Meeting in the Middle: What Allergic Diners Say and What Chefs Want to Hear


The Diner’s Perspective (Kyle Dine)  

When you’ve lived with multiple food allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, seafood, and mustard) for more than 30 years, you get a lot of practice nailing the “I’m allergic” spiel at restaurants.

How my food allergies have been communicated to food service staff has evolved over the different phases of my life, and to effectively communicate my food allergies requires more than just reciting the list of foods. When I was young, it was my parents’ Overbearing Approach. When I was a teen, it was the Under-Sharing-and-Embarrassed Approach. Nowadays as an allergic adult, it’s balancing the sharing of essential information, providing a dietary card with my restrictions in writing, and projecting confidence and a sense of friendly willingness to work with—not against—them. 

In 2020, I began working with Chef Joel Schaefer to create Equal Eats dietary cards. This collaboration opened my eyes to what food service staff appreciate when it comes to patrons communicating dietary restrictions.

The Chef’s Perspective (Chef Joel Schaefer) 

I’ve been a chef for more than 30 years. During this time, I worked as Disney’s Special Diets and Product Development Manager, and ran Your Allergy Chefs, a consulting firm specializing in product and recipe development and culinary education.

Chefs need to take dietary requests seriously, not only because guests often do not communicate them effectively, but also because they do not always fully understand their dietary needs. To play it safe, I treat all dietary requests as a food allergy. This keeps the process uniform and consistent. This sometimes means that dishes are modified to ensure what they’re serving you is safe.

It’s important for patrons to remember that restaurant kitchens are busy. If you have an allergy or dietary restriction, a best practice is to make an early reservation when the restaurant has fewer clientele. The kitchen will be cleaner, team members will be more alert, and the chef or manager will have more time to spend discussing your dietary requests.

Kyle and Joel’s 3 Cs for Effective Communication When Dining Out 

To ensure your dietary restrictions are understood, we recommend keeping these three tips in mind:  

  1. Be Clear: Make sure to be very clear about what you cannot eat. A best practice is to provide the restaurant with a dietary card listing your restrictions AND a list of menu items you can eat safely. This will save time during your discussion with the chef or manager. 

  2. Be Confident: Be direct and don’t skip details. The chef needs as much detail as possible, but also be respectful of their time. This will help the chef and his team get your food prepared quickly and safely. These seven questions lay a good foundation.  

  3. Be Conscientious: of the pressures on waitstaff. Remember, they may be stressed too—the kitchen environment can be a chaotic place! But know they want to keep you safe. They may also be handling multiple dietary requests at the same time, so be patient and work with them.  

Whether you put your allergies in writing or not, the most important thing is that you are communicating them effectively when dining out. 

After all, eating out with dietary restrictions is a partnership—both parties have a responsibility to communicate effectively and respectfully to help foster a safe and enjoyable dining experience.  

Kyle Dine is the CEO and Founder of Equal Eats, a company that provides translated dining cards in 50 languages to help people dine out safer around the world. Kyle is also an impassioned allergy educator who has performed allergy awareness assemblies at 900 schools across North America.

Chef Joel Schaefer has been a chef for more than 30 years, including 11 years with Disney as the Special Diets and Product Development Manager, four years with Sodexo as an executive chef, and four years with Princess Cruises as the Culinary and Product Development Chef. Over the past 12 years, he’s run Your Allergy Chefs, a consulting firm that specializes in product and recipe development and culinary education.

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