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7 Tips for Dining Out with Food Allergies & Intolerances

7 Tips for Dining Out with Food Allergies & Intolerances

5 minute read time

Dining out can be a daunting experience if you have food allergies or intolerances. The fear of cross contamination or accidental exposure can really dampen the excitement of wanting to enjoy a meal out with your family and friends. At York Test, we want to ease your concerns about eating out with a food allergy and have provided some tips on how you can make your dining experience more comfortable for you – including a list of the best UK restaurant chains that support dietary needs. 

Plan ahead & research

    When you have food allergies or intolerances, a little advance planning can go a long way to ensure an enjoyable and safe dining experience. Before deciding on a restaurant, it’s advisable to thoroughly review their online menu and any allergen information. Look for clear labels or icons that indicate which dishes are suitable for your specific allergies or intolerances. Many restaurants now cater to various dietary restrictions, offering dedicated menu sections or customisable options, so it should be easier to spot which restaurants are inclusive of dietary needs. 

    Don’t forget to read online reviews from previous customers as well, as positive reviews from those with similar dietary needs can provide you some reassurance. 

    Communicate your needs with the restaurant staff

      If you are making a reservation, whether online or over the phone, it’s a good idea to communicate your dietary requirements at this point. Many online reservation forms include a section where you can note down any special requirements so that the restaurant is aware before you even arrive. Even if you’re not booking a table, calling up the restaurant beforehand is a great opportunity for you to explain your allergies and intolerances in detail and ask any questions you may have about their menu, food preparation methods and ingredients. The staff should be able to reassure your concerns and, if not, then trust your instincts and make an informed decision on whether you’re happy to eat at the restaurant or not.

      Ask questions!

        Whether you’re calling up the restaurant or have already arrived, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the ingredients and food preparation methods used in the dishes you’re interested in. To help you out, we’ve listed a few essential questions to ask when dining out:

        • What are the specific ingredients in this dish?
        • Is there a risk of cross-contamination with my allergen during food preparation?
        • Can you prepare this dish using separate cooking surfaces and utensils?
        • Are there any hidden sources of my allergen, such as in sauces, marinades, or seasonings?
        • How are allergen-friendly items prepared and stored to prevent cross-contamination?
        • Can you double-check with the chef to ensure my dietary restrictions are fully understood?

        Asking the above questions, should give you the reassurance that you need to feel comfortable and safe eating at the restaurant. Remember, it’s always better to ask and be safe than to risk an allergic reaction or discomfort due to a food intolerance.

        Be cautious with cross-contamination

          One of the biggest concerns when eating out with food allergies is the risk of cross contamination. Restaurant kitchens are generally held to extremely high standards when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness, but every so often allergens may inadvertently come into contact with other foods, surfaces and utensils. Although this risk may seem out of your control, it can be minimised if you communicate your needs with the restaurant staff. Consider requesting that your food is prepared using separate, clean utensils and cooking surfaces to avoid any accidental exposure. Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask if your dish can be prepared in a dedicated allergen-free area of the kitchen or if the chef can take extra precautions to prevent cross-contamination. 

          Avoid busy hours

            If possible, try to visit the restaurant during their off-peak hours. Choosing the right time can make a huge difference in reducing the risk of cross contamination and it means you’ll have a more attentive service if you visit when it’s quieter. During peak hours, restaurant kitchens can get overwhelmed with orders, which unfortunately increases the chances of mistakes or oversights when handling allergen-friendly foods. If you choose to dine during their off-peak hours, not only will the kitchen staff be less pressed for time, but you’ll also benefit from more personalised attention from the staff who can better accommodate your dietary needs. They’ll have more time to speak with you about your allergies and concerns and be able to give more time to prepare your meal with the necessary precautions. 

            Bring emergency medication

              The one thing that you can be in control of is to be well prepared in case of an emergency. Always carry your emergency medication with you (e.g epinephrine auto-injector [EpiPen]) and make sure it is easily accessible and not buried deep in your bag or in a tiny zip pocket. If you’re unsure where to keep your medication, you could consider keeping it in a small case or pouch that can be placed on the table or on your lap, or at the top of your bag. It’s not a bad idea to inform the people you are dining with or the staff about your allergies and where your medication is located. By doing this they can assist you promptly if you suffer an allergic reaction. 

              Trust your instincts

                At the end of the day, if you have taken the necessary precautions on your side and have any doubts or concerns about the restaurant’s ability to accommodate your dietary needs safely, then don’t hesitate to voice them. You’re entitled to ask as many questions as necessary to make sure you feel comfortable and confident about having a meal there. Remember, your health and well-being should be the top priority. If, despite your best efforts, you still feel uneasy or sense that the staff are not taking your concerns seriously, it may be wise to consider alternative dining options. Trust your gut and don’t take any unnecessary risks. It’s better to politely decline and find somewhere else, rather than compromising your safety. Restaurants are knowledgeable and informed of the many special dietary needs that people have, so they will not take offence and are used to this on a daily basis! 

                Best UK Restaurant Chains for specific dietary needs

                To assist you, we’ve compiled a list of reliable well-known restaurant chains across the UK that have made significant strides in accommodating various dietary needs, including food allergies and intolerances.

                Pizza Express

                Pizza Express is a go-to option for those with special dietary requirements. They have detailed allergen menus that are clearly marked, as well as an extensive nutritional menu and ingredients list. They also offer many gluten-free and vegan options. The staff itself are well-trained to handle allergy inquiries, and you can even customise your pizza with alternative bases or toppings to suit your needs! 


                This beloved Portuguese-style chicken chain has also done its part to cater to various dietary needs. They don’t have a dedicated allergen menu, but their online menu clearly labels dishes that are suitable for different dietary needs, including gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan options, all of which you can filter by online. They also have a detailed allergen information document to read. 


                You don’t have to miss out on Wagamama’s pan-Asian cuisine just because you have a food allergy, as they have embraced inclusive dining by presenting a comprehensive allergen information and guide. Not only can you filter by allergen and calories, but you can also view every meal and see whether they contain eggs, gluten, soya and more! Wagamama also offers alternative ingredients and preparation methods to accommodate specific allergies or intolerances upon request. 

                Las Iguanas

                Las Iguanas is a great choice if you love Latin American cuisine. Their online menu features clear icons indicating dishes that are suitable for different dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan, as well as a button to view their allergy information for each dish. They are very transparent with their ingredients and use of nuts and possible cross contamination, and therefore encourage people to contact them before so they can assist their dietary needs. There is also an option to download their full allergen information document


                Zizzi is another safe option if you have food allergies or intolerances. Although they don’t have specific menus for those who are vegan or who have allergens, their full menu does clearly state which dishes are suitable. To complement this, they also have a very detailed allergen guide so you can view every single dish on their menu and their ingredients and potential allergens. Not only do staff at Zizzi proactively ask their customers about allergies, but they also have dedicated allergen managers to safeguard the process from the moment you order to the moment you receive your food. 


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