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Daily Archives: January 18, 2010

On allergies Part 2

In part one, we covered allergies and the waiter.

Allergies usually aren’t covered during training and the waiter usually only thinks about it when someone mentions that they’re allergic to something.  Not liking to be taken out of our comfort zones, sometimes it seems like an inconvenience to deal with it. After all, we’re juggling tables, trying to get greets, having the restaurant go down in flames around us and, according to Murphy’s Law, this is exactly when someone with an allergy issue is going to speak up. It can’t be the first table of the night; it’s got to be a 7:30 on a Saturday night.

So, what’a poor waiter to do?

Well, first thing that they can do is educate themselves about allergies. Find out the most egregious allergies – the ones that can cause a guest’s head to explode. You don’t want to have to wipe brains off of the walls, after all. Start with triage. Realize that shellfish and peanut allergies are the ones that seem to have the most serious consequences. Therefore, you need to know what can trigger these allergies. Obviously, you’ve not going to serve a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to someone who says that they have a peanut allergy. But what about that “Thai salad” with the “Thai Dressing”? Did you know that peanut oil is part of the dressing? How about the fact that the chef uses peanut oil to fry his polenta cake that comes with the lollipop lamb chop dish? Did you know that they fry the french fries in the same oil as the fried prawns? Or that the great Thai Tom Yum soup that’s so popular has shrimp paste in the curry paste?

In some restaurants, the waiter is required to know every ingredient in every dish. If you do, then you’re a step ahead. However, just knowing the ingredients isn’t enough. You’ve got to flip through your mental rolodex on the spot and this can be difficult when you’re in the middle of the rush. So, a quicker, more efficient way is to simply triage. Find out which dishes trigger those two really bad allergies and then associate them in your mind with a red flag.

This works for new waiters as well, especially those who are already overwhelmed with a mass of information that they have to memorize.

Don’t guess about this stuff. If you aren’t absolutely sure, check with the Chef. There could be something lurking that you’ve forgotten about. Fortunately, peanut oil is being used less and less in restaurants because of these issues (well, not fortunately from a culinary standpoint because good peanut oil is great for cooking with).

And, even though you know all of the ingredients, you might not know how food is handled behind the line. So, unless you absolutely know that they won’t be using the same cutting board for all seafood, or that shellfish is deep fried separately, it might be a good thing to verify with the Chef because, if they Chef or head kitchen person knows about the issue, they can take particular care in the cooking of the food. Will this make you popular with your Chef? Of course not. But he or she doesn’t want someone to die from their cooking either. It’s bad for business. I’d go so far as to say that, even if you know everything about ingredients and food handling in your kitchen, you still need to notify head kitchen person when you have a guest with an allergy so that they can assure food safety. Not only is it simply common sense, you should cover your ass.

Also, it’s good to know which dishes can be altered to assure safety. This is going the extra mile, but it’s worth it.

Every waiter should know the hidden time bombs lurking in their kitchens, even if it’s something as mundane as garlic, because people are allergic to just about everything under the sun. How do you do this? Simply make sure that you know your ingredients even if you aren’t compelled to know all of them as a job requirement.

According to The Daily Mail, this Australian lady is allergic to water, believe it or not: