How Not to Conduct Yourself at a Restaurant

Wow. Check this out. Apparently some diner waltzed into Cyrus, a four-star restaurant in the Napa Valley area in California, and handed the server this card to give to the chef:

Photo: Douglas Keane of Cyrus

In addition to this story, they give an example of a couple following the Candida Diet protocol who emailed a restaurant ahead of time to outline their requests. To me, they undermined their credibility when they said they’d be cheating by partaking in the wine, but at least they made an effort to notify the restaurant in a respectable manner within a decent timeframe. The restaurant was happy to help, going out of their way to plan something for them and buying special ingredients. Then, get this—those dieters called at 3:30pm the day-of to cancel.

People like this give the rest of us a bad name.

I’ve already talked about the perils of micromanaging our restaurant experiences (here), but this certainly ups the ante.

In the first example with the card, if anything they’ve said on it is true, they should never be dining out without at least a 48-hour notice. They maybe should never eat out at all. Trust me, I know how hard it is to prepare three meals a day. I do it all the time, and often wish for a Primal pizza parlor. But if your life is in such peril, it behooves you not to burden anyone else with the possibility of accidentally ending it.

Is this your kitchen? I didn't think so.

Plus, I know what goes on behind the scenes. If this person thinks the chef lovingly chops each ingredient right before adding it to the dish, they are gravely mistaken. Actually, in most restaurants, the chef isn’t cooking at all, but I digress. This stuff is planned and prepped way in advance. There is no way anyone could wash workspaces and utensils, prep the ingredients, and cook it in a way that could guarantee that no cross-contamination would occur. It’s impossible. Not to mention, no one can make any claims as to what the food’s been exposed to prior to coming in the delivery door of the restaurant. Unless this place has their own garden and ranch, the supply chain is one big unknown.

And I’m going to call b.s. on some of their list of murderous ingredients. Okay, okay, nuts. Sure. Deadly to some. But the rest of that list? Wheat is certainly a big problem for honest-to-goodness celiacs, but, let’s be frank, one accidental cross-contamination will not actually end a life or necessitate a trip to an ER. I have no doubt that it would be a totally sucky experience, and I don’t mean to downplay the suffering celiacs have gone through. Not my point at all. My point is that it doesn’t merit the heading of “LIFE-THREATENING REACTION”. Feel free to yell at me in the comment section if you’d like. On to chocolate. I looked it up, and most of what I could find involved the threat chocolate poses to dogs and really silly names for chocolate desserts, like Death by Chocolate (truer than they know). But apparently, an allergy to cacao is so rare, it isn’t even described in medical literature. If this person actually has an allergy, it is probably to something else in the chocolate, making their list a work of fiction. As for cow’s milk, I found a condition known as galactosemia, but it’s a rare genetic condition that would prevent them from digesting anything with lactose in it, which, I presume, would eliminate the possibility of having goat or sheep’s milk products.

So is it possible that this customer was a card-carrying member of the elite CCAGVWANA club? (Celiac-Cacao Allergy-Galactosemia-Victims-With-A-Nut-Allergy) It seems highly unlikely. But if the majority of these complaints aren’t life-threatening, why all the dramatic fanfare? Go. Home.

As for the second example, it just sucks that they had such bad manners. I really hope they had a funeral to go to, because nothing else could excuse that behavior.

If you read the comments in the original post, you’ll see that we are being grouped with these idiots. What can we do?

  • This reminds me of something Jason Robillard (he of The Barefoot Running Book) said about barefoot running. If we can smile and be light about our funny way of running/eating, everyone else will feel better about it too. We’re ambassadors. We can pave the way for those to come by being good Paleo/Primal citizens.
  • Someone in the comments of the original post mentioned they bring their own breadcrumbs to see if the chef would be willing to use them. NO. NO. NO. Folks, just do your homework, pick a place that looks like it has some things you can work with, and then allow yourself to be delighted. For the love of Pete, please don’t bring your own stuff to a restaurant.
  • Ask direct questions. Don’t lie and say you have an allergy unless you do. If you’re truly concerned about certain ingredients, ask them if there are any dishes they can recommend that are free of them. Let them help you rather than dictating how they serve you. If something sounds like it’s free of whatever you’re avoiding, be sure and double-check with the server. Restaurants sometimes don’t mention that they put croutons on salads or cream in sauces.
  • And be nice to those servers. They work hard and take a lot of guff. Especially from picky diners, like ohhhh…you and me.

9 Responses to “How Not to Conduct Yourself at a Restaurant”

  1. *Slow applause* We have to be good, patient, polite, well-researched ambassadors lest we be lumped in wholesale with the orthorexics.

  2. I honestly have considered making up one of these cards for myself to take to restaurants, and my husband keeps trying to get me to do it. Because it would be a lot easier than explaining everything every time, and less confusing for the servers. I would definitely use a different rhetoric than the card above, as I do when I give my spiel about my “allergy to soybeans, and the products of anything that ate soybeans — which unless you know they didn’t eat ’em, probably did — except for my get-out-of-jail free cards: fish, eggs, and butter.” A lot of people also don’t think about the fact that vegetable oils, non-stick sprays — and yes, chocolate — usually have soy in them. (It’s possible that if the owner of the above-pictured card really does have these issues, they might have a latent soy problem and just don’t realize it.) Anywho, at the end of giving my spiel, I always half-jokingly make the comment, “But I have my epi-pen just in case!” If the server is worth their stuff, and does their job well, I usually have an excellent and delicious dinner, with no reactions afterwards. I often will pick a few things off the menu, but say, as long as the chef can make something that I don’t have a reaction to, I’ll be happy. However, I’ve really come to value the work it takes to be a good server, because I have a very good sense now of when I’m going to have a reaction after a restaurant meal just based on how good the server has been — how well they have listened, what they ask, what ends up coming out of the kitchen … I love going out to eat, only do it very infrequently, and tend to patronize restaurants which have done a good job in my past experience of accommodating my “picky” needs.

  3. Is it really such a crime to just go out to eat once in awhile and eat the fresh baked bread or order the oozy cheesy lasagna? How about the 80/20 rule? I promise you that if Grok had been given some cheese he probably would have eaten it. Being relaxed and flexible onocassion may prove to have more health benefits than staunchly adhering to a nutritional theory. I like your words of Stay Home if this is how you are gonna behave in a restaurant.

  4. There’s a pretty big difference between eating paleo for general health reasons, and people who experience anaphylactic shock and potential death when coming into contact with small quantities of various allergens.

    Fortunately, I don’t fall into the latter category, but there are people who do. Wheat is required to be listed as an allergen not because of celiac disease, but because of people who have acute wheat allergies. Understanding the various pathologies of problematic foods can be helpful.

    If anything, the paleo people who don’t have acute allergies are probably making life harder on the people who do react severely. There’s likely a tendency for them to be taken less seriously by people preparing their food.

    • I agree. There are absolutely legitimate allergies, but I guess the question becomes how should restaurants deal with that issue. The original piece mentioned restaurants in the Bay Area that won’t make substitutions for vegetarians or gluten-free adherents. I can’t say I blame them. Understanding the way restaurants work, it’s impossible to promise anyone anything.

      Most people I know who have a true life-threatening allergy handle themselves with grace and carry their epi-pens should they be necessary. Many people deal with their limitations as best as can be expected.

      But then there’s this card. I suspect this person may have a true nut allergy, but I don’t understand why they jumped the shark by lumping the rest of it in there.

      I also think some Paleo/Primal folks are in a weird gray area. Certain foods produce certain undesirable effects. So where do intolerances fit in here, and how much should any of us expect restaurants to cater to that?

  5. As a mother of a child who has allergies to corn, wheat, soy, broccoli, pear, red and yellow dye, and more I will tell you that if you are nice many restaurants will work with you to make something as simple as broiled or pan fried fish, shrimp, vegs with no trouble at all. We tried hard not to isolate one of our four children because he could not eat like everyone else. The card does make it easier. In my experience the waiter if unsure will ask the chef to speak with us and all goes well. LEAVE a BIG TIP! Corn is a big issue. Just do a little research and you will see that over 200 products contain corn protein. Let me give a few examples: Produce is ripened on the truck going to market with ethylene gas ( corn based = reactions), Sliced cheese wrappers are treated with corn starch, hand soap, shampoo, adhesive on bandaids, contact lens solution, Febreeze, purel, the “solution” on some meats, and many many more will cause reactions. Others hidden dangers that are not corn: cereal packaging is often treated with preservatives like TBHQ or BHA. This is not listed on the package because it is not an ingredient. If you are curious check out, Wheat allergy diet – Lucile Packard Children’s Hosp. I am interested in Paleo as a means to supplement new and healthy recipes for my entire family of (6).

    • Yes, I was just reading in Nora Gedgaudas’s Primal Body, Primal Mind about the ubiquity of problematic ingredients, especially because they go by different names. If someone is especially sensitive, even a shampoo ingredient can be troublesome.

      That sure is a lot to think about in regards to food, and kudos to you for trying to balance everyone’s needs, including the restaurant’s. I should say I’m not necessarily against cards, but the way in which this particular card was phrased was over the top.

      As for whether Paleo will be helpful for your family, of that I have no doubt. Everyone will benefit. I don’t know how old your children are, but sometimes it can be a bit of an uphill struggle. There are several great Paleo family sites. For starters, if you haven’t found them already, I recommend and Best of luck!


  1. How Not to Conduct Yourself at a Restaurant | Paleo Digest - 09/22/2011

    […] web!How Not to Conduct Yourself at a Restaurant The Paleo Periodical / Posted on: September 22, 2011The Paleo Periodical – Wow. Check this out. Apparently some diner waltzed into Cyrus, a four-star restaurant in […]

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