So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

On allergies pt. 1

What would you do if your guest’s face got red, he started gasping for breath and his face started swelling up? Would you give him the Heimlich?

Well, guess what? It might not work. It might not work because your guest might be going into anaphylactic shock because of a toxic allergic reaction to something that they ate.

When I was growing up, allergies were mostly annoyance. Personally, when I was in my very early teens, I  found that I was allergic to tomatoes and chocolate, among other things. My face would break out (not in acne but in a bit of a rash). I seemingly grew out of it, probably because I couldn’t stay away from the things that I was allergic to.

However, there seems to be something going on in the past few years that have affected people far more violently and sometimes fatally when it comes to allergies. Is it environmental? Nobody definitively knows. Is it some genetic breakdown? I dunno.

But it seems to be affecting a pretty wide swatch of the population. Maybe it’s always been there in the same numbers, but I suspect that kids dying from incidental contact to peanuts would have been big news in my day as well.

As a waiter, have you thought about this issue? sure, we grouse about people who claim that they’re “allergic to garlic”. But, believe it or not, there are actually people who are actually allergic. I’ll bet that most people really aren’t – that they either just don’t like it or might get some gastric distress from it in the way that some people bloat when they eat beans or broccoli. This isn’t really “allergy”, just a “sensitivity”. Well, technically it might very well be a mild allergic reaction, but I’m not really dealing with mild discomfort. This might cause people to complain that, “Yes, bloating is serious – to ME”.

I’m talking about people who have an abnormality in their immune system which causes anything from a significant to a serious and possibly fatal reaction to common substances that don’t affect most people. Some people, like me, outgrow allergies. Their immune systems develop a tolerance or resistance to the substance. Others have allergies develop later in life. Things that didn’t bother them growing up suddenly cause problems in adulthood.

Few of us have bulletproof immune systems. Whether it’s stuffy noses in spring when the car is covered in pollen, or itching because of dyes or something as serious as swelling, rashes or even respiratory distress if a lobster is handled, it’s obvious that allergies are an important issue for those of us in the restaurant business, because some of the most life-threatening allergies come from food.

This is something that every waiter needs to consider.

I was prompted to write about this because of a guy named Eric who blogs occasionally about his severe seafood allergy. You should check out his blog, “world (and lunar) domination” :

Here’s what you might consider – if your restaurant deep fries shrimp or other shellfish and you sell him some french fries, you might very well kill him. Hot oil isn’t a barrier to the compounds in shellfish that he’s sensitive to. If your restaurant boils lobsters and vegetables in the same pot, you might find him gasping for air after he eats his broccoli. If the grill is used for a burger and to grill calamari, he might be reaching for his epi pen as his eyes bulge out.

We have a waiter in our very lobster friendly restaurant who has to have others take her lobsters to the table because even if she just brushes against the shell, her hands will swell.  I had a guest’s wife who we had to keep a list of things that she was allergic to (garlic, vinegar, nuts, etc). It was especially important when she developed cancer and was going through chemotherapy (ironically enough, her husband ran one of the largest health care HMOs in the country).

So, what does a waiter need to say or do when a guest mentions that they’re allergic? Well talk about that in part two, but the bottom line is, as a waiter, you must take it seriously. Sure, the guest might be either lying because they just don’t like something, but what if they’re deadly serious? Allergies are real, dear friends.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming in a surgical theater near you.

6 responses to “On allergies pt. 1

  1. Pingback: Positive Karma from the Waiter/Waitress Side of the Fence? « World (and Lunar) Domination

  2. aixelsyd13 January 18, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Thanks for addressing the subject in a positive way form the waiters’ perspective! It’s nice to see something that’s not complaining about customers with special needs!

  3. Pingback: So You Want to Be a Waiter – on Allergies, pt. 2 « World (and Lunar) Domination

  4. allergy relief blogger March 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    yikes ! thanks for all the information . I’m a waiter too but i never saw a really bad outbreak. although a friend a mine had a shell fish allergy and had to walk around with a hypo in case. it also met i could never get a good shell fish meal if i was out eating with him.
    i was wonder what are your views on natural remedies for outbreaks. i myself take clariton and benedryl.

  5. theinsidewaiter October 9, 2010 at 12:19 am

    The restaurant I currently work in takes allergies very seriously.

    One problem that comes up continually is managers or chefs sending food out to PPX tables, before the waiter can ask if there are any allergies, or food restrictions on the table.

    For example, I had a PPX eat meatballs that had pork in them. He was muslim. Nobody told him there were pork in the meatballs and he didn’t ask whether there was. I wasn’t about to lie — I said Sir, despite his wife (a non-muslim), pleading for me to just lie to him.

  6. AiXeLsyD13 October 9, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Can I ask what “PPX” stands for?

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