First I look at their menu (online usually) and scan it for anything peanutty. If that looks good, I'll go to the restaurant with my husband on a date, or I'll go at lunch, at which time I grill the manager and servers and either observe or ask about the following:
- Are there peanuts or peanut butter in any dishes? Is it on the kids menu, or just on the grown up menu?
If there are peanuts in the main dishes I usually avoid the restaurant with B. BUT if it's just pbj on the kids menu, we may still go. But here's the thing: B hates most kid foods so she eats what we're eating. She's not really a chicken nugget connosieur. So in my tiny mind I assume that kid stuff is not prepared on the same line as grown up stuff (for instance, they are not making a pbj on the same grill as my chicken - does my twisted logic make sense to you?). Plus some places use those smuckers prewrapped ones. If we're at a restaurant while we're on vacation or something and B gets a grilled cheese, I'll usually ask them NOT to cut the sandwich so I can lessen the risk of cross contamination with a dirty knife (I know, I'm crazy thinking this helps, but it does).
- Do any of your sauces contain peanuts as a special ingredient or thickener? How about tree nuts?
You would be surprised at the landmines I've rooted out by asking this. If there are tree nuts in the sauces it's not a deal breaker for us since B isn't tree nut allergic (although we don't feed them to her, her doctor has ok'd anything with trace amounts). But if there's 'peanut butter in the chili' so to speak, we wont take her there.
- Are there peanut desserts? Is it a topping or a main ingredient?
We don't give her dessert out (usually) but if they only have vanilla ice cream with whipped cream on the menu, we'll let her have it as long as they don't do nuts there.
- Do they fry in peanut oil? What do they fry in the oil they do use?
Even if they don't use peanut oil to fry (which some deem safe for PA sufferers anyways) they may be frying nutty items in it (yes, there are fried PBJs). It's worth asking so your little one doesn't react to fries fried in the same oil as a peanut fritter or calzone.
- Do they give out crayons? Are they in new packets or in a big cup?
A big turnoff for me is when I see that big bowl of recycled crayons at a restaurant. Yuck. I don't even want to think of the germs on those, much less the possible peanut residue.
- If they make shakes, do they share the equipment with non nutty shakes?
Not to worry, I would NEVER give B a shake at a place that had pb icecream, but I find that if a restaurant is conscientous about making nutty shakes on a dedicated machine, they'll likely be conscientous about other things too.
- How do you manage special requests for food allergies?
Obviously, this is like the essay question on your LSAT test and is open wide for interpretation. But alot can be said for the response you get. Once I was told matter-of-factly that my daughter was "eating peanuts every day and just didn't know it because peanuts are in everything." Nice attitude huh? Needless to say, we didn't take B there (nor did we venture back in).
And I'm sure some of you will think I'm taking a risk going anywhere.
What is YOUR criteria? What do you deem safe when looking for a restaurant to meet your 'peanut allergy safe' standards?