Tips for managing food sensitivities when eating out?

A question for all of you who suffer from food sensitivities/allergies. How do you manage going to restaurants or other’s houses for meals? I hate being THAT person and making a fuss in front of others. Have you had good luck calling the restaurant ahead of time? My sensitivities aren’t the typical ones that most restaurants are aware of like gluten, soy, dairy, shellfish etc. They are rather obscure and I worry that I can’t be certain they will be taken seriously.

I’d appreciate any advice on how to manage this discretely. I loathe the thought that what I CAN’T eat becomes the topic of conversation at the table. This is relatively new to me as I was able to eat anything I wanted up until a few years ago and only in the last year figured out which foods were the problem.

I have a few minor sensitivities that I choose to live with rather than avoiding ingredients I like.

If yours are serious enough that you need a list of taboo ingredients, you should call ahead, avoiding hours when the restaurant is likely to be the busiest (ditto for when you eat there - if they are in the weeds, the cooks are more likely to forget your needs). I would also make copies of the no-no list and hand one to the server who takes your order, asking that it be given to the chef. If possible, get your doctor to put this list on his/her office/hospital letterhead, so it carries more weight.

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I don’t have allergies, but i am- and have been- a lactose intolerant vegetarian for several decades… Which isn’t the same yet there are some similarities

Back in the dark days when menus offered almost no vegetarian much less vegan options i would call ahead to the restaurant at a slow time between lunch/dinner and ask if they would be able to make me a vegetarian meal- if so (they always said yes), i would make a reservation and request that a note be added to the reservation about my veg meal.
Then when arriving i would confirm with the hostess when checking in that my reservation still had the note about my meal. When the server came to take our orders i would just say that it had been pre-arranged and the hostess just confirmed the details with me. Often the server would already know.
This minimized embarrassing lengthy conversations with the server and back and forth that often still resulted in a boring plate of greens or pasta- most of the time i had really great creative meals!

When invited to dinner at friends i always volunteer to bring a dish to share with everyone that i can have so that the host doesn’t feel like they need to alter their menu for me. I’ll ask if a hearty side dish with some veggies works or something along those lines so that it works with the other dishes the host is making. I have never had my offer refused, and at this point am “known” for bringing a great dish to share that everyone is surprised to realize is actually vegan.

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I am highly allergic to some tree nuts - hospital and adrenaline a few times - but seem to have survived eating out in lots of countries across lots of cuisines.

If asked I tell the restaurant - and this only tended to happen a top restaurants when eating a degustation menu but is becoming a little more common.

I find I tend to know what goes into many dishes so don’t order anything nutty or select desserts/cakes that look suspicious - I do seem tone able to spot suspicious dishes quite well. Maybe I am lucky as may tree nuts are quite expensive ingredients so places tend to feature the nut on the menu description - it could be trickier if it were peanuts.

I tend not to make too much of a fuss, I find its often a hassle, with restaurants / fellow guests over compensating like not serving me anything which could have a nut in it rather than just those I have an allergy for.

There same strategy works for going to friends for dinner - many ask - and if they don’t I just eat slightly defensively. If it comes up people often over compensate and to be honest its never been an issue.

I have been caught out on a few occasions: a chef who chucked a few handfuls of walnuts into a crumble as they were leftover; or a pesto made authentically (for the region) with walnuts rather than pine nuts; and a danish pastry with a nut filling.

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Mine are small, too. Flatfish (flounder, sole, etc) are usually stated. If not, I ask (my local hangoutnjust started using flounder in their fish sandwich)…if in doubt or the server doesn’t know, I just order something else.

Dairy is fairly easy to guess, and I carry lactase tablets just in case.

I always, always ask guests if they have allergies/sensitivities when I invite someone over. Feeding guests is a really big deal to me, and I will make sure that everyone has something they can eat.

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sort of OT, but interesting:

a 22-yr. old waiter here in QC has been arrested for serving salmon tartare to a man with an allergy. I think he’s suing him, too. I’ll let you read:

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Great suggestion about handing a list to the server. I hadn’t thought of that. I do call the restaurant during off-peak hours. I still get pretty nervous that they will be careless. I’m very lucky that I just have issues with sensitivities, none are going to kill me. I’ll be pretty sick for about two weeks but I’m not going to be dyin’ over it.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold