Sunday, May 10, 2009

Food Russian Roulette

I play Russian Roulette every time I set foot inside a restaurant. Every bite has the potential to kill me and often, in spite of my best efforts, I am left ducking the bullet. I have a life threatening food garlic.

Unlike some food allergy sufferers who become physically ill or experience severe pain and diarrhea after ingesting something they are allergic to, my reaction is swift and potentially lethal. My throat starts to close...and stays that way for hours after. It's an anaphylactic reaction...and not a whole bunch of fun.

Case in point. We went to brunch today for Mother's Day. My father in law is severe celiac, I have the garlic thing, so as a family, we're a bit of a challenge to feed. We've been going to this restaurant for the past 5-6 years because the food is good and plentiful, and there is enough variety to allow for me and my father in law to eat. I always look forward to the fresh omelette bar because they wash the pan in between each omelette, so there's no fear of cross-contamination, one of the hidden dangers of food allergies.

We got there this year, and discovered that the owners had been busy. The whole interior had been renovated, and it looked stunning. To pay for it, apparently, there were many changes to the menu, and the salmon and omelette bar was gone. There was a bowl of plain lettuce, but every other salad on the salad bar was already dressed or was mayonnaise based. There is garlic in all commercial mayonnaise. There were scrambled eggs, eggs benedict, bacon, ham, waffles and then the hot entrees, which included roast beef, chicken, lasagna and some kind of fish thing.
I wandered around the food and could quickly eliminate 95%. The meats and lasagna were seasoned, and I could smell the garlic, and in some cases, see it. I took some scrambled eggs (I hate eggs benedict) some ham and a small piece of chicken and sat down. The eggs were rubber;they'd been sitting in the hot tray for too long. The ham was okay; 2 bites of chicken and lunch was over for me. There was garlic in it. I watched the rest of the family enjoy their Mother's Day brunch while I took small sips of water, waiting for the spasm in my throat to subside. I'm still waiting.

I take responsibility for my health and my life, and if I'm going to a restaurant I'm unfamiliar with, I call ahead to talk to the chef to determine what I can eat safely. We had been to this restaurant many times and I knew I was safe with the omelette, so I didn't call ahead. My bad.

I talked to the manager and was told that the omelette bar was eliminated because the "grease from it wouldn't be good for the new paint." What a load of malarky. The omelettes were cooked on a hot plate, and there wasn't much splatter. My husband talked to the owner and was told that only about 10 people of 250 ordered the omelette. That's a load of crap, because the lineup was always longest at the omelette bar. I sat behind it last year; I know. I waited a long time for my lunch because they were made one at a time...and fresh. In both cases, the response was assuredly and clearly "sucks to be you." Well that may be true, but next year, our $135 will be going to someone else's establishment.

If one customer comments, how many others noticed but didn't bother? 3 people at the dessert bar commented on the lack of omelette bar. There's a saying that you tell 2 people about a good experience, but you tell 10 about a bad one. Here's me, telling about a bad experience. Yes, I could have eaten rubber eggs and cold bacon, but I didn't pay $20+ to eat cold bacon and rubber eggs. I wasn't asking for special concessions, I wasn't even asking for a discount. I was stating a problem that was caused by the disappearance of the omelette bar. That's all.

This Mother's Day brunch is usually popular. There are 3 sittings, and in the past it's been packed. There were historically 2 rooms, and the tables were crammed together, there were lineups everywhere and the servers worked hard. This year, in addition to the changes in the food selections, only the main room was in use, there were noticeably less tables set up, and significantly fewer people. Next year, I guarantee there will be 6 less-our family won't be back.

Restaurant owners have an untapped potential in food allergy sufferers. We're a loyal breed, and tend to go to the places we can eat without getting sick or dying. I once had a restaurant owner give me an index card with every selection on her menu that I could eat without dying, so if she didn't happen to be there, I could still safely order. Where do you suppose I went to eat more often that not? I've called ahead to places on more than one occasion, only to be told "well, perhaps you shouldn't eat here, then." Okay, I won't.

People are eating out less, and the restaurant owners who survive the downturn are the ones who respect their customers-all of them. Customers with food allergies are not a problem, and for the most part, we are not difficult to please. We are also ridiculously happy and loyal when we find out we can eat safely. After all, sucks to be you works both ways.


Janet Jarrell said...

Allergies are crazy! I love garlic - I put it in everything - I never thought about allergies.

My daughter has an anaphylactic reaction to dust. It makes me shake my head - what is happening around us?

Rona Maynard said...

I once had a colleague who suffered from a life-threatening peanut allergy and nearly died several times (once on a plane). Incredibly to me, she had a great deal of trouble getting restaurants to take her problem seriously. I didn't know there was such a thing as a life-threatening garlic allergy, and I feel for you. As if the restaurant dilemmas weren't bad enough, you have to miss out on the all the delicious things that contain garlic.