.

      And restaurants are usually great about. An example from yesterday. Very coolplace for lunch serving three mini burgers, a tuna, a beef and a chicken with pesto. Server not sure about pesto after being asked and would check the kitchen (jfood sorta knew) and jfood told server, if the pesto had nuts leave it off and if not serve it. Server returned, pesto was actually mixed into the chicken mixture and offered either a tuna or beef substitute. Good service.

      So jfood is with you on "diet" and "do not like" mis-people. Heck jfood does not like certain things and mentions this to the server or orders something else. Jfood was on atkins and ordered a white pizza and ate the toppings and left the crust. Everyone got a good laugh. But people who hide their personal tastes behind those of us who have real allergies and seem to manage fine, are, quite frankly, dispicable.

      BTW - if the fakers get something they do not like or is "off diet" no big deal. Those of us with allergies and then need to stab ourselves in the thigh with an epi-pen sorta ruins the night for many people.

      1. I'm going to play devil's advoate for a moment & In response to OP & the customer's gluten free desert request. Just one thing to consider, when people request gluten free - it is possible they are suffering from some sort of IBD - be it Chrohn's disease, colitis, and the like. And while it may not be an "allergy" - it can make some people very, very sick. It is easier to say there is an allergy, rather than a "special diet" as said person may wish to protect their privacy. Its much easier to say "hey i'm allergic to gluten", rather than "i've got ulcerative colitis and gluten makes me really ill." It is a very humbling disease. But I do agree that they should have let you know ahead of time, sometimes people just forget. C'est la vie. That said, your guest did sound way out of line by saying you ruined her night. The fact you have gluten free to begin with is a good reflection of your food.

        I'm specifically responding to that single part of the post and just giving the OP some food for thought. That said, I do find it entirely inappropriate that people create allergies at restaurants in order to get what they want. If I see a dish that has an ingredient in it I'm not crazy about - I will say to the waiter, "is it possible I can get that without ___?" If not, I pick it out. No biggie.

        1 Reply
        1. re: amanda3571

          I'm with you Amanda. An allergy or an intolerance is one thing, but if you don't like one of the ingredients, it is acceptable to ask if the dish can be prepared without it, under certain circumstances. (Or just, please, choose something else!) A lot of food in a restaurant is prepared in advance, so to ask for salsa without onions, for example, is kind of silly. And let's not even get into the people who want to tell the server how to cook the dish (I want this on the side, and no salt, and could you poach it instead of grill? ... sigh). I don't think many of these diners realize what a kitchen actually goes through to prepare an "allergy free" meal -- separate knives, pans, bowls, ingredients, etc. all to avoid the anaphalactic potential that lies therein. Some of them think that if they are paying for the meal they are entitled to tell the restaurant how to cook it. These are the kind of people who might to go a sushi restaurant and ask that their fish be cooked instead of raw. Honestly if it the dish as it is described on the menu, does not suit you, just order something else!

        2. I've got a lifelong strong aversion to eggs as standalone items. If it's a component protein, it ranges from like (mmm key lime pie) to somewhat tolerated (mayonaise) . But the smell of scrambled eggs or omelets has made me nauseous since I was young, and I find hard-cooked eggs revolting.

          But I'd never think to describe my intense dislike as an allergy, and I realize I'm something of a freak in that regard. I just stay out of breakfasty places because the smell gets to me there, and I try to be careful about looking for the presence of hard-boiled egg in sandwiches and salads.

          For the most part, the restaurants are good about accomidating my freakiness. The only time I can remember being told 'no' was at a place where they did a huge batch of dinner salad every night where they put everything including the dread egg in the giant bowl, and then dished out individual servings, and they said they couldn't just give me lettuce and dressing instead of that. (That restaurant didn't last long)

          1. Good to get some feedback!

            I made some sugar-free (and gluten-free) panna cottas for a guest tonight. Except for us lactose intolerant folks, they seem to be a good option for nearly everyone (but I usually need to keep them locked up... they seem to disappear when I'm not looking).
            Sundays are usually allergy night, but every single one tonight called ahead (so everyone was happy).

            The last few years have been kinda sad for me, as shrimp (my fav in nearly ANYTHING from ceviche to dripping in butter) has given me some nasty reactions. It has gone from pop a few pills and eat 'em anyways to I need a hazmat suit to prepare them. I ALWAYS remember to mention "Hey, I can't have shrimp" when making reservations, or telling my server as soon as they take the drink orders (for the non-reservation places), etc. Not allergic to the iodine which is often the case... allergic to the shrimp, and now I have to carry the stupid epi-pen. I thought it was just 'old' shrimp which is something I had heard...but I've had them right off the boat...

            Most of the people at work have allergies which have developed over the years (and most are to shellfish and random oils... overexposure?), and nobody can understand why you would forget to mention something that could potentially kill you. Everyone in a restaurant gets kinda angry when you mention a severe allergy AFTER the food has been placed on your table.

            I'm with beachmouse on the egg thing, BTW. I don't know if it is from working with eggs all the time (don't like how they sound when they hit the bowl/that membrane part), the smell of pain in the butt souffles (one place I worked made them to order), or whatever... but eggs kinda freak me out. Putting an over-easy egg on a medium burger... ew.

            1. I had a restaurant in Boca and I saw every 'allergy' possible - I would say 95% of .customers with allergies' were liars. People with real allergies know how to question waitstaff, manager or chef and are polite about it, taking trouble to explain their allergy and trying to find out what is safe for them to eat. The others are just plain and simple fussy and don't like certain foods or enjoy making a scene and a song and dance in front of their friends. 'Allergies' were rare at 2 tops (husband and wife only tables) but magically appeared in large groups. How difficult is it to politely tell a server that you do not like onions/peppers/tomatoes in your salad and to please ask the kitchen to leave it off, rather than shout loudly when your salad appears saying you are allergic to onions as if the server was telepathic.

              1. I agree that you'll run across a whole bunch of people who are allergic to the flavor as opposed to the item. I just don't understand why they just say that they don't like a particular item. Those people give people with real allergies a harder time in restaurants when the waitstaff doesn't take them seriously because they've seen so many fakers.

                However, I believe that some of these people actually do have allergies/intolerances and sometimes will deal with eating the foods if their reactions aren't a life/death situation. I've shared many meals with a friend whom I found out after a few years that he was allergic to shrimp. His reaction wasn't the epipen thing; he would just get a slight swelling in his lips and feel pins and needles in his mouth for a few hours. And as he would avoid shrimp when he ate by himself, he said that in family style group dining situations, he would eat the shrimp and just deal with it because he didn't want to make a big stink about it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Miss Needle

                  I'm like that. I get migraines from dark/bittersweet chocolate but sometimes I just eat it and then take aspirin right after. I think there are people who know how much they can have before anything can happen as well. I had a roommate who was allergic to seemingly every fruit but citrus. Since she hated citrus, sometimes she'd have a bite or two of the other fruits just to satisfy a craving and would have to give the rest away.

                2. "'Extremely allergic to onions, onion powder, garlic, etc.'. Oh the onion allergy: you can't have any of the sauces. Huh? The sauces are made with stock which is made with about 10 pounds of onions. Oh, well it's not REALLY an allergy..."

                  Excuse me??? I carry an epipen at all times because *AM* allergic to all forms of onions. Any exposure to onions can cause my face, lips, tongue, and even throat to swell quite dramatically. I trust that the next time you treat a customer's request concerning an onion allergy as simply a matter of taste preference you won't mind the inconvenience to your other customers as the EMTs arrive to take care of my anaphylaxis. And then plan to take off lots of time later when you hear from my lawyer ...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: NoOnions

                    I took the OP to mean that he has been told someone is allergic to onions, etc, but when the 'allergic' customer finds out they can't have any of the sauces because they are all made with stock made with onions, the 'allergy' suddenly disappears.

                    I had an experience while working at a large resort hotel when we had in a big conference of people from a major beauty supply store chain. There was a stunning number of Allergic to Onions and Garlic requests, surely higher than the percentage in the general population and definitely higher than any other big conference we had ever had. Definitely seemed odd, especially when I was working a fajita station (with onions and garlic) at one of their buffets and didn't have that same number of people avoiding what I was cooking (and not a single person taking us up on the offer to order one without onions from the main kitchen). But then I heard from friends in other areas of the resort that there was a lot of room switching going on, so maybe it was fewer allergies and more, 'I don't want my breath to smell when I hook up'.

                    1. re: NoOnions

                      jfood thinks you misread as well. He thinks the words "Oh well it's not REALLY an allergy" were said by the customer after s/he was told that all the stocks had onions in them.

                    2. It's frustrating when people lie about allergies because it makes it that much harder for people who do have legitimate allergies. At the same time, my daughter has odd nut allergies (severely allergic to pistachios, cashews, pine nuts, mildly to walnuts and pecans, none to hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, peanuts, unsure about macadamia so we keep them away). Rather than going through the list which no stranger wants to remember or will be able to remember, we just say she's allergic to nuts to avoid the problem. I guess it is lying but it's the most practical way. I used to try to explain it but would get blank stares. It's never happened but I can imagine how annoyed a server would be if we told them she had nut allergies and then shared a hazelnut cake with her. When she goes to friends' houses, we tell them she had nut allergies, too but if it's someone who she sees often, we distinguish it. My niece is allergic to spring flowering fruit but not if it's been peeled or cooked. Who knows how these allergies work?