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Recently I had the pleasure and challenge of doing what I would call a “mystery dine” on a concept near the town where I live. This desire to go play Food PD came about because I met the CEO of the concept (not naming names) back in Chicago at the National Restaurant Association's “Big Top” Conference last month and had a hard time being clear about what I liked and what I didn’t like about his concept.

After grabbing his card and promising to e-mail what I really thought about his places, I looked to see when and with whom would be the best location for me to visit.

After some speculation I decided on a gluten-free dining friend as a partner in crime for lunch on Day 1 and my husband joined me for dinner on Day 2. To keep the test fair and equal I decided to order the exact same thing, the exact same way, at both meals to see what happened.

Day 1 ~ Location 1 ~ I took along “Gluten-Free Dee,” a new friend who is a serious card carrying member of all things GF! When she ordered her gluten-free dish, she was asked by the counter server about her GF choices. The counter person then suggested a new dish for her to try that would also be GF. The suggested item was one that appealed to Dee so she ordered it and the staff member then offered to put an “allergy alert” on Dee’s meal. Not sure what an “allergy alert” is officially, but it sounds helpful for those with special dining needs.

On my turn to order and I picked a dish on the menu board above and asked for it without mushrooms (a preference not an allergy). The gal behind the counter said it could come without mushrooms so I was thinking I was good to go. I was not asked if I wanted the “allergy alert” and when I got my meal it showed up with mushrooms.

On Day 2, the meals I ordered were the exact same thing and this time the server asked if I would like to substitute another veggie for the mushrooms. I loved that.added extra tomatoes and this time, at the second location, my meal was perfectly mushroom free.

This started me thinking, what if I was allergic to mushrooms and not just a picky eater? Would that hourly wage employee be responsible for making me sick? Where does my (Jane Q Diner’s) personal responsibility start and where is the restaurant staff expected to be accountable? How about a Nutritional Ingredient Guide of some sort? Should the restaurant have a reverse look up for the staff to help get it right?

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Dee Valdez
    Restaurants are in a challenging and exciting time filled with opportunity. I'm excited that they want the business of the gluten, allergen and GMO free consumer. Having worked in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years, I also realize there are many obstacles to overcome to do it right. I'm hoping more restaurants will stay the course, find the experts they need to simplify the process & continue to reach out to people like me! I think it's worth celebrating!

    Gluten Free Dee
    Dee Valdez, M.A.
  • Elliot W
    If you are looking for a legal answer to this question, your answer is: Depending on the state and the situation, yes to all the above. Most, if not all states adhere to the theory of vicarious liability, where an employer is responsible for the actions of an employee if an incident occurs within the regular performance of their duties. For a restaurant, this would include the handling and prep of food and the wait/server staff that accomplishes the task. The restaurant can then take actiona against the employee if it felt that the employee did not follow proper protocol. If it is a company's protocol to use a reverse look-up, then a server who does not is grossly negligent with their responsibilities and can be forced to contribute to whatever comes out of it. If the restaurant itself does not have a protocol and did not train the server to know/recognize, the server may not have to contribute at all because the negligence would be on the establishment for not training them properly. It all depends on the facts given.
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Latest posts by Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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