It’s hard to explain how much worrying about food has shaped my life in the last 10 years. I’ve lost many hours at the grocery store, standing in aisles with a list in one hand and a product with ingredient label in the other, painstakingly working to avoid cross contamination and mistakes.
And this was for trying to feed my son at home, in my own kitchen. Trusting other people to understand the ins and outs of food allergies? That’s a whole different level of parental nightmare.
After a couple close calls - and many restaurants changing their allergy policies - we stopped eating out. Trying to find safe places to eat – places that had knowledgeable kitchen staff – was stressful and time consuming. What’s the point of taking a night off to relax when you have to hunt a place down and then still be emotionally holding at Defcon 3 stress levels until you pay the bill?
Just when I thought I had dealing with food allergies down to an art, fate conspired to throw me another curve-ball: last year, I developed an intolerance to gluten. Dinner became a nightly three-ring circus that involved juggling everyone’s food needs AND preferences.
It’s still very much Restaurant de Radcliffe in this household on a regular basis, but I did find an alternative for when I’m too tired to cook and feel bad about the number of times I’ve served gluten-free, dairy-free chicken nuggets and tater tots – which is about the only meal the entire family will all agree to eat at the same time.
In the last six months or so, The Keg has become our go-to food safe haven. For date night, for meet-up-with-family-time, for any time I-can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-time. This is a boon especially now for the holiday season, when the days are super busy and there’s a lot of friends to wine, dine, and entertain all month long!
I didn’t know, until another food allergy parent told me, that The Keg was great about dealing with food allergies. This is why:
I can’t begin to explain how amazing this is to us.
For years, my restaurant experience as an allergy parent has looked like “Here’s an ingredient list; everything’s subject to change and we can’t rule out cross contamination, so eat at your own risk – and you should probably go somewhere else.” I’m not even kidding; the disclaimers on allergy guides at many restaurants advise you not to dine at the restaurant if you have life-threatening allergies.
Do you know what I was told by the server at our first trip to The Keg with my son in tow? “Your son’s allergies will be no problem.” And it has been that way every trip to The Keg since.
Not all restaurants are created equal. A lot of that comes down to the staff training – and training in food allergy safety is something you won’t find at your average franchise eatery. Still, there’s more to the experience than just having an experienced chef onsite.
It’s important to be able and willing to be your own advocate if you have food allergies (I can’t stress this enough). BUT forcing a patron with special needs to ask explicitly for things that should be a given – like a conversation with a manager about food safety – can be humiliating for the patron and cause unnecessary anxiety.
I’ve never had to endure the awkwardness of having to ask to speak with a manager about food safety at The Keg. The Keg’s servers (who are consistently great to deal with) send a manager automatically once I mention my son has allergies. And that’s pretty awesome.
When we are on the go, we only have to look around for the nearest Keg restaurant rather than find and vet new places to eat. We’ve been to The Keg in four different cities; going to one I’ve never been to before has given me the same experience as the one I frequent just down the street. The menu is familiar, and so is the service standard, no matter where we go.
Knowing that there’s a safe place for us to go any place that there’s a Keg restaurant not only means we’re free to go play local tourist in a nearby city, it has made celebrating occasions big and small with family a lot less of a hassle. The Keg has become a great place to go to dinner with Grandma when we go out of town to visit, and you can be sure that we’ll find other Keg locations when we go to meet up with friends and family to celebrate the upcoming holidays!
At the restaurants we found safe enough to eat at previously, kids stood out like a sore thumb (increasing the feel-awkward factor).
A steakhouse might not seem like a great place to bring a kid, but I was pleased to discover The Keg had a great sort of balanced ambiance (and a full-fledged children’s menu with great choices on it beyond chicken fingers). The atmosphere is just casual enough that I’ve never felt uncomfortable bringing a child who wants to wear his favourite Lego t-shirt and make funny faces at his dad.
For me, the menu is great because items that are gluten-friendly are clearly labeled. My son’s situation is more complicated, but the staff have not only been happy to check labels and ingredient lists, they even suggest compromises to make sure that my son has never felt excluded.
Some of the compromises they’ve suggested to us include oven-baked fries (which are still crispy!), buns for his burgers made out of The Keg table bread, and special desserts like sorbets and fruit smoothies.
Just like the service, the food is consistently great – even when I don’t order a steak (their specialty, of course). I could be a teeny bit biased because food always tastes better when you don’t have to make it yourself, and I have to make it for myself a lot.
These reasons make The Keg a great place to take (or send!) someone you love out for a night of good food and fun this holiday season – whether they have food allergies to worry about or not. We’re all about to be crazy busy entertaining, people.
Let food allergy parent friends know that this is a safe place, because you really have no idea how much this will mean to them. And if you can’t take them out for dinner yourself, give them the gift of someone else doing the cooking with a Keg gift card.
Then make sure you enjoy a glass of wine, kick back, and relax for the holidays!