Nicola and I have lots in common.
We’re copywriters and bloggers. Parents to three kids. Navigation in a world where no food can really be taken for granted.
Today, Nicola is here to tell about her experiences with public reaction to food intolerance. As dad to a peanut-allergy child, I know the world well. For every kickass teacher who looks out for your kid, there’s a truckload of ignorance right around the corner.
Please give Nicola a warm welcome on the CD. She’s a talented writer, thoughtful commenter and champion for children everywhere.
‘Can I have a jug of water please?’
‘We don’t do water’
‘What do you mean ‘you don’t do water’, it comes out of a tap’
‘You have to buy it by bottle’
Quote from a server at Krazy Kingdom play gym, West Yorkshire.
This is funny right? Servers in cafés and restaurants come out with some corkers. On this occasion I laughed and told her that I had every right to a jug of tap water and there was no way I was paying for it. Of course, she was in the wrong and her supervisor had to set her straight (and apologise to me).
On another occasion, in a different place, I had this conversation:
‘Do you have anything that is Dairy free here?’
‘Is that the same as Gluten free?’
Quote from a server at Costa Coffee, Riverhead, Kent
Seriously! Again, this is funny, but in an unbelievable kind of way. I said never mind I will check the ingredients in your two gluten free offerings myself.
When it comes to trying to find something gluten and dairy free when you are out and about, it isn’t always easy and the staff often have no idea what ingredients are in the products on sale. This is what happened to us when we were taking too long to make a decision on what to buy:
‘Excuse me, you can’t stand there you are blocking the way’
‘But we are trying to find something without gluten or dairy that our son can eat’
‘But there are other people here needing to be served’
Quote from a server at Starbucks, Rockefeller Centre, New York
Ok then, so because we had to look a bit closer at what was on offer rather than just grabbing the nearest thing, that meant we were in the way and they were not interested in helping us. Great!
We walked away.
Poor service is one thing but lack of education is another. It is the responsibility of the companies to give their employees some basic training. We may laugh at these little faux pas but it is not funny, not really. Not when something like this happens:
‘Can you please make sure that the veg doesn’t have any butter on?’
‘Yes, yes, of course’
When he brings the vegetables to the table they look a bit glossy. I taste them and they are overwhelmingly salty.
‘They have butter on them’
‘No, no they don’t. No butter’
Quote from a server in Spider restaurant, Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Except they do have butter on them and he is either blatantly lying or ignorant.
Now it gets serious, especially when you are dairy intolerant. Luckily for my 5-year-old son I tried them first just to check.
Restaurants don’t get it do they? Some are more helpful than others are, but the majority still think you are an inconvenience.
My son recently had gluten-free pasta in a local restaurant. He asked for it plain, with a bit of olive oil on it. He likes it like that. Straight after he ate it he had an upset stomach. The server assured me that they definitely used oil and not butter, but something was not right. Either they lied or they did not use gluten free pasta at all; perhaps there was some cross contamination somewhere. It any case, plain gluten free pasta and oil should not have made him ill.
He is lucky that we are there to fight his battles for him. It helps that he is only 5 and cute and so most of the time restaurants make allowances and try to accommodate him. What happens when he grows up? He won’t want to stand up and make a fuss; that would be too embarrassing. What will happen is this – he will eat what everyone else is eating and suffer the consequences. Until he finds his own tolerance levels or until he realises that he can’t carry on pretending that his intolerances don’t exist.
I’m saying this as if I don’t believe that restaurants will have changed by then. I hope that they have, but if large chains don’t bother to train their staff on the basics, what can I say?
Time for one more (and it is a good one):
We took a British Airways flight to New York. I had phoned customer services to order my son a dairy- and wheat-free meal. It was not possible to choose both options on line, so I did not know which one to pick for him. It is better to speak to someone and ask him or her direct is it not? You would think so anyway.
What happened? Well they gave him a children’s meal; a gluten and dairy fest of breaded chicken, mashed potato, yoghurt and a chocolate biscuit. What did they offer my son instead of this meal? A green salad. I mean, for a 5-year-old, come on!