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How to handle a reaction to food allergies at a restaurant?

n
newtoLA06 Feb 2, 2009 12:32 PM

Hello everyone. My date and I went to dinner this past Friday night at a really hot, new restaurant in Los Angeles. I had been looking forward to the meal for quite sometime, so I had high hopes for the meal.

Everything went well up to the dessert course. I am allergic to all nuts except for peanuts, so I tend to be particularly wary of desserts. That night I ordered a dessert that was listed as a dark chocolate and caramel cake with vanilla. There was no mention of any nuts being in the dessert whatsoever, although other menu items did mention the presence of such nuts as pistachios, hazelnuts, etc. Also, I fully admit that I did not ask beforehand whether or not the cake had nuts since I assumed that the cake contained no nuts since there was no mention of it.

After I received the cake, I enjoyed it until I started to feel a strange sensation on my tongue and in my throat. I immediately recognized that I was having an allergic reaction to something that I had eaten. When the server returned to our table, I asked her whether the dish contained any nuts. She replied, no, but that she would go to the kitchen and check. When she returned, she said that was surprised to learn that the cake contained hazelnuts in the garnish. I told the server know that I was having an allergic reaction and that the menu did not mention the presence of nuts in the dish. She apologized. After that, I asked for the check and left a 15% tip. Thankfully, I didn't need to go to the hospital afterwards, but I ended up cutting the evening short.

With all of that mind, what should I do now? My date suggested that I should call the restaurant and let them know what happened. I was thinking of sending an email to the management to voice my displeasure and to let them know that servers should mention that that particular item contains nuts. But on the other hand, I have to admit that I left the restaurant unhappy and have no desire to return. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated...

P.S.--The meal that we had was part of Restaurant Week, so the cost of the dessert was already included as part of the pre fixe meal. That evening, I thought to have the dessert comped, but I realized that the offending dessert was not paid for a la carte.

  1. MamasCooking Feb 5, 2014 08:48 PM

    People die very quickly from nut allergies sometimes. If it were me there is absolutely no way I would ever risk the onset of anaphylactic shock and impending death for a slice of stupid cake that I had no way of knowing the ingredients of. Forfeit the damn dessert and eat a cheese course or a frozen banana next time. Come on why would you risk it?

    1. t
      tonifi Feb 5, 2014 07:23 PM

      You know, I used to think the whole food allergy thing was waaay over-hyped, and then my husband began experiencing hives and a swollen tongue and trouble breathing once a week or so and we got to play 'am I allergic to something' until we worked it out. (Artificial food color, probably mostly on the red end of the spectrum). All I can tell you is that if I am out with him I speak right up, right away, and say to the server "He is very allergic to food color so if you suspect anything he orders contains it could you please let us know?" He is sometimes reluctant to 'make a fuss' but I recall a very scary trip down the highway after a dish of vanilla ice cream when he began wheezing a hundred miles from a hospital, so I ask. I am unable to eat watermelon, and since that is an ingredient less likely to 'hide', I am not quite so diligent, unless the plates around me look like they are garnished with fruit...I don't think there is any harm in contacting the restaurant to let them know that they need to make their staff very aware of the possibility of food allergies, but I don't think they bear any real responsibility this time.

      1. jrvedivici Feb 5, 2014 02:46 PM

        A lot of restaurant purchase their cakes pre-made and might not readily know what the exact ingredients are, so I would notify them of what happened so they are aware going forward, and maybe change the menu to accurately reflect it.

        Bottom line though it is your responsibility to look out after yourself, so sadly I don't "blame them" for what happened, nor do I feel you should.

        1. m
          majormanfemale Feb 5, 2014 09:52 AM

          this is what happens when we let our guard down. yes let resturant know but acknowledge your own fault for forgetting to ask but it's important for restaurant to know what happened.

          6 Replies
          1. re: majormanfemale
            h
            Hobbert Feb 5, 2014 01:19 PM

            Why is it important to let the restaurant know? Surely they're aware that people are allergic to certain items. If you don't pipe up, it's on you. The restaurant didn't do anything wrong.

            1. re: Hobbert
              m
              majormanfemale Feb 5, 2014 01:26 PM

              They need to know the topping has nuts. So can inform staff. That way when asked they have answers yes forgetting to speak up is all on allergic person.

              1. re: majormanfemale
                h
                Hobbert Feb 5, 2014 01:29 PM

                The OP stated the restaurant was aware the item had nuts. The OP just didn't say anything. So, really, you'd just be telling them something they already knew.

                1. re: Hobbert
                  John E. Feb 5, 2014 04:12 PM

                  The waitress was apparently unaware that the dessert had nuts in it. I think the waitstaff should be aware of things like that. Of course in thia case, the OP was respnsible for this situation since made an assumption instead of asking about the ingredients. I hqve a SIL with a tree nut and soy allergy, and she always asks about ingredients. (major just joined Chow and is reviving these allergy threads. I hope he sticks around.)

                  1. re: John E.
                    h
                    Hobbert Feb 5, 2014 05:33 PM

                    Well, I would hope that the waitress would be aware she didn't know and would check. I can't imagine memorizing every ingredient of every dish in a restaurant.

                    1. re: Hobbert
                      John E. Feb 5, 2014 06:56 PM

                      She probably should not have replied in the negative when she apparently did not know the answer. I guess I do get your point about knowing all of the ingredients however.

          2. Sam Fujisaka Feb 4, 2009 11:54 AM

            You were able to talk and walk after the onset of symptoms. You're not that allergic. But YOU should be careful and may have to be more so as you get older.

            If I ingest (eat, breathe, get too close to) most shellfish, my lungs and bronchii swell up and close off very, very quickly. If I don't load a syringe with adrenaline and shoot (or use an Epi-Pen), I suffocate and die. If I do shoot before death ensues, I still have to use more strength than a mule pull competition for the next 40 minutes to just drag enough air into my closed up lungs to be able to make it. It is exhausting and filled with thoughts about, "So, this is the way it ends". Few people know about my allergy; some probably wonder what I have in the little grey shoulder holster pouch (Epi-Pen, adrenaline ampule, syringe) with me always; but I always quietly make absolutely sure that what I eat does not contain shellfish.

            If I do get a reaction, tipping and getting comped are not on the radar. My reactions have gotten more severe and are brought on by additional unknown allergens over the last 15 years during which I've had three attacks. One in the middle of the night at a nowhere border town between Kenya and Uganda, another up in the hills of Colombia, and the last here at home (in Colombia). The last two times I was alone and just shot myself up. No 911, no comps, appreciate being alive - and still being a runner and weight lifter and hound. My life, my responsability.

            1. s
              sailrox Feb 4, 2009 11:44 AM

              Now that everybody's hopped on the "it's your own fault" bandwagon, I'm curious to get a few responses to this one (which I think the restaurant actually handled rather well).

              My SO is deathly allergic to peanuts and pine nuts. He carries an EpiPen, stays away from chocolate desserts and ALWAYS asks the server about ingredients.

              he went out to a restaurant in Chicago last summer, went through the whole "Are you sure there's no peanuts? Peanut oil? Peanut butter?" thing. The server was actually quite attentive, recognized he didn't know, went back and asked the chef.

              Still wound up in the hospital. The chef had forgotten that he had used peanut butter in the fish dish's glaze.

              They called an ambulance, comped his meal (not his companion's though- I think that's fair), called the next day to make sure he was okay and apologize.

              My thinking (and SO's) is that bad things like that are going to happen (even with precautions he usually has a hospital scare about once every two years or so) and that all the restaurant can do is try to be as courteous as possible at teh time and not make the same mistake again.

              1. c
                cimui Feb 3, 2009 09:01 PM

                ok, newtoLA06, rather than join in on the pile-on, i just want to express my sympathy for that experience. it's disappointing and i feel really awful for you. your date sounds sympathetic, though, so hopefully no damage done. it's valentine's day soon and hopefully you two will be able to have a wonderful, nut-free meal, then!

                i also have food allergies (though they are not non-threatening) and very much welcome it when restaurants / wait staff note the presence of common allergens in dishes or explicitly ask if i have any allergies. this is above and beyond in my experience, though, and i tend to tip very well for the latter.

                by the way, it might be a helpful standard practice to tell the reservationist that you have allergies when you are making the reservation and ask that your wait person for the meal be able to point out which dishes to avoid.

                better luck next time -- and i'm really and truly sorry for the bad experience!

                10 Replies
                1. re: cimui
                  n
                  newtoLA06 Feb 4, 2009 07:04 AM

                  Thanks, cimui. I appreciate that.

                  And as I mentioned in a previous post, this type of experience hasn't happened to me in over 10 years--and I hope that it won't ever happen again. :-) People make mistakes from time to time, right? OK, just me then...LOL

                  In addition, I never disputed that taking care of my allergy was anything other than my own responsibility. Why people felt the need to pile on as if I don't how to manage (or have not been managing) my allergy is still a mystery to me. Also, all of the accusations/insinuations that I was looking for a "free ride" are completely unnecessary and inappropriate. Hey, the reason why I asked the question "what should I do now?" in the first place is because I honestly wasn't sure how other people have handled or would deal with the situation. I guess now I know. :-)

                  Furthermore, I still respectfully disagree about the 15% tip as being "paltry" or somehow shorting the server. I NEVER expected such a virulent response to that issue (which wasn't even the focus of the original question.) You would think that I left her absolutely no tip at all.

                  Lastly, an ADDENDUM to my original post...I spoke with my girlfriend (my date that evening) about this thread and the responses, and she reminded me of something that happened that evening. When I was trying to decide which dessert to order, I asked the server to describe the dark chocolate/caramel cake (as in what did it include.) Now, once again, I fully recognize that this is not the same as asking "are there nuts in that dish?" (as I have asked that question countless times in my restaurant experience.) Nevertheless, she made no mention of any nuts at this point, just that the components were simply dark chocolate, caramel and vanilla.

                  When my date's dessert arrived, I immediately noticed that there were crushed green things on top of the dish. I asked the server what those green specks were, and she replied "pistachios". Then, my date mentioned to me (so that the server could hear as well) that "I guess that you can't try my dessert then since you are allergic to nuts.) I should also point out that there were no mention of pistachios on the menu for that dish.

                  Well, that's it. Just wanted to highlight that the server was (or should have been aware) that I had an allergy to nuts. Moreover, I was never looking for something "free", but rather the proper protocol for such a situation. In the end, I've decided to do nothing since it has become abundantly clear from this thread that "caveat emptor" also applies when eating out.

                  P.S.--I also appreciate the recommendations to get an epipen. I will have to ask my doctor about that.

                  1. re: newtoLA06
                    danhole Feb 4, 2009 07:24 AM

                    newtoLA06,

                    I do want to ask if you at least informed the restaurant that they should have some kind of disclaimer on the menu that says something to the effect of "could contain nuts, or nut by products"? I have been perusing some menus lately and noticed that a few of them even have a disclaimer that mentions that the food may be fried in peanut oil so beware if you have a nut allergy. I think that is a good practice that all of them should take, just to give allergic people a heads up that they may be in danger. Get that epi-pen or keep benadryl in your pocket. Stay safe.

                    1. re: danhole
                      q
                      queencru Feb 4, 2009 07:39 AM

                      I think it's becoming more common. I've seen some warnings that say that the food is prepared in a kitchen that uses nuts. If the restaurant uses nuts as a garnish, it doesn't seem like a bad idea to put that disclaimer on the menu.

                      1. re: queencru
                        karmalaw Feb 4, 2009 09:46 AM

                        IMO, you don't need the disclaimer on the menu -- we've over disclaimed our society as it is to further remove people from their own sense of personal responsibility. Ever read all the warning tags on many of the object around us? Ever see the laws about not stopping our car in the railroad tracks (sorry, but if you don't have that much common sense then perhaps you shouldn't be in the gene pool, rather than warned not to do it).

                        I'm sorry, it's common sense that there could be nuts used in a kitchen. Common sense that there will be wheat, gluten, and a myriad of other allergens used or in contact with the preparation area in a kitchen. We don't NEED disclaimers. We need the opposite: What would be great is if certain dishes were noted as being free of certain allergens when they are free of them. But, any of us with these types of issues always take a risk when we're eating out. It's OUR risk and we have responsibility in it.

                        Those of us with issues, need to be responsible for them by 1) communicating the issue 2) being realistic (i.e. I don't land in a place for the first time in a Friday or Saturday night rush and expect the kitchen to stop everything and cook my food separately or the server to take 20 minutes figuring out what I can eat.) 3) Ordering realistically (i.e. not expecting a kitchen to recreate a dish around their allergy -- if it happens, great -- if not, order what you've been told is safe) 4) learning about food and food preparation so that you can easier identify for yourself where there might be the possible inclusion of an allergen. 5) Accepting the risk.

                        That all being said, I have my favorite restaurants. At one I just tell the chef which protein I'd like and let him cook around that maintaining my dish gluten-free (he's a stellar chef and I'm grateful for having become friends with him over the years and have the privilege of such great food when I'm out). At another I bring my own gluten-free pasta and trust that they cook it separately (they do), at a few others they remember me and are kind enough to guide me to safe choices or modify a choice to make it safe for me. I've found the great key to it is to not make things any more difficult than they have to be, to smile, and to be pleasant about it all.

                    2. re: newtoLA06
                      c
                      chococat Feb 4, 2009 11:02 AM

                      If all you get is tingling lips, you don't need an epi-pen.

                      1. re: chococat
                        danhole Feb 4, 2009 11:18 AM

                        It was a strange sensation on the tongue and in the throat. Not tingling lips.

                        1. re: danhole
                          n
                          newtoLA06 Feb 4, 2009 11:35 AM

                          Admittedly, my reaction last Friday night was pretty mild. I just had a really itchy tongue and throat, some difficulty breathing (largely triggered by my asthma) and an upset stomach.

                          But during my most serious allergic reaction, I broke out in hives all over my body. That was pretty scary as that had never happened before.

                          1. re: newtoLA06
                            chowser Feb 4, 2009 11:42 AM

                            Actually the itchy tongue and throat, difficulty breathing and upset stomach together is a stronger reaction than the hives. It can easily lead to anaphylactic shock. The more diverse the symptoms, the more your body is being affected. It might be worth seeing a doctor and getting an epi-pen as you mentioned. Allergic responses can get worst with each exposure.

                            http://www.foodallergy.org/anaphylaxi...

                            1. re: chowser
                              n
                              newtoLA06 Feb 4, 2009 12:00 PM

                              Wow, thanks. That is really helpful information.

                              1. re: newtoLA06
                                danhole Feb 4, 2009 12:14 PM

                                As I shared in a post above, my last reaction was so quick, unexpected, and totally a mystery ( I was eating some Mi8ke 'n Ike candy for goodness sake), but it scared the beejeebers out of me. When I was a kid I would go into anaphylactic shock over allergy shots, of all things (allergic to the base the stuff was mixed with), and insect stings. I would wake up in the hospital wondering what happened. I went to college with a syringe and a vial of adrenaline. I thought that at 50 I was pretty much out of the wood, since nothing had happened for years, and then that happened and now I am very careful before I try any new food, and I will never again buy candy at a dollar store. Moral is that the older you get the more cautious you have to be. Like I said before, be safe. The throat thing is not a good sign, but a person who isn't familiar wold have no idea.

                  2. Caralien Feb 3, 2009 06:45 AM

                    Regardless of RW or otherwise, I agree with the other posters that it's up to you to inform the server of your allergies (either in the reservation or both in and again when served).

                    Usually this works, occasionally I question the food and have my husband taste it first if it looks and smells like it might have one of my allergens. If it was my fault (not informing the server), I'd not diminish the tip or exclude the restaurant from my repertoire in the future. If they heartily ignored (or gave me issue) for the allergies? That's a different story.

                    A lot of cocoa is processed in facilities which also process nuts on the same equipment; if I were allergic to nuts, it's likely I'd avoid cocoa unless the source was known to be a nut-free processing factory.

                    It's not up to the servers to assume that a guest has allergies. But if asked, they should know or find out. This was not an issue to mention to the management, but something you should take as a reminder for the future.

                    1. chowser Feb 3, 2009 04:25 AM

                      You've heard it enough, I think, from others that the responsibility lies with you and you were the one to make the mistake. There are so many places where nuts can slip into a meal that you need to be proactive and not expect people to know you have an allergy and take care of you. My daughter has nut allergies and had a reaction to a roll that apparently had been next to a roll w/ nuts. It was our fault. We didn't ask or tell the server about her allergy. We quietly took care of it and tipped well because it wasn't the server's fault and she had done a good job (I guess other than not being a mind reader). I don't expect, nor do I want, servers to tell me every possible allergen in a dish, especially if it's a garnish that can change ("Our special is chocolate cake that contains flour, eggs, refined sugar, milk, butter, salt and the garnish usually has nuts, hazelnuts, but may be substituted with pistachios..." for every dish?). There are far too many "common" allergens.

                      The only time I have talked to management is when I specifically asked if a cookie had nuts, was told emphatically no, even though I stressed this was about a nut allergy. I almost had to rush my daughter to the ER before she threw up all over my in laws' carpet. I didn't call to "voice my displeasure" but to let them know they needed to inform their staff better and be careful when told there is a nut allergy. I don't plan to go back to the bakery but wanted to make sure this doesn't happen to others.

                      So, the question on "what should I do now?" is that you've learned you need to be proactive about your allergies, take responsibility and ask EVERY time, and bring benedryl or, better yet, an epipen with you everywhere you go. Everywhere. "Usually" doesn't cut it with a lifethreatening allergy.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: chowser
                        j
                        Janet from Richmond Feb 3, 2009 04:46 AM

                        Well said.....it kills me when people expect their issues/situation/needs/etc. to be more important to a stranger or to anyone than they are to themselves. The OP didn't care enough about his allergy to address it with his server, yet he expected her to bend over backwards to accommodate him.

                      2. KaimukiMan Feb 3, 2009 03:25 AM

                        The only part of your story that makes any sense is that the server could have been more attentive when she realized you were having an allergic reaction. All food service people from the hostess to the waitstaff to the kitchen (to the bathroom attendant) should be aware of the signs of allergic reactions to food, after all it doesn't behoove a restaurant to have a patron drop dead in the middle of the dining room regardless of who's fault it is. But based on your whiny attitude, I am have to admit that I can't help but believe the waitress was probably more than kind and considerate. After all, she apologized (for what I'm not sure).

                        As far as who was at fault, clearly you were, and I think you admitted that. But that is a bit different than owning up to it. Stiffing the waitress on the tip (which for dining is 20% not 15% not for at least a decade or two), considering having the restaurant comp the dessert (which apparently you did eat, and they had no reason not to serve you as they didn't know of your allergy), and your scant acknowledgment of the waitress going back and double checking with the kitchen (probably realizing that you were in fact having an allergic reaction), not to mention the overall attitude of your letter indicate that you still believe you were wronged. You have no one but yourself to blame for ruining what up to that point was a decent meal (discounted or not).

                        1. Azizeh Feb 3, 2009 01:27 AM

                          Have to agree with the others who say you're the only one to blame.

                          Every restaurant I have worked in will work extra hard to accommodate an allergy. There are usually ALLERGY buttons in the computer which alerts the kitchen to be extra careful. I actually just listened to my manager scold another server for not using the allergy button on a ticket. The guest was allergic to lemon and despite their being no lemon in her entree, there is lemon in the kitchen and that server should've given the cooks a heads up to be cautious.

                          You said that nuts were just in the garnish, so had you asked, you would've probably been able to get your cake without the garnish and you wouldn't have had any problems. You absolutely need to ask every time. Some restaurants take a seasonal approach to menu items and will make minor tweaks (nuts instead of berries for a garnish) without updating the menu. And this is why you'll see many menus that simply say, "Please inform your server of any allergies."

                          1. r
                            Rick Feb 2, 2009 07:14 PM

                            I think it's completely and 100% your fault. Heck I have a bottle of cherry margarita mix and the bottles says this product was made on a machine that also processed nuts, so you truly never know for sure if something will make you have a reaction! And do you really think a restaurant should say to every customer that "the dark chocolate cake contains nuts" after someone orders it? Should they also say it has 46g of fat in case someone is on a low fat diet as per their doctor, should they also say it contains sugar in case the person is diabetic? Give me a break and take responsibility for yourself!

                            1. jfood Feb 2, 2009 06:19 PM

                              OK if you want an honest response to this, continue reading. BTW - it is not a pretty response to you but very honest. Jfood has the exact same allergy and you handled it extremely poorly, from start to finish.

                              - Everyone (except one prior to the dinner) with a nut allergy knows that chocolate desserts are their enemy and you already stated you are wary of dessert yet you went right for the danger zone.
                              - You blame the restaurant for not placing nuts on the menu. Were eggs on the menu, how about flour, people have allergies to those as well. The menu contains the highlights not the ingrewdients
                              - You left a 15% tip, and this was during restaurant week. That's just plain wrong
                              - Yes thankfully you did not need to go to the hospital. That's always a good thing
                              -You "thought to have the dessert comped"? Are you kidding?

                              What should you do now? Voice YOUR displeasure? Wake up young man, and accept some responsibility, that's step 1. How about correcting all the wrongs you did. You should go back to the restaurant and apologize for blaming them and especially your waitress for something that was 110% your fault. Then you should calculate the correct tip and place it in an envelope and makes sure your waitress gets it.

                              Then rent "Hitch" and fast forward to the scene in the drugstore and watch Will Smith's face and thank your luck stars that did not happen to you.

                              Sorry for being so harsh but with the same allergy as you have, he wants people to take it seriously and when things like this happen it only leads people to blame restaurants, which jfood is sure has happened here. So stop the bemoaning and whining and giving a hard time to the reaturant and take it seriously . ALWAYS tell the server that you have an allergy.

                              Wouldn't want to cut another evening short would we? (insert jfood shaking his head). Seems that bothered you more than not visiting the hospital.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jfood
                                n
                                newtoLA06 Feb 2, 2009 06:42 PM

                                jfood, I thank you for your response, although I respectfully disagree with a number of points, but I really want to address the tipping angle.

                                I STRONGLY disagree with the idea that tipping 15% during RW is cheap on general principle, but it sounds we'll have to agree to disagree. Please see my above post which outlines the particulars of this Restaurant Week promotion. Believe me, I eat out often and understand the tenets of fine dining. So, the assertion that I should send the server an additional tip for this meal (that was not heavily discounted) is absolutely ridiculous to me! I can understand if the regular price of the meal is $50, but I'm getting it for $25 or $35--then I would totally agree. But, in this case, the cost was $44 on a (let's call it) $50-55 meal--sorry, but I fail to see how the server is somehow being shortchanged by any percentage that is lower. What if I tipped 18% instead? Would I still need to send the server additional money as penance?

                                Aah, I have more to say, but I need to run. Thanks for your perspective though.

                              2. p
                                pengcast Feb 2, 2009 05:22 PM

                                My son has a life threatening allergy to several kinds of nuts and we manage to take him out and about in the world alot and because of our vigilence. We have had only 2 serious scares in 9 years. One day after skating we stopped at a little waffle place. It was very tiny and the waffles were made in plain site behind what in another life had been the bar. The waffles were qreat, the smoked sausage good and coffee terrific.

                                So we went back about a month later and my son ordered a waffle and was asked if he wanted fruit and whipped cream on top. Uncharacteristically, he said yes. The waffle arrived with a mound of fresh fruit salad and lots of whipped cream. He cut a few small bits from the edge and had them with syrup only. I reached over and stole a forkful of fruit and whipped off the top. And there were walnuts in fruit salad. I was so surprised I spit them out and grabbed his plate. I starting searchin for the epi-pen. But it turned out he was fine because he hadn't even touched the fruit.

                                I have to say the waiter was terrific - asking if he should call 911, asking if he could help in anyway and apologizing about 20 times.

                                It was clearly only a close call, but it does should how one can never assume that someone in a kitchen somewhere won't get adventurous and add nuts to something.

                                It would be nice if there was most info on menus but nothing beats asking up front.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: pengcast
                                  Demented Feb 2, 2009 05:34 PM

                                  That really seems to be the onl way to do it.

                                2. Demented Feb 2, 2009 04:24 PM

                                  I have an allergy to sunflower seeds. About a week ago, a piece of toast triggered an acute asthma attack, along with swelling of my tongue and lips. My wife check the ingredients in the bread, there where sunflower seeds in the bread.

                                  Unfortunately, most places we (as in all of us) dine out, do not list common ingredients known to trigger allergic reactions, let alone those that trigger reactions in the minority of us.

                                  This allergy is fairly new for me, started less than a year ago.

                                  The way I see it, when we choose to dine out or eat prefab food, it is up to use, you and I, to make sure nothing has been used that may kill us.

                                  p.s. 15% being the tipping standard, was a better tip than most leave these days.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Demented
                                    k
                                    KTinNYC Feb 3, 2009 06:32 AM

                                    How is a 15% "a better tip than most leave these days"? Fifteen percent is the minimum nation-wide and is low for areas like NYC.

                                    1. re: Demented
                                      m
                                      milklady Feb 3, 2009 03:36 PM

                                      Wow! I'm also allergic to sunflower seeds, and I've never known anyone else with this allergy.
                                      I find them pretty easy to avoid, though depending on the restaurant and dish I do ask. Luckily I'm okay with sunflower oil, or things would be much more challenging.

                                    2. b
                                      BelleJo Feb 2, 2009 03:25 PM

                                      I am going to offer a little support to newtoLA06. Yes, it is your responsibility to manage your allergy and ask if the food contains an ingredient you can't have but how many of us have slipped up and eaten something on occasion we should not have? Certainly I have done so. Secondly, I agree with the posts suggesting an epi-pen. If you are allergic, you have to err on the side of caution. However, I don't think the server did her job. Allergies can be life threatening. newtoLA06 did inquire if the dessert contained nuts and was told no by her server. It wasn't until the server went into the kitchen and asked did she discover that the dish had nuts. That server was told that the diner was having an allergic reaction. She should have asked if the diner needed a 9-1-1- call or at the very least, she should have contacted her manager. People do die from these allergies. I knew someone who had a similar situation at a catered party, was informed by a server that a dish did not contain nuts, but became very ill. It turned out that there were nuts in the food. She used her epi-pen on the way to the hospital but did not survive the episode. People with allergies are not just fussy diners. And yes, restaurants have a responsibility to post their ingredients, especially those that are likely to cause a severe reaction as nuts do.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: BelleJo
                                        jfood Feb 2, 2009 06:49 PM

                                        please re-read post. It was not until AFTER the reaction that OP asked about the nuts, not before the order.

                                        1. re: jfood
                                          b
                                          BelleJo Feb 3, 2009 05:26 PM

                                          I did read that but thank you for clarifying nonetheless. I agree that NewtoLA06 made a mistake in not inquiring first if the dessert contained nuts. However, I also think that the server should have been more concerned about whether or not the allergic reaction was going to cause serious medical problems (hence the offer to call 9-1-1 or contact a manager for direction). I must say I'm a bit surprised at the reactions of other posters in not seeing any responsibility on the part of the restaurant. If someone has a minor heart attack in a restaurant, do we say that person should't have eaten high cholesterol foods and walk away? I doubt it.

                                          1. re: BelleJo
                                            karmalaw Feb 3, 2009 05:34 PM

                                            I think it was evident from the facts presented that there wasn't a noticeable allergic reaction from the server's vantage point (note the continued conversation with the server after the cake had been eaten). The date was not requesting assistance and the OP did not request any assistance. (all it takes is a simple "please call 911").

                                            Sadly, with people out there who like to try the "fake issue" routine to get out of tabs, I'm not sure with no other evidence of a problem being present (after all the OP did not break out an epi pen, run to the bathroom, or show any signs of requiring assistance in any way or ask for help) that the server should do anything other than they did.

                                            If someone is having a heart attack in a restaurant -- there are visible signs of distress -- and, IMO, most people rush to help. A friend of mine had a stroke in a restaurant we frequented on a weekly basis for years. I wasn't with him at the time, but we later found out that even though there were police officers and firefighters dining there at the time, it was the waitress who gave him CPR until the paramedics arrived.

                                            1. re: karmalaw
                                              pikawicca Feb 3, 2009 05:40 PM

                                              I'm quite sure that most restaurants train their managers to recognize the signs of anaphylactic shock. There's not much they can do, other can calling 911, unless there's an EpiPen present.

                                            2. re: BelleJo
                                              jfood Feb 4, 2009 02:45 AM

                                              if the reaction was such that medical attention was necessary the first two people that should have reacted were the OP and his date. Since neither felt so inclined, the issue was probably minor. When jfood had a similar incident he got up and left the restaurant and went to CVS for a half-dozen benedryls.

                                              Again, the restaurant is not there as a doctor or ovesighter. Since the OP knew of his allergies, knew that he was having some form of reaction and knew whether it was advisable or preventative to seek medical attention, it was OP's primary responsibility, not the restaurant's.

                                              1. re: BelleJo
                                                danhole Feb 4, 2009 06:48 AM

                                                The last time I had a serious allergic reaction to a food I was at home alone, talking on the phone and munching on some candy. My mouth felt kind of funny so I looked in the mirror and my lips were swollen. Then hives started breaking out, very quickly. It was very obvious something was very wrong. I took some benadryl and ran to the Dr. who is down the street. Ever since that day I carry an Epi-Pen with me. Now, if the OP had obvious signs of a reaction, like swelling, wheezing, hives, whatever, then I could see the server being more concerned, but just telling someone that you are having a reaction, and having no visible signs, well . . . I think the server should be excused for not being a medical expert. I totally agree with karmalaw on this.

                                          2. q
                                            queencru Feb 2, 2009 02:37 PM

                                            I don't really think there is anything extra that the restaurant needs to do. It just seems unreasonable to ask a restaurant to list every possible allergen that could go into making a particular dish- soy, dairy, gluten, nuts, fruit, eggs, shellfish- you name it. There are many more people out there who are on restricted diets for various other reasons, but I think in all cases it is the responsibility of the allergy sufferer to tell the server about his/her allergies. If the server makes a mistake after you've told her about the allergy, then you have a right to be angry with the restaurant.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: queencru
                                              h
                                              hilltowner Feb 2, 2009 03:14 PM

                                              Oh, I don't know. I work in a mid-range to upscale restaurant, (for the rural area we are in), and it isn't very hard for us to identify allergens. Our desserts generally do not contain nuts, but if they do, it is clearly stated on the menu. Our soups do not contain meat or meat byproducts unless it is clearly stated on the menu. We are all aware of gluten allergies by this point, and we know what products,(soy sauce, particularly), might create a problem. Those three are, to me, the big unknowns and any restaurant should know this. Do we sacrifice some e flavor to make sure people know what they are eating? Maybe. And that may be why other restaurants don't make those same sacrifices.

                                              All that said:

                                              Definitely not the servers fault. She thought she knew the answer, but asked the kitchen anyway. AND came back to tell you she was wrong.
                                              Always ask.
                                              If nobody can fully answer your question, chances may be that they are using a processed product. Not that that's bad, because more places use them than you think, but if I ad an allergy, I wouldn't put my trust in it.

                                            2. h
                                              harryharry Feb 2, 2009 02:28 PM

                                              I've got to post a little note in defense of people with allergies - yes it is most definitely a persons own responsibility to to manage their allergies/bodies, etc.... and the question should have been asked, but... nuts seem to be a pretty obvious ingredient to list (so many people are allergic) - based on what newtola says happened, I would guess that the rest. may have subbed a premade product or another product during the busy and less profitable restaurant week. I always list nuts and tell all of my employees if something has nuts immediately as it leaves the kitchen - and I'm not really a particularly fussy person - just want to avoid any lawsuits and really don't want to hurt anyone either.

                                              1. s
                                                smartie Feb 2, 2009 02:21 PM

                                                it would be ridiculous for a restaurant to list every ingredient. Flour in a sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, herbs, sugar, lemon juice. And bear in mind a lot of restaurant ingredients are bought in so the staff might not even know. For example the frosting on many restaurant cakes come in a huge tub and they are not going to read every ingredient and say the dessert contains it.

                                                People with allergies need to take responsibility for themselves.

                                                1. Caroline1 Feb 2, 2009 02:14 PM

                                                  I have no idea how complex and severe your nut allergy is. Some people are so allergic that just a trace will induce anaphylactic shock in them. Obviously you escaped without that sort of reaction!

                                                  The management of allergies is always always always the responsibility of the one who has them. Restaurants are not obligated to print the ingredients of every dish on the menu. Menu descriptions are designed for one thing and one thing only; to entice the reader to order the dish. As a result, you cannot rely on something to be nut free simply because the menu doesn't mention nuts. Always ask, and even then proceed with extreme caution.

                                                  Glad your reaction wasn't more severe. Maybe fresh cantaloupe is a good "dessert of choice" for you? '-)

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Caroline1
                                                    n
                                                    newtoLA06 Feb 2, 2009 02:30 PM

                                                    LOL. Believe me, I've had more than my fair share of fruit plates as a dessert at restaurants. ;-)

                                                    1. re: newtoLA06
                                                      jfood Feb 2, 2009 06:47 PM

                                                      jfood is getting really tired of choosing sorbet when tremendous chocolate desserts are available.

                                                  2. karmalaw Feb 2, 2009 01:44 PM

                                                    It's unreasonable to expect a menu to be a fully-disclosed ingredient list -- and as you said "I fully admit that I did not ask beforehand whether or not the cake had nuts since I assumed that the cake contained no nuts since there was no mention of it.". Assumptions almost always bring trouble or problems and this scenario is no exception.

                                                    I have to maintain a gluten-free diet -- and it's my job to make sure that there are no gluten-free ingredients in something I order -- not the chef's job during a busy service to go read the bottles on anything that might have been used in preparation (i.e. I make it clear that I can't have soy sauce because it contains wheat). If I'm not specific and I get food with gluten - then it's my fault -- I wish, but do not expect a menu to divulge that flour was used in a roux that was used in preparation of a dish -- what I do expect is, if I ask, to get an answer of whether a roux was used.

                                                    The garnish isn't a hidden item - and presumably you should know to look at the garnish closely and not assume something isn't nuts if it looks like it might be nuts.

                                                    While I'm sorry it happened to you, I do not believe the restaurant owes you anything because of your failure to disclose your very specific needs.

                                                    1. enbell Feb 2, 2009 01:32 PM

                                                      First of all, I am glad you are okay! I would have had to jam my epi-pen into my thigh. You're lucky, I am jealous :) Regardless of your personal feelings towards the restaurant, on behalf of allergy suffers *everywhere* I implore you to contact the restaurant so they can modify all food items on their menu accordingly. Again, while I am delighted your health in intact, I cannot believe you don't ask about just about everything you put into your mouth. Perhaps this is a function of your actual sensitivity. I have simply made it a habit to ask about everything I do not see from origin to fruition. While your salad may not contain nuts, you can never be sure the tongs used to toss it didn't previously remove the macadamia nut encrusted halibut from the skillet. And your SO's fries just may have been cooked in peanut oil. You can never be too cautious! Once again, I'm glad you are okay, but must stress that the best practice is, indeed to always ask...always!

                                                      1. Chris VR Feb 2, 2009 01:22 PM

                                                        It's your responsibility to manage your own allergy. I have a bad (not allergic) reaction to peppers, and I've learned to ask. If I forget to ask, I have been unpleasantly surprised when the food shows up even though no peppers were listed in the description. But I own that error since I didn't ask. I'd never have thought to penalize the server for my forgetting to ask. Especially during Restaurant Week, when the meal is already priced low and the server's tip is low.

                                                        I'd suggest you send the correct tip to the restaurant and ask them to be sure it goes to your server.

                                                        Other than that, I'm not sure what else the restaurant could have done to make you happy. We can't expect chefs to not use certain ingredients because of allergies. I wouldn't expect a server to always mention nuts every time every diner orders a dish with nuts. in fact, I'd be annoyed by that happening. Should the server also mention when a dish contains eggs, milk, wheat (also common allergens)? I'd find such a recitation a real distraction from the fine dining experience. While I can see an argument for asking restaurants to list all items in descriptions, it's usually not practical and again, are they going to mention every ingredient that goes into a dish? It would make for some really ugly menus, as well as giving away some of the chef's secrets.

                                                        If you think it would make you feel better to call/email the management to let them know, then go for it, but I wouldn't feel a restaurant was under any obligation to you to make it up to you.

                                                        14 Replies
                                                        1. re: Chris VR
                                                          n
                                                          newtoLA06 Feb 2, 2009 01:40 PM

                                                          All--thanks for the comments.

                                                          And I know that I'm about to get flamed for this, but out of all of the things to take issue with from my post, the amount of my tip is most jarring? Moreover, I am surprised that someone would actually suggest that I send the restaurant an additional, what, 3-5% tip?...Really? Wow. But, hey, clearly YMMV.

                                                          Lastly, I typically manage my allergy faithfully, so this type of experience has not happened to me in over 10 years. With that said, I recognize that I should asked the server about the presence of nuts in the dish (as I mentioned in my original post.) My disappointment with the server lies in the fact that she didn't offer any sort of solution to my situation beyond a simple apology. If I were in her shoes, I would have asked if there's anything that I could do, offer the customer to speak to the manager, etc. But again, YMMV...

                                                          1. re: newtoLA06
                                                            Miss Needle Feb 2, 2009 01:57 PM

                                                            Not meaning to be snarky, but I'm curious as to know what "solution" would have appeased you. The waitress did apologize for what had happened. If she offered to have you speak with the manager, is there something that the manager could have done to make the situation better? Or did you just want to be asked?

                                                            As someone with a life-threatening allergy, I do think the onus is on the customer to ask and notify the waitstaff. I'm sure it's probably a pain in the ass to do this all the time. But even if something looks like there won't be any nuts in it, there's possibility of cross-contamination, use of nut oils, an ingredient they use may be processed in a facility that processes nuts, etc. It's not always so obvious.

                                                            And, lastly, I agree with the other posters who say to carry an Epi-Pen.

                                                            1. re: newtoLA06
                                                              enbell Feb 2, 2009 02:01 PM

                                                              Glad you are a conscientious diner most of the time. In defense of the server:
                                                              1. She may have been new and never dealt with an allergic reaction before (perhaps she didn't know how best to handle a situation such as this. Its amazing what people are incapable of unless specifically trained in the skill.

                                                              2. It sounds (reads) like your reaction was relatively minor. You make no mention of your face swelling up, hives, or use of any device to counteract the toxins you ingested. Because of this, the server may have taken this situation less seriously. Not that you would, but she may have even considered the fact that you were faking in an attempt to get a free dessert.

                                                              3. You mention RW, perhaps she was overworked and underpaid that week and was simply too exhausted to think it through and respond accordingly (not an excuse, only a possible explanation).

                                                              1. re: newtoLA06
                                                                Chris VR Feb 2, 2009 05:07 PM

                                                                Actually, what I suggested is that you send the correct tip. And I understand that's a subjective issue that's been hashed to hell and back on this board, but if you take a look at this post http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5906..., that's what I personally believe the correct tip ought to have been. If you ate 2 meals that night that normally would be $40 pp (assuming $10 app, $20 main, $10 dessert) and you got it for $20pp because of a special promotion, and you tipped 15% of that, you're tipping $6. IMO the tip ought to have been $16. (20% of the $80) YMMV of course, but if you felt that 3-5% more isn't a big deal, why didn't you just tip it in the first place? I assumed because you raised the 15% number in your post that you were implying that was your way of showing your displeasure with the waitress, and you normally would have tipped higher, so I thought you were also soliciting input on your decision to penalize the waitress for this situation.

                                                                I also wonder why people (and please don't take this personally because I see his a lot here) get upset because a restaurant employee didn't read their mind. If you felt the restaurant ought to have done more, and it wasn't offered, why not ask about that when the check came "Excuse me miss, I couldn't eat the dessert, as you know, because of my allergy. Is there a chance I could have a credit for the amount of the dessert?" Or even better, after she apologized when she found out it had nuts, why not say "Hey, these things happen... is there perhaps another dessert I could have in its place?"

                                                                I do understand not wanting to make a scene at a restaurant, but either of those actions wouldn't have been out of place, and would have most likely led to you leaving the restaurant in a good mood instead of feeling the displeasure you feel now. Again, YMMV but I have a hard time understanding why some patrons don't take more of an active role in ensuring their happiness in a restaurant situation. It's certainly a recurring theme on this board, and it stumps me.

                                                                1. re: Chris VR
                                                                  n
                                                                  newtoLA06 Feb 2, 2009 05:41 PM

                                                                  Chris, thanks for your response. Just a quick point of clarification...

                                                                  In terms of the Restaurant Week promotion at this restaurant, the cost of the meal was hardly a major discount. In particular, the cost of the meal was $44 per person, which is roughly equivalent to the a la carte cost at this restaurant. And, yes, I highlighted the 15% in my original post to signal my relative displeasure with the server. However, my point was that I still gave her a fair tip (IMO) instead of stiffing her with a 10% or lower tip (as some people may have done.) YMMV, of course...

                                                                  In terms of your other point, I agree that a server is not a mind reader. However, I do feel that there are different levels of service that one can expect at a restaurant. As such, I expected the server's level of response at this establishment to be much more attentive than a server at, say, Denny's or IHOP. Furthermore, I was already on a date and suffering from the effects of an allergic reaction, so I wasn't really in a position to request another dessert. My top priority was getting home as soon as possible. But I understand and appreciate your perspective.

                                                                  1. re: newtoLA06
                                                                    Chris VR Feb 2, 2009 05:51 PM

                                                                    Understood- you needed to get this night over with. I hope you do start to carry an EpiPen. From what I've been told about nut allergies, the more you're exposed to nuts, the more allergic you get, so the next time it could be worse. Don't take chances!

                                                                  2. re: Chris VR
                                                                    b
                                                                    bibi rose Feb 3, 2009 03:13 PM

                                                                    >>Actually, what I suggested is that you send the correct tip. And I understand that's a subjective issue that's been hashed to hell and back on this board, but if you take a look at this post http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5906... that's what I personally believe the correct tip ought to have been. If you ate 2 meals that night that normally would be $40 pp (assuming $10 app, $20 main, $10 dessert) and you got it for $20pp because of a special promotion, and you tipped 15% of that, you're tipping $6. IMO the tip ought to have been $16. (20% of the $80) YMMV of course, but if you felt that 3-5% more isn't a big deal, why didn't you just tip it in the first place? I assumed because you raised the 15% number in your post that you were implying that was your way of showing your displeasure with the waitress, and you normally would have tipped higher, so I thought you were also soliciting input on your decision to penalize the waitress for this situation.>>

                                                                    FInding the relevant point in that thread (which was started by an angry server who made all kinds of weird assumptions) was like looking for a needle in a haystack. So yeah, maybe one person said you should find out the usual cost of the meal and tip based on that? Thing is about restaurant week, the amount of the "discount" usually isn't that clear. It's not a two-for-one or something. The meal is usually different from the regular menu and so are the portions. Sure, it's nice to throw in a bit extra if you feel you got a good deal-- especially to offset some lousy tips they are bound to get that night-- but it is far from straighforward in such a way that you could arrive at the "correct" tip. Also, I am a 20% tipper but the idea that 15% is not right is silly; as you yourself say, it is subjective.

                                                                    This is not to say the server deserved to be punished in this situation; it was totally not their fault.

                                                                  3. re: newtoLA06
                                                                    jfood Feb 2, 2009 06:45 PM

                                                                    " I typically manage my allergy faithfully" and "she didn't offer any sort of solution to my situation beyond a simple apology".

                                                                    What were you looking for? An ambulance, nope did not go to the hospital; a comped dessert (oops you already were looking for upside to YOUR mistake)?

                                                                    And your allergic reaction was so insignificant that you do not mention that you ate some benedryl (jfood has taken 6 at one time when he screwed up and returned to the table for dessert), did not go to the hospital, or do anything else. Jfood to believes you were so upset you and your date went separate ways for the evening. Maybe that's what is bothering you the most of all.

                                                                    You blamed the waitress for your mis-step as seen in the tip and now are totally glib about trying to correct it. And BTW, during restaurant week, normal people leave more that 15% of a discounted meal price, that's another thing you can learn from this thread.

                                                                    1. re: newtoLA06
                                                                      Deenso Feb 3, 2009 05:55 AM

                                                                      This is completely off-topic, but what does YMMV mean?

                                                                      1. re: Deenso
                                                                        Chris VR Feb 3, 2009 07:56 AM

                                                                        Your mileage may vary

                                                                        1. re: Chris VR
                                                                          Deenso Feb 3, 2009 09:50 AM

                                                                          Thanks. Another way of saying, "To each his own," right?

                                                                          1. re: Deenso
                                                                            karmalaw Feb 3, 2009 12:38 PM

                                                                            no -- it's more like saying "your experience in the matter may be different than what others have experienced".

                                                                            1. re: karmalaw
                                                                              Deenso Feb 3, 2009 03:10 PM

                                                                              Gotcha. Very subtle! Thanks. I'll be adding it to my vocabulary.

                                                                    2. re: Chris VR
                                                                      EWSflash Feb 5, 2014 05:50 PM

                                                                      And carry an epi-pen. Period.

                                                                    3. danhole Feb 2, 2009 01:15 PM

                                                                      I think that you should let them know that they should mention the fact that there are nuts used in the garnish for the safety of future customers that have nut allergies. Even when you purchase food in the grocery store there are disclaimers on the bags that say "was produced in a plant that also processes nuts" or something along those lines. A restaurant should be just as responsible. I do not think it is the servers fault, though. How could she have known? Oh, and you really need to get an Epi-Pen!

                                                                      1. monavano Feb 2, 2009 12:45 PM

                                                                        I have to say that tipping 15% during RW is particularly bad in form. The price of the meal is already discounted, therefore, tips are juts going to suck all week. I'm at a loss as to why you woud penalize the server when she/he is not a mind reader, nor responsble for your decision to order dessert (which to your admission, you are wary of) and not inquire as to whether it had nuts.
                                                                        The solution was a simple question, which you didn't ask.
                                                                        I do think, however, that nuts should be mentioned on the menu whenever they are used.

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