I was doing a little restaurant research for our upcoming vacation destination and I decided to check out a casual dining chain, Houlihan's, to see what the menu looked like.
Houlihan's site requires you to specify a location with regard to menu and I did so. And that's when I saw it: the dreaded nut allergy warning (written in tiny type)--"We use nut oils and nuts in many of our menu items. Please alert your server if you have a nut allergy."
My first, wise-cracking thought was "Please alert your server--so they can have the ambulance ready!" I mean, come on. That doesn't sound like a good choice for the nut-allergic. All wise-cracking aside, though, I'm glad that the restaurant put the warning on the menu because my family will be sure to avoid that place. Imagine if we walked in, starving, and were seated, etc. and then Bam! We read the menu warning and have to leave. That can be jarring for the allergic family members and frustrating for all of us. So thank you, Houlihan's for the heads up.
That said--if you are so aware of nut allergies that you think to post this warning--how about cutting down on the nut oils? Nuts in entrees, apps and desserts are difficult to avoid and many people enjoy them as an ingredient, that's apparent from most American menus. However, nut oils I don't get. Why use them? Diners can't tell the difference. I know that peanut oil has a high smoking point, so cooks like it for fried items, but if MacDonald's doesn't need to use peanut oil, neither do you. And isn't it more expensive? Nut oils are also used in salads, but I still don't see the need. With all the talk of trans fats, etc., I hope these oils are on their way out.
My reason for the story is this: it pays to check out menus/restaurants beforehand anytime, but especially while traveling when you may have more limited choices. I would never have guessed that this casual, American restaurant was a hotbed of "nutty" menu items and the online research really was eye-opening.
Also, depending on where you are, the menu items for a franchise or chain can be different. One reader of this blogger alerted me recently that the Papa John's Pizza franchise where she lives serves a nut-filled dessert. This dessert is baked in the same oven as the pizza, so of course this reader wanted me to know about cross-contact risk. When I checked Papa John's web site, they do not say that they serve desserts with nuts, only an item containing Nestle chocolate and according to PJ's site, a chocolate product that is NOT processed on the same lines with peanuts/tree nuts. In fact, the site makes it look as if their food is safe for nut allergies--and I'm not saying that it's not. Just ask them before you place your order--it can't hurt!
So what's my point? If you want to eat at a franchise, I would say their web site is a pretty good starting point. But things can change, or the franchise owner near you may do things a little differently, so always ask the individual restaurant about ingredients.
I'll let you know how we make out on our trip next week!