Saturday, August 16, 2008

Eating out With Food Allergies - Macaroni Grill

While hoping around on our whirlwind of a vacation, we also made another eating out find. A friend of ours in Southern California works for the Macaroni Grill, and convinced us to come by. She said they have allergy menus for the top 8 allergens, and the only obvious peanut products she has seen are on a cake shipped into the place from an outside source with peanuts already on them.

I looked into this new and exciting eating out option, and discovered that the Macaroni Grill belonged to a chain of restaurants owned by a company called Brinker International.

Brinker International Restaurant home page

This company appears to be quite allergy aware, and all the restaurants except for Maggiano's have top 8 allergy menus similiar to the ones at Red Robin.

Macaroni Grill Allergy menus

Chili's Allergy Menu

In The Boarder

With all this allergy awareness ozing around me, I decided we should check out the Macaroni Grill. Thankfully here, there was Macaroni and Cheese that was egg and nut free, so Conor actually ate something besides ice cream and french fries. He was able to have raspberry sherbet for desert that came with his kids meal, and was very happy to be able to eat exactly what everyone else was. Everyone enjoyed their meal, and there was no cartoon mascot to be seen.

Our experience although wonderful was greatly helped by our family friend who helped us out during the entire meal. When we showed up she had the allergy menus ready, and had already read through them to see what was safe. She oversaw our waiter and checked in the kitchen on our food preparation to make sure Conor's food was prepared separately. She even took all the little ones to check out the kitchen and see how things are made.

If you do not have an insider though, I do not know how allergy aware they would be if you walked in unknown. It is certainly worth a phone call, to see if it is in your comfort zone. Also, any company that takes the time to make up and maintain allergy menus deserves a big YAHOO!! and is certianly worth a look into.

I have also not tested out any of the other restaurants owned by this company with allergy menus. I had heard a rumor that Chili's used peanut butter in the chili, and I have no clue whether or not this is true. I would certainly need to check it out before we went in person.

If anyone knows about any of the other restaurants please let me know, because I HATE calling!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Eating out with Food Allergies - Red Robin

Whew!!! We finally made it back from our vacation, and boy am I tired. I enjoyed the family vacation, but now I need a vacation from the family. :) We tried camping for one night in a cabin with just beds in it. It was fun, but I have never been so happy to have brought the great little porta potty with us for use in the middle of the night.

It is called the on the go potty, and although they sell liners, you can use regular old plastic bags. For anyone with little ones potty training, or newly trained, I highly recommend getting one. I used to be driving along when I was potty training the twins and one of them would decide they needed to go just when we got far enough away from everything that there was no going back. Then there was no way I was dragging three little children into some random store to try and find a potty, so the on the go potty became my best friend. We don't use it very often these days, but if you are going camping and happen to be no where near the bathroom, it can be extremely, extremely, extremely helpful. I could make some sort of potty joke here, but I am censoring myself.

The real reason I came here tonight was to post about some of our eating out experiences while on the road. A few other bloggers had mentioned that Red Robin has allergy menu's, and they had good experiences there.

Check out the Food Allergy Buzz's great review here

And the Peanut Allergy Kid's comments here

Armed with this exciting information, we first headed out to the local Red Robin to check it out. When the waitress came over I asked for the Allergy menus, and she quickly went to get the manager, who delivered them personally to our table. Conor is allergic to peanuts and eggs, and these came printed out as two different menus. This was great, but it took me quite a while to cross reference between the two of them to discover what items were ok for both the peanut and egg allergic. Thankfully they supply crayons to the table to color with, so I was able to color code the menu's to determine what items were on both menus.

Michael and Natalie both decided they wanted chocolate shakes, so Mick ordered them before I was able to cross reference the allergy menus only to discover that it was not safe for Conor. This mad Conor very, very, very upset (the taunting from his brother did not help), and we finally compromised on getting him some vanilla ice cream in a cup that looked just like his brother and sisters. Of the other options available to him, he insisted he would only eat the french fries with his cup of plain vanilla ice cream. Yes, not a very nutritious meal, but at least it was safe. The manager delivered the allergy menus to us, asked us if we had any questions, and visited the table later in the meal to check on us. The rest of us enjoyed our food as much as one can at a chain restaurant with a giant red bird as a mascot, and were generally very pleased with the experience.

The Red Robin Mascot

After the good experience up in Northern California, we decided to try another Red Robin down in Southern California where we were visiting the grandparents. When we sat down, I nicely asked our waitress for the allergy menu's for peanuts and eggs. She looked at me like I was completely insane and told me there were no such thing as allergy menus, but if it was really important she could put a note on our order. I still politely informed her that there were allergy menus and suggested she either speak to her manager, or allow me to speak to him for her. She stormed off like a teenager, only to return a few minutes later with her tail between her legs to let me know that she was printing off the allergy menus and they would be at our table in a few minutes. A few minutes turned into alot of minutes, but they finally arrived. Conor wanted his Red Robin usual of ice cream in a cup like a shake, and french fries, and enjoyed every second of his meal. He had no reactions, and the rest of the meal went smoothly even though there were no overly cheerful manager visits to our table.

So all in all, I would say that our visits to Red Robin were a success. I only was looked at once like I was crazy, the allergy menus are very useful, and there were no reactions. The only real problem is Conor wants to go there every day for his Red Robin usual nutritious lunch.