Dining Out: Don't be allergic to etiquette

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

With an increased awareness of food sourcing and allergies, it's easier than ever to go out to dinner with your paleo cousin, gluten-free aunt and vegan sister (and at the same time!). Here are a few tips to help you get exactly what you want (or don't want) on your plate.

Include dietary restrictions with your reservation.

"It doesn't need to be detailed," says Scott Heimlich, owner of Barcelona and Sidebar Catering. "But it could be, 'We have someone who is following a lactose-free diet.' This allows our server to walk into the situation armed with knowledge and ready to help."

Be clear.

Asking whether something contains gluten isn't the same as saying you eat a strict gluten-free diet. "If a guest asks about a dish but doesn't ask about it in the right way, there may be some back ingredient pertaining to the allergy," Heimlich says. "If the server knows details [about your allergy], they can steer you to the right meal."

Don't assume.

At Barcelona, all allergy-specific orders will be prepared with new tools on a clean surface, but at more casual restaurants, it's best to clearly communicate your expectations. "It doesn't come up that often," says Kathleen Day, owner of laid-back Katalina's. "But if you're vegetarian and you ask us to, we'll scrub down the grill, for sure."

Don't expect free substitutions.

Places like Lavash have made operational decisions to accommodate dietary restrictions, including marking gluten-free and vegan items and not adding almonds to dishes unless they're requested. That said, every diet is different, and the Clintonville restaurant is happy to offer substitutions for side dishes, says assistant manager Zaye Latif. "We offer hummus instead of rice and raw vegetables in place of lavash or pita," he says. These changes come with a minimal additional cost.