Living with food intolerances can be anxiety inducing, especially when eating out. Even if you go to the most health-conscious restaurants, you’re constantly worried that a sneaky ingredient will find its way onto your plate. Servers tend to cower in fear as your list your restrictions — and when your list is longer than “I can’t eat gluten” you’re in for a lot of head scratching and furrowed brows.
Your friends may be understanding, but they get hungrier and hungrier as you catalog your restrictions again, this time slower and louder for the entire restaurant to hear (once more for the cheap seats in the back!). After several minutes, everyone is worried you’re going to get sick. Your friends are asking about your symptoms, your poor server is nearing a breakdown, and all of the attention is on you. Basically, eating out has become a chore instead of a treat.
“Nothing on the menu for me? No problem, let’s play it safe. I’ll have a side of plain lettuce.”
As an admittedly difficult restaurant patron, I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable meals. I’ve had servers run back and forth from the kitchen to ask me to repeat my intolerances again and again (and who can blame them?), and I’ve had mishaps where the wrong ingredients have snuck into my food because of poor communication (way worse).
After a multitude of negative restaurant experiences, I grew averse to eating out. The anxiety of it all only made my symptoms worse, and I was on the brink of giving up and vowing to eat in forever.
That is, until I discovered the ultimate life hack: my food intolerance card. [Insert hallelujah chorus here].
My brilliant brother-in-law came up with the idea. During one particularly stressful dining experience (“Nothing on the menu for me? No problem, let’s play it safe. I’ll have a side of plain lettuce.”), he mentioned that, during his stint as a bar tender, he’d come across people with food intolerance cards. He explained that in loud, dark, crowded bars it’s nearly impossible to communicate important information like, “that beer might kill me.” So, some of his clever customers passed him a card with their allergies/intolerances listed. He was so grateful that it stuck with him. I immediately latched onto the idea and got a card of my own.
This little card lists all of my intolerances and is responsible for single-handedly lowering the blood pressure of the larger New York City server population. I ordered my card from Vistaprint, the business card site. It was simple and cheap — just $7.99 plus shipping for 100 cards. It clearly and politely lists my intolerances and restrictions in red. I separate out what I can’t eat and what I prefer not to eat because of religious reasons, in an effort to be clear and honest. I also list the foods I can eat in green.
Now, my servers are at ease. When I hand them my card, they react with surprise and then immense gratitude. In fact, the servers at my favorite restaurants happily ask for my card as soon as I walk in the door. They pass it along to the chef and don’t have to worry about writing everything down. They are able to advise me on the best choice from the menu or customize something for me.
Now, fewer offensive ingredients find their way into my meals. My fellow diners don’t have to sit and listen while I enumerate my restrictions. And, most importantly, I can actually enjoy my meal. I simply pass my card to the server and get back to my conversations.
So, for all of you living with dietary restrictions, do yourselves a favor: order a pack of food intolerance cards and enjoy eating out. You deserve it!
Originally published at medium.com