Some people will read my heading of “Our First Restaurant Meal As An Allergy Family” and raise an eyebrow and scroll by. While some others, probably people in a similar situation to us, will see the heading and think “Oh I remember when we did that” or “One day hopefully we’ll do that too”.
It might not be the same for every “allergy family”, but for us, the simple act of having a meal at a restaurant as a family of 3, rather than just Hubby & I while our 4yo Miss J is with Nanna, is a massive hurdle.
Miss J had her first severe allergic reaction at 5 months (late 2012), and a month later had skin prick test results that showed multiple high level allergies.
Her allergies (dairy, eggs, kiwi, peanuts, treenuts) did not allow us to feel comfortable, or safe, to go out for a meal anywhere. I tried going for coffee with other Mums and bubs after rhyme time at the library, but every single time we went, Miss J would have a reaction. She never ingested anything at the cafes, but she was touching tables, chairs, the floor, the underside of tables & chairs, where food residue are easily overlooked by staff giving a wipe down after customers leave.
She would get itchy and then the tell tale welts would start appearing, if she got her hand to her eye or mouth before I was able to intervene, there would be swelling. I would leave the café, wipe her down, administer Zyrtec, and be highly stressed for the remainder of the day.
We moved interstate, to my hometown in April 2014, to be closer to family and for cooler weather, and one of the first people I ran into, literally days after arriving, was a friend from my school years, Shane. We hadn’t seen each other since the early 90’s, but had been friends on Facebook for a few years. Shane was a chef, owned a local restaurant, and knew about Miss J’s allergies. He invited us to bring Miss J for a meal. I was grateful for the invite, but knew it would be something we’d have to work up to.
Fast forward 2 years, and for Miss J’s 4th birthday we decided that we would take her out for her first restaurant meal!
I spoke to my friend Shane, the chef, and he was on board straight away. He and his wife (who I also went to school with), had a mission when they opened the restaurant 14 years ago, that everyone would be welcome, regardless of dietary restrictions. They had Gluten Free before it became the norm to see ‘GF’ next to menu items.
Preparing For The Day
A couple of messages and calls with Shane and we were set. He understood what she was allergic to, how sensitive she was to traces and residues, what foods she liked to eat, and how nervous Hubby & I were! He was ultra confident that they could cater for Miss J safely, and his confidence was contagious, it gave Hubby & I the boost we needed to bite the bullet and go for it.
I do have to say that the fact that Miss J is older now (at 4 she is a lot more able to vocalise how she is feeling within her body); that the restaurant doesn’t serve breakfast (egg & dairy fest!); and is literally a 2 minute drive from the Hospital, were also big factors contributing to our confidence.
So last Friday arrived, we had booked in for the first sitting of the day, 1130am. We only told Miss J about the lunch on Monday, even still, she counted down the days, and told everyone, I mean strangers and all, that she was going to a restaurant.
D-Day Arrives for this “Allergy Family”
Shane (chef) welcomed us and sat us at the table opposite the pass, which Miss J loved, she could keep an eye on the chefs, and had good views of most of the restaurant.
Miss J settled into colouring in a page of Winnie The Pooh, and Hubby & I had a mineral water. Shane came to take our orders, he told Miss J that he had a special restaurant meal for her (she is obsessed with lamb cutlets, veggies and home made chips, Shane agreed it was a good idea to go with something she loved first try). Hubby & I said we would have the same as Miss J, however Shane wasn’t having it, he told us “No, she is fine, she’s safe, you guys order from the menu”.
We were a bit dumbstruck and didn’t know what to order, we went with our favourite of salt & pepper squid. Shane added aioli in a separate bowl so we could use it if we wanted.
Miss J had a freshly made glass of orange juice, watermelon and apple, she loved it, and thought she was so fancy drinking it from a tall glass.
The meals arrived and as you can see from the pics, Miss J was a bit excited! Hubby & I ate our squid (and yes we did dip into the aioli!). Miss J demolished her meal, announcing that the chips were the most delicious ever (evidenced by a tummy ache later that night from eating too many!!).
As she ate, I was monitoring her for redness, any signs of swelling or itching or irritation, and so very happy to report that there was zero reaction! She ate the two lamb cutlets, most of the veggies and all of the chips without any reaction whatsoever!
After we had finished our meals she did more colouring in and a bit of people watching, waving at other diners, the waitstaff and chefs. As we left she thanked the chef Josh, gave Shane a cuddle and multiple high 5s and asked to get a photo with him. She was buzzing after we left, so excited by her outing.
It’s hard to explain the feeling that Hubby & I had. That hour of sitting in a busy restaurant, enjoying a meal with our little girl was just priceless.
Other People Really Do Care
That night I posted these pics on Facebook, tagging in Shane and his restaurant. A couple of comments really touched my heart and gave me such confidence that we could do this again, and face other hurdles we had been avoiding. To realise that there are people, outside our immediate circle, who do really care about giving Miss J these ‘normal’ experiences and keeping her safe, is such a valuable result from our day.
This comment was from Shane on my post thanking him & his staff:
Our mission from day dot 14 years ago was to create a restaurant where everyone was welcome. Today was just as amazing for you as it is for us. Today’s chef Josh Morris took great pride in making sure Miss J was well catered for.
Miss J see you and your smile soon xxx
These comments were from Shane’s wife Belinda:
So lovely to hear your story & glad your family date was awesome xo….the little things that so many of us take for granted I’m just so happy for you guys.
We are very passionate about our business & our locals that get behind us so nothing is too much trouble…….funny thing all these modern Cafes that promote ‘whole food’ we have been doing that from the very beginning so we are fresh & hand made as much as possible……we know what’s in our food & if anyone needs modification Shane is awesome.
You have a beautiful girl Melissa I hope her allergies lessen as she grows or at least people take the time to grow & learn about them with her.
Many more happy memories to be had for you all.
Seriously, how lucky are we to have these people in our lives? We will definitely be going back to Shane’s restaurant, with Miss J in tow!
So my advice after this experience?
Face some of your fears, the payoff is amazing. Put yourself in the best possible position you can, to have a positive experience and go for it.
Before we went to the restaurant, this was my mental checklist:
- discuss Miss J’s allergies with the restaurant, reinforcing the minute amounts of allergens she has previously reacted to
- give the chefs a list of foods she can safely eat and that she enjoys
- discuss cross contamination risks/concerns
- ask for the earliest reservation possible, to lessen the amount of residues on the tables/chairs etc
- talk to Miss J about how the chef will be cooking her food specially for her, that they understand her allergies and want to keep her safe
- talk to Miss J about speaking up if she doesn’t feel well or things taste funny
- ensure she is healthy, not rundown or with the start of a cold etc, when going for the lunch
- ensure Epipens and anti-histamines are in the kit bag that goes everywhere with her – let the restaurant know you have Epipens
- in a worst case scenario the hospital is literally 2 minutes away
- enjoy the lunch, enjoy watching Miss J having her first every meal out, it’s a huge milestone, soak it all in
- be grateful for the care shown by the chefs and staff, it is a big deal for them too
I would love to hear from you about your first restaurant experience with your “allergy family” or if you’re planning it don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Till next time,
Mel – This Happ-y Mumma
Note – This is not a sponsored post, we paid for our meal, I have added details about the restaurant only as a small gesture of thanks to a great group of people who gave us an excellent experience – Shane’s restaurant is Logan’s Café Restaurant in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia – they also have a Facebook page