Eating Out as a Food Allergic Teen: The Difference between "With Mom" and Alone
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents that were extremely hands-on when it came to managing my food allergies. My Mom was constantly finding foods that were safe for me to eat. From calling companies and restaurants to having back-up food for me wherever we went, she was always prepared for any type of situation.
When I was little I never had to worry about eating somewhere without her being there. I got used to having her at restaurants to explain my food allergies to the waiter. I got used to her calling and researching restaurants prior to dining out for me. I am extremely grateful for this because I essentially learned all my skills from her: how to talk to the waiter, how to be affirmative but not scary, how to clearly state my allergen, etc.
As I got older and began to gain my own independence I started to eat out with my friends more. When eating-out with a group of teenagers, I expected the experience to be the same. I expected that I would inform my server of my allergies and I would receive the same feedback and reassurance that I had for years when eating out with my parents. However, my expectations were unrealistic. I noticed a large difference between how my statements were taken when I was with my Mom vs. by myself.
Servers oftentimes would not take my allergy concerns seriously, specifically because of the fact that I am younger. For example, when I would ask them to check with and notify the chef they would say, "No don't worry it's ok,". Sometimes they would simply say, "We can't accommodate your allergies," so they would not have to "deal" with me.
I once had a very disheartening experience at Starbucks. Knowing that my friends and I were going to the mall and would likely be getting Starbucks there, my Mom and I decided to practice a few days in advance and order a tea at the same location. My Mom told me what to say and we even practiced it in line. When it was our turn in line I told the server about my allergies with my Mom by my side. I was able to order a tea and he ensured me that everything would be safe and that there was no issue of cross-contamination. You would expect that I have the same experience when I went to order alone, right? Well...no.
When I went to give my order while hanging out with my friends I was cut-off immediately at the word allergy. Without letting me continue to speak the cashier told me that she "can't ensure anything" and that her "hands have touched everything and there is no 100% guarantee that I wouldn't come into contact with something i'm allergic to". I was shocked. Still determined, I asked that if I was to order a tea and she were to give me the tea bag and cup of hot water separately if that would be a safer option. She continued to talk about how she "can't ensure anything" and then took the order of the person next in line and completely dismissed me.
I just walked away, feeling embarrassed and now uncomfortable next to my own friends. These types of incidents never seemed to happen when an adult was with me. It is moments like these that made me feel insecure about my allergies and whether I was the problem, however far that is from the truth. It was important for me to learn as I matured that I am not being difficult and that I have to be my own advocate for my own well-being. I have a life-threatening condition and if the person serving me food does not understand that I now know to walk away without being embarrassed or uncomfortable anymore.
Overall the reaction that I got from being with my mom vs. alone was drastically different. Unfortunately, this was not a one-time occasion. I have received similar treatment at many different eateries. Sometimes, I have had to ask to speak to a manager which, regardless of holding a negative connotation in modern day, was necessary.
It is important that every child learns to be affirmative and confident when addressing their allergies with waiters/servers/cashiers. If you need to repeat yourself, then repeat yourself. If you need to ask for a manager, ask for a manager. If you feel uncomfortable, don't eat! Nothing is worth the risk of your life.
I believe it to be a necessity that every parent practice how to order with their child as they get older. This is to ensure that they receive the same treatment and safety protocols alone, as they would if they were with you. Your child should know to expect the same treatment that they do when with you.