I wrote this letter after going out for my squeeze's mother's birthday brunch, to the only restaurant in Vancouver that I know to be able to accommodate my food needs. Regardless of their goal to be food sensitivity friendly and be "a place where the whole family can eat," I still feel othered and upset by the way I must go about getting my needs met. I will send this letter to them in the hopes that they may change some of their practices.
I am someone who values your restaurant as the only one in Vancouver (that I have found) that accommodates my food sensitivities. I recently had brunch in the shop and, while the food I got was great and worked well for my health, a few things still upset me. I hope that you might be able to take into consideration some ideas for how to honour not only peoples' food sensitivities, but also to be sensitive enough for people to feel "normal" or no less valid in their needs than other customers.
Here are some things that would make eating out, for a person like me with serious digestive problems and a longer list of things I can't eat than things I can, a much more enjoyable experience:
1. Make a full list of ingredients available to any person who asks for specific information. This could mean having a menu with full ingredients listed available and giving one to each table, or asking if anyone at the table would like such a list, or having your servers memorize full lists (as someone who has often had a crucial allergens forgotten from friends' and servers' memory, this idea makes me nervous but I understand that for the sake of your chef's privacy, it may feel more secure).
2. When a customer asks to know exactly what is in something, tell them (or give them above suggested list/menu) a full ingredients list, rather than asking what someone can't eat. For many people, being asked this question brings up a lot of guilt and shame at being "hard to feed" and contributes to a sense of otherness. In my case, I know that the list of things I can't eat is so long that the server does not have the time to hear it, and I don't have the desire or energy to say it.
3. All dressings should be mentioned on the menu, or the server should confirm with the customer whether they would like their salad dressed or the dressing on the side. In my case, a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil is often the best option, as vinegars, soy based sauces, and many oils aggravate my condition.
These suggestions are designed to make me feel safer to come to your restaurant to eat. As I mentioned, there are no other restaurants I have found in the city to accommodate my needs, and as you can imagine, because eating out is often central to social activity and celebration, it is very important to me to have positive experiences at your establishment.
Thank you for working food sensitivities into your business plan and I look forward to another delicious meal at the shop soon.