As a server for many years, I am well versed on guests who have food allergies. They can range from gluten to shellfish, stone fruits to onions and come in all shapes and sizes. Some are not really allergies but more like preferences while others are so severe, one bite of something could send them to the ER.

Restaurants take allergies very seriously. No one is trying to make someone get sick or be forced to watch their companions eat while they don’t. Servers are there to help and guide but we’re not miracle workers. We cannot read your mind or know your medical records by the type of wine you’re drinking.

But it does take two to tango, so I thought I’d offer some Tips on what guests with food allergies could do when Dining out to make the whole experience better… for everyone involved!

Tips from a restaurant server on dining out with food allergies:

  • Tell your server your allergies before ordering

I know this may seem like common sense, but trust me. It’s not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me they’re deathly allergic to X after they’ve eaten half their meal. Now sure, that could indicate it’s not as “serious” as they say it is, but regardless, if you have an allergy, tell your server before ordering. If they do their job, they’ll inform you what you can or cannot have to make the whole ordering process easier for everyone.

  • Be specific

If you’re allergic to gluten, for example, you have celiac disease and it is a very serious allergy. According to the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago Medicine, this disorder affects 1% of healthy, average Americans. If you’re just trying to stay away from gluten for dietary purposes or such, know there’s a different way we can handle each situation.

We don’t make assumptions. If you say it’s an allergy, we will treat it as such. And please, be specific. If you’re allergic to all shellfish, don’t simply say you can’t have crab and shrimp because there are plenty more types of shellfish out there besides only those two.

  • Understand all ingredients are not listed on menus

Think about it.

If a restaurant listed all the ingredients for every dish, the menu would read like a textbook. Typically, the main ingredients and preparation style are listed but not much else, making this a prime reason why it’s important to tell your server your specific allergies before ordering.

  • Come prepared

Restaurants are not places of endless perfection. People are imperfect. Mistakes happen. Cross contamination is a very real possibility as countless dishes are prepped in spaces the size of closets. If you do come into contact with something you're allergic to, have your medicine ready for action on that chance you might just need it. Despite a restaurant’s best intentions, things happen.

  • If you request something, don’t return it

Many times, guests will ask to change a menu item to fit their needs more, especially when it comes to food allergies.

Sometimes it’s a simple request, such as putting the dressing on the side or substituting salad for fries. These kinds of requests are commonplace, easy to do and don’t alter the chef’s dish too much. But, there are other types of requests and they need some attention here. When you dine out and ask for sauces to be changed, proteins to be added or removed, main ingredients to be eliminated or you add some of your own, the dish has fundamentally changed. It’s no longer the chef’s creation but rather a layman’s idea of what the dish should be. If you decide to go this route and the restaurant allows you to, accept your decision. If it’s not good, that’s on you. You created it. The restaurant did not.

They were polite enough to accommodate you. In return, shouldn’t you accept responsibility for it?

I hope these tips help those with allergies when dining out. And, please, add your own suggestions in the comments below!