This blog post shows the perspective of a customer who has allergies and their experiences of dining out. This will give you an understanding of what they are experiencing and enable you to be empathetic, communicating appropriately giving reassurance and a positive customer experience.
Guest post by Joanne Keeling of @izzyandollie.com
I was diagnosed with severe allergies when I was 29 years old. Years of carefree dining rapidly became a thing of the past when I suddenly had to change a lifetime of habits to ensure I stayed alive! Sounds dramatic but this transition saw a few anaphylactic shocks in quick succession, some my own fault, some the fault of others, the harsh learning curve had begun.
I was diagnosed with life threatening allergies to almonds, peanuts and latex (natural rubber). I had only ever had hay fever up till this point, so it was difficult to adjust at the beginning. Years of just walking into restaurants and choosing whatever I liked from a menu were now a thing of the past. I was now having to make enquiries about potential menu choices and often made to feel awkward, with questions that would suggest the staff thought I was being fussy.
Initially I was embarrassed. I appreciated restaurants were busy and staff may not know about allergies. I really just wanted to blend into the background with minimal fuss, but this attitude could cost me my life. I simply had to make enquiries. It’s not always possible to avoid eating out, particularly with friends or family and even more so when you are on holiday. Yet this is how I was made to feel. “People like you shouldn’t eat out” was a comment made by one restauranteur. I was so upset I cried. “I haven’t got time for things like this at the weekend” was another comment which led to the declining of a birthday invitation.
It was through no fault of my own I had this medical condition. Do people with allergies really need to be treated this way? Worse still were the restaurants that appeared to take your allergy seriously but proceed to serve your meal with almond flakes in it. The almonds you mentioned twice could kill you when ordering your meal. Hearing the words,’ What’s the worst that could happen?” from the unsympathetic manager made my husband’s blood boil, “She could die…… in your restaurant, and that’s not good for business!” `It seemed only then did the penny drop but I was left wondering, was it a loss of life or the bad impression on a business that finally made them understand.
Thankfully things have changed dramatically over 18 years. Restaurants provide menus with many allergens highlighted, staff are more aware of allergies and the serious consequences of anaphylaxis, and I have not been made to feel unwelcome in a long time. Even taking holidays on cruise ships have been fantastic. P&O have been consistently impressive providing menus the day before so you can talk through your options and pre-order meals. The chefs on board adapt their meals to accommodate you. Some organisations still have a long way to go, especially being consistent from one branch to another but on the whole the industry has had a massive shake up. Organisations such as The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation have worked tirelessly to ensure people like me are kept safe. They have made a huge impact on the allergy world and for this I, and thousands of others, are truly grateful.
Whilst they are on their mission to make allergy history, I too am on a smaller mission of my own! Near tragedy, led to my daughter saving my life and sparked the idea for a lifesaving project! Isabelle was just 2 & 1/2 when she called 999 as I had an anaphylactic shock at home. I truly believe any child can replicate this and advocate all parents of young children should teach this vital lifesaving skill. Carers of young children at home could have an accident or become seriously ill and may only have young children to assist them. Adventure in an Ambulance is a book I wrote to help children learn about emergencies.
It is vital all young children know what an emergency is (and equally what is not), and how to make an emergency call. If Izzy had not made that call, I could have died from anaphylaxis and my children would also have been in danger whilst alone. Thankfully her quick thinking helped save my life and I hope that our story will encourage other parents to teach their children this life saving skill. It may just help save another life.