Friday, July 17, 2009

Check Out Online Menus Before You Eat!

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!


Shawn said...

I remember one of my favourite fast-food chicken restaurants growing up used peanut oil. However, they stopped using it around 1998 in favour of re-formulated canola oil, and it still tastes as good as ever!

Like you, I don't see any reason why restaurants should continue to use peanut oils for cooking - dropping that would allow for more customers to enjoy their fare rather than alienating a growing population.

Anonymous said...

good luck on your trip. will you be mostly eating out or do you pack lots of meals?

In your opinion, are deli lunch meats safe for peanut allergic children? If so, which ones? We do use the land o lakes american cheese but am unsure if different meats used on the same slicer could cause a problem. I am running out of lunch ideas!!!

Jenny said...

We eat dinner out and sometimes make "picnic lunches" with grocery store ingredients to cut down on risk. The hotel we're staying at has mini boxes of cereal, etc. so that's safe.

Regarding lunch meat--we use all of the major brands and find that most are safe for nut allergies. I've never had a problem. I have heard that deli meats can be a problem for milk allergies--cross contact.

Just make sure the deli meat you order at the counter isn't situated right next to something that contains peanuts/tree nuts. Other than that, deli meats are usually OK for nut allergies. If you're unsure, ask about ingredients. They are usually right on the package of the bulk cheese/meat and the deli workers will let you see them.

Anonymous said...

Great post Jenny! Have a safe and wonderful vacation!

Jane Anne said...

The thing is- sometimes the websites contain info that the menu doesn't. And of course, the website also may present allergy info that the servers aren't aware of. Thanks for the wonderful reminder! Hope your vacation is fun and safe.

Unknown said...

Hey Jenny, just catching up on your blog. You've probably gathered I am uber-conservative when it comes to risk taking with my son's allergy. We buy Papa John's once a month or so with no troubles. We are aware of the desert which contains nuts; that may be the same desert we've heard about that is made in a facility that uses nuts. I have been told that each item cooks on its own separate baking tray. I must note, however, that even though we have not had a problem with it, I know some fellow PA families over at who have experienced reactions to the trace amounts at Papa Johns.