I live in Chicago, land of food. Second only to New York. Just kidding, New Yorkers aren’t fat enough to wear that crown. Living here is a blessing and a curse; I have access to the finest dark chocolates and gluten free beer when I want to indulge. Then again, everyone else is indulging all the time, and if I want a social life, or to feel human, I have to make appearances at bars and restaurants that have nothing for me to put in my mouth. I sip on water and watch everyone slip into a boozy haze or a grainy food coma. And for the most part, I’m okay with it. Saving money is nice.
However, sometimes, I am reduced to tears. It’s usually when my boyfriend wants to show me his love by taking me out to eat, and something goes wrong. Second only to being away from home all day and ending up at a restaurant where the menu itself is the only thing that isn’t fried and battered in corn oil (I’m looking at you, WISCONSIN).
To deal with it, I’ve developed some restaurant “hacks” to make the whole experience less traumatic:
- I have a short list of “safe” restaurants where I can eat at least a few things on the menu. I make an effort to become a regular, and I tip 20% always. Most staff are willing to help if you let them know up front and try to make it easy on them. Also, restaurants where friends works makes things a bit easier.
- Sometimes, (often) others order for me and explain my situation. Because I get talked out of discussing my diet.
- Invest in a flask and fill it with your favorite gluten/corn free liquor and you can dump into a soda water & lime from the bar.
- Pack sea salt packets (for a corn allergy) and airplane liquor bottles full of dressing.
- Call ahead and explain your situation. I’m not saying Denny’s will roll out the red carpet, but fancier restaurants may accept challenging requests in a timely manner, especially if you explain your limitations calmly and clearly. This is especially great for pre-planned work meetings.
- Manage your expectations. Very few establishments are trained for food allergies, (Ruby Tuesday, Flat Top Grill, and Native Foods have booklets with complete listings!) and may not understand the severity of your allergy. When I say I have a corn allergy, I don’t expect the waiter to connect the dots to vegetable oil, or citric acid, or even corn starch. At the least, I expect them to ask the kitchen staff before putting my order in.
Of course, it’s always an adventure, going out to eat. Sometimes a $12 salad turns out to be nothing more than fancy lettuce with piece of shaved zucchini (cough Revolution Brewery). And I cry. Sometimes it can’t be helped.