Dietary Demands Gone Wild

A diner's printed list of demands comes without warning, sparking fear in the kitchen

Inside Scoop and our own Healdsburg blog recently posted this story about a Cyrus diner’s demands from the kitchen (presented on the spot) as well as Chef Douglas Keane’s rather bewildered Tweet: “Is it worth it, for both the restaurant and the guest?

The gist of the story is that Keane received the card in the kitchen as the diner was seated, giving him no time to prepare for the urgent needs of this high-maintenance eater. Citing a “life threatening reaction” to certain foods, Keane was forced to scramble to come up with not only an off-menu dish, but make sure that all the station’s utensils were wiped down, and that he didn’t well, inadvertently send the person to the hospital.

Ever good-natured, Keane made the best of it despite serious concerns of doing grave harm to the customer. Staff said the diner was polite, if (and these are my words) obviously clueless about the clearly stated policy that food restrictions are appreciated in advance.

As a frequent diner-out, I’ve gotta say this would seriously rankle me both as a chef and as a customer who has to wait while the kitchen scrambles to accommodate this person. I get that people have food allergies. And I’m sympathetic to folks who take it all in stride and don’t involve the greater population in their health issues (I get migraines from sulfates, so I don’t eat stuff with sulfates.) I respect that people need to ask for certain things to be eliminated from their food (I’ve seen the results of nut and shellfish allergies gone awry). I truly get that some allergies can be dangerous and its worth asking about ingredients and bringing an Epi-pen with you.

But really? Is it even safe for this individual to eat at a restaurant? I gotta wonder whether someone that concerned with their “life threatening” food issues would even take a chance? I also have to wonder why is butter okay but not other cow’s milk dairy? I’m not a dietician (and would love more information) but as far as I understand, if you have an actual milk allergy, you can’t eat butter, goat or sheep dairy. Lactose intolerance isn’t life threatening. And, if all the utensils have to be wiped down, what if the rag was used to wipe down another counter with one of those items on it? Is the kitchen required to find a cloth that has never touched those items? What if someone from the next table’s food includes these ingredients or like, what if their dining companions want something other than brown rice? Does their dining out repetoire include a hermetically-sealed bubble? And, in the time it took to make the nicely color-coded card with four exclamation points!!!! one would think that the diner could have called in advance and let the restaurant know that they had a laundry list of food issues. I mean, for example.

What should chefs do in this situation? Politely tell the customer they can’t accommodate them or scramble to create a dish that could still potentially harm the diner? Sound off.