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LadyMarissa's avatar

Should restaurants be able to tack on an additional fee for "special prep" when a customer has a food allergy & requires individualized service?

Asked by LadyMarissa (7733points) 2 weeks ago

In responding to another question about having a food allergy & eating out, it reminded me of a similar situation where I eat lunch. Lady comes in mid lunch time asking if her favorite meal comes in contact with any peanut product as she could die IF even the spoon came in touch with a peanut product. The waitress stopped waiting on anyone else to go back to the kitchen to inquire about the peanut food allergy. When she comes back, she informs the lady that the menu item she’s asking about “might” indeed come in contact with a peanut product. The waitress politely asked her if she would like to choose another item even guiding her to the ones that wouldn’t have “any contact”. The woman became livid because she couldn’t get the meal that she wanted. She then began to explain to the waitress how it could be cooked to where it would be safe for her to eat. In the meantime, the waitress’ tables are backing up while she’s still trying to please this one lady. This lady grew louder & louder in her disgust of the place to the point that the owner emerged from the back to tell the waitress that she needed to continue to take care of her customers & he would see if he could make this lady happy. No matter what he offered to make for her that he could guarantee would be safe for her to eat, she didn’t want to hear it. Thirty minutes later, the owner hadn’t been able to please this lady & finally in complete frustration he asked her to leave so he could get his restaurant back under control. She blew her top & argued that he was discriminating against her & her food allergies. He apologized to her & explained that he wasn’t willing to take her life in his hands by even trying to prepare a meal that would fit her dietary needs. She got up & stormed out screaming that she’d NEVER step foot in his place of business again. All the patrons whose meals had been delayed or ruined began to applaud. Now, had he stopped the rhythm back in the kitchen to specifically make exactly what she needed & delayed any orders coming out behind hers, should he have been able to charge extra for her meal??? I’m ordering a menu item “as is” & I can’t get it because the restaurant would have come to a halt in order to make her a specialty item. IF mine comes out so late that I’m unhappy, I could leave before I get my meal & the restaurant is losing revenue by stopping production for “just one” person!!!

Another place where I eat has signs all over the place saying that their food might be contaminated with peanut products & IF you want to wait for a special prep that there could be a considerable wait time & a $2.00 up charge for special “off menu” prep.Personally, I think that $2.00 in exchange for my life is a bargain but I’ve heard many complain that they are being ripped off!!!

What are your thoughts???

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22 Answers

Zaku's avatar

Depends on the situation, and it tends to be a trade-off for restaurants, as they may tend to seem inhospitable if they seem to be penalizing special needs.

How inhospitable they seem can depend on the specifics and the behavior of everyone involved.

An assembly-line restaurant may perceive more need to do so than a restaurant that offers individual preparation on most meals anyway.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

That lady sounds like she went looking for problems. Bet she went straight to her attorney.

I would suggest that yes. If you have to scour the kitchen to prepare a meal for one person, and stop prep on all other dishes, they should have to pay for it.

elbanditoroso's avatar

First off, the restaurant is under no obligation, legal or otherwise, to accommodate her food allergies. There is no law of any sort that forces them to deal with her. [There may be business reasons, but not legal ones.]

Second, a token fee is sort of chincy of the restaurant. A $2 fee is meaningless, just a nuisance fee. Why charge it at all? I’m think that a realistic fee – $50 or more for disruption—is more in order. So I sort of agree with @Dutchess_lll .

And taking longer – even much longer – is expected in a case like this. The complaining woman is simply way out of line.

If she had a real concern, she should have phoned them earlier that day and let them know of the issue. But to walk in and raise hell – no way. Ask her to leave.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

@elbanditoroso it probably would come under The Persons With Disabilities Act.

jca2's avatar

The way it’s described, customer “screaming” warrants a call to the cops. Even if she’s upset about her dinner not being prepared is no reason to scream and disrupt the whole place. Call the cops and let them deal with it.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Like I said, probably trying to build a case so she can sue. Pain and suffering and shit.

jca2's avatar

I didn’t read this whole thing but it applies to what we’re talking about:

https://www.eater.com/2014/6/19/6207199/how-restaurant-pros-are-handling-the-surge-of-food-allergies

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Why are those “numbers” “surging?”

johnpowell's avatar

If I was a restaurant I would never ever tack on a extra fee to prepare a meal that was allergen free. That opens you up to lawsuit.

Unless you kill the cow and pull up the potatoes yourself you can’t guarantee that something didn’t sneak in. A person at Safeway might have cleaned up a spilled bottle of peanut oil and then touched a carrot without washing their hands.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Dutchess_lll
an allergy is not a disability. There are 9–10 things that qualify. Allergies are not one of them.

gorillapaws's avatar

Under the Disabilities Act, our medical practice is obligated to provide a deaf patient with a medical interpreter for hundreds of dollars at our expense. We can’t bill their insurance for the cost, and if they no-show for the appointment and the interpreter is standing around doing nothing at $80+ per hour (plus minimum travel fees), we can’t even change them for that either. Maybe that is the way it should be, but the point is that the law is strongly in favor of requiring businesses to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

I am not a lawyer, and I have no idea if a food allergy falls into this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if restaurants weren’t allowed to charge extra.

jca2's avatar

@Dutchess_lll: The article cites possible explanations for the surge in food allergies.

LadyMarissa's avatar

@jca2 Good article. I find it interesting that many restaurants are instituting the NO Substitutions clause to their menu to cover their butts. I’ve never been big on substitutions,; so IF I’m looking at an item that comes with say a cheese that I don’t care to eat, I just keep on looking until I find an item that completely fills my preferred taste for that day. It’s not that difficult!!!

@elbanditoroso I don’t eat at places that could warrant a $50 up charge…although that could take care of the problem. A friend treated me to lunch at a new burger joint where most meals ran anywhere from $5 to $10 with a few specialty items that could run you up to $20; so, $2.00 was a considerable increase on some of the cheaper meals.My friend’s grandson has a peanut allergy so she was very interested in the topic. In asking a few questions, she discovered that they also made specialty ice cream dessets…some of which used chopped peanuts & they weren’t willing to guarantee that regular meals never came in contact with an item that had been used to chop the peanuts.

I feel blessed to not have a food allergy; however, IF I did, I wouldn’t be going out to eat. I’d opt to stay home where I could fix my own meals & know EXACTLY what is in them!!! I most definitely would NOT disrupt an entire restaurant because I “chose” to eat out that night. That woman ruined the meals of many people that were unfortunate enough to have arrived about the same time she did!!!

JLeslie's avatar

I wouldn’t serve that woman. I would tell her to eat elsewhere.

I guess you could charge more, but I think customers would resent it. I change my order all the time. I do my best to never change more than one thing, if it’s going to be more I order something else.

Some restaurants charge a splitting fee, which I think is completely obnoxious. A splitting fee doesn’t take extra effort by the kitchen though, so it’s a little different. Unless, the kitchen actually plates the split, which has been done for me, and usually there is no extra fee, which is nice.

LadyMarissa's avatar

I see a minimum substitution a huge difference from a completely different cooking arrangement. You don’t care for the cheese that they put on your meal & ask fir a different cheese…that’s NOT a huge difference as all they do is reach a little bit to the left or right for the cheese you prefer & add it on at the exact same time they would have if they were using the original cheese. Want no dollop of sour cream, it actually saves them a few seconds. Want an extra pickle, they simply pick up 2 instead of one & toss it on the plate. I NEVER ask for a major change in my food. The owner of the restaurant I referenced bends over backwards to accommodate his customers & he really did try to find a solution for this lady but she just wasn’t having it. I did notice a few days later that he had put up signs saying that he reserved the right to refuse service to anyone he deemed necessary.

If you read @jca2‘s article, you will see that numerous restaurants are penalizing people like you & me by making it a rule to do NO substitutions no matter how minimal they might be. That way those expecting a complete remake can’t claim discrimination!!!. So, in effect, we are being penalized for their problem. An up fee would lie directly on the person needing the extra service.

When I don’t use my self control & gain too much weight & my dress size goes up, the dressmaker charges extra for the garment because they have to use more fabric. When the dress up charge bothers me enough, I work at losing the weight so I’m back down to the manufacturer’s “acceptable size”.

As I mentioned, my BFF’s grandson has food allergies & even with her being extra careful, she has sent him to the hospital several times by making a seemingly minor mistake. I know she did NOT do it on purpose…she loves him & was working very hard to accommodate his needs yet simply failed at meeting his requirements. I can see how easy it would be for a restaurant kitchen to screw up on an allergy order & the customer dying from the mistake.& then the family sues for negligence. I wouldn’t want to put my life in the hands of a stranger who has NO emotional connection to my health!!!

jca2's avatar

I think with the substitution issue, as far as something like “can I have rice instead of a potato” or “can I have string beans instead of asparagus,” a substitution should be no problem. If a restaurant is going to say “absolutely no substitutions,” some may lose business if they’re too inflexible. I see “no substitutions” usually when there’s a special, like the Special of the Day. It comes with certain things and this is why it’s so cheap. Otherwise, if I want American cheese instead of Swiss or hold the mozzarella or whatever, I should have some flexibility, I’d think.

LadyMarissa's avatar

@jca2 I agree with you. Still, without covering their own butts, restaurant owners leave themselves open to lawsuits for being willing to substitute our cheese preference without being willing to alter their menu item to fit food allergies. With life, I’ve learned that things evolve. When the vegan/vegetarian thing became mainstream, we suddenly had new vegan/vegetarian restaurants opening all over the place. I’m envisioning the same thing happening with the allergy issue. Some smart chef will figure out a way to have a la carte items catered to your allergy’s specific needs..I don’t see it being a fast food establishment, but who knows. Until then, we deal with what we have!!!

raum's avatar

Sure thing, Dutch.

martianspringtime's avatar

I think it highly depends on the situation. In the situation you described, the customer seems self-entitled and honestly stupid. If your allergy is that severe, you probably should not count on a restaurant to not accidentally kill you. I believe that we should always try to cater to people within reason. Why not make life easier for others if it doesn’t completely put you out? Especially if you are being paid to make food anyway? But in the situation you’re describing, I don’t think an extra fee is unreasonable. If more work and possibly more ingredients (or pricier ingredients) have to be put into a meal, it makes sense for it to be more costly. You are at the point not ordering what’s on the menu. You are ordering a completely custom meal, for which the price obviously can’t be pre-listed.

I know being vegan does not carry the same weight as having a life-altering allergy, however I’m vegan and this is how I see it – when I go to a non-vegan restaurant, I know that even if I am ordering a vegan meal and specify that I am vegan, I’m aware that there is a chance that something in the production of my meal might not fall in line with my ethics. I have to accept that chance, or eat somewhere that does cater to me. Sure it sucks, but realistically not every place is going to be willing to – or able to! – cater to more uncommon requests. It is not ideal, but I think in terms of severe food allergies, it would make much more sense to stay on the side of caution even though of course it really sucks to not be able to eat out like a ‘normal’ person. Health must come first.

I will say though, that if an extra fee were to be charged for catering to allergies, then in the same vein money should be taken off of my sad ass salad that I ask for without chicken! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered a $13 meal while out with friends at what are typically carnivore friendly restaurants, asked for the meal without all of the pricier ingredients, and still begrudgingly paid $13 for some lettuce and sliced tomatoes. But I digress.

LadyMarissa's avatar

^ Yes, the lady I used for my example was very over the top with her demands!!! Plus she did it at the beginning of the dinner rush which means he could have lost a lot of revenue plus several customers due to a long wait & lousy service. On top of that, the waitresses would have suffered with the decline in tips & stress from dealing with bitchy customers who couldn’t/wouldn’t understand.

I do understand why food allergy sufferers feel the desire to go out to eat. At the same time, they have extremely limited parameters & simply can’t just understand that the food they will receive might not fall into their required guidelines as it is imperative that it does fall within those guidelines. For those reasons alone, I think IF I had a food allergy, I’d feel more comfortable eating my own cooking where I could know first hand exactly how my meal was prepared. I really don’t see myself enjoying a meal out if I knew that I was completely upsetting others night out!!!

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