After quite a journey, we as the parents of allergybabe, are happy to finally have reached a “steady state” (as the chemistry profs would say) in managing our son’s food allergies. We know what foods are safe for him, where to shop these items and what to cook with these foods. We developed a soothing routine in dealing with his food allergies in our every day life.
So I did not worry to much when I started to look into several options where to celebrate allergybabe’s third birthday. Keeping in mind it will be mid-november, and that our 2b2b London apartment would barely cope with more than a handful of guests, we opted for an indoor location. There are lots of options for little ones to celebrate their special party. E.g., a museum just a stone throw away from where we live offer lots of packages, they have a great indoor play area, a party room, and catering. Yes, they do cater. THEY cater. They are so proud of their catering standard, that they have ridiculous demands for anyone wanting to bring in their own (SAFE) foods:
I have had another conversation with our catering team regarding your request to provide your catering yourself. It could be possible but there is quite a process that would need to happen to be approved. We would require you to have £2 million public liability insurance as well as references for 2 previous grade 1 listed venues that you have provided catering for. Also you would need attend an interview with our catering manager. This I imagine will not be possible option for you but if you know of a caterer who is suitable for your son’s needs, I would suggested they may be able to provide the above. There would also be a facilities charge of around £100. If you are interested in this option, I can put you in touch with the relevant people to get the ball rolling.
And no one else can bring in foods (they allow you to bring in the birthday cake, though). After trying to explain our unique situation (highly food allergic three year old to 7 of the big eight, apart from other food allergies), they still did not want us to bring in the food. I then suggested a couple of foods their catering could provide if they would avoid cross contamination (a certain brand of crisps, sliced veggies and fruit, juices, a certain brand of biscuits). This is the reply:
I have now had feedback on your request with regards your menu below.Our catering team will not be able to provide the catering on this occasion for the following reasons:They cannot guarantee an allergy free environment and are not willing to take the risk of providing the catering on this occasion. Also as this request is not our standard pre-priced offer and will take time to plan and order the end cost would be far higher than our regular offer.
The only option would have been not to have catering at the party. Do we as parents of a food allergic child demand too much? Too much understanding, too much trouble, too much compassion?
All we want is that at his special day, our food loving son should not worry about foods around him. Just this one day he should be able to enjoy himself, eat, drink and have fun.
I understand that the above – in extracts- mentioned conversation could have taken place with 90% of the catering industry. This conversation was not an exception. That is the sad truth. I understand that people do not want to take any risks. I understand they are scared to make a mistake. Every kitchen staff is trained in maintaining hygiene standards. Why is it so hard for them to confidently state that they can avoid cross contamination? Is it the lack of knowledge?I demand (and I will repeat this like a mantra for the rest of my life!) that every single person in the industry who ever has the responsibility to cook or cater for any human being, is to be trained properly to be able to accommodate food allergic individuals. I demand proper training.
I believe in Confidence through Knowledge.
PS: I also experienced lovely and very thoughtful staff everywhere on this lovely planet, and especially in the UK. The general rule is: the more expensive the restaurant, the better they are with food allergies and other food related disease. But, there is a growing number of other restaurants (especially chains), that are getting better and better in dealing with special dietary requirements.