We realize that people need to be dairy free for a variety of reasons, from choice, lactose intolerance to severe allergies. Eating out with any food restriction can be a challenge. Given the wide spectrum of reactions to dairy, we urge you to be your own and your family’s best advocate.

Do the research and make the phone calls. If you find resistance or a lack of knowledge at the other end of the line, move on to the next restaurant.

Do your homework each time you go out. Consider that every time you visit a restaurant, you will probably encounter different staff. Since it is impossible to tell what the communication level is between the server, management and the kitchen staff, it is very important to be as clear as possible.

Many restaurants are happy and eager to offer you a safe, allergy free dining experience and when alerted to an allergy, will send the manager or chef to your table to help assure that your experience will be safe and allergy free.

When you find these restaurants, frequent them. Get to know the staff. When they get to know you, they will go above and beyond to make your experience the best it can be. Spread the word to others about your great experience. Nothing encourages a restaurant to remain allergy safe, as returning, happy customers.

Use the resources available to find restaurants that are allergy friendly. SafeFare offers a restaurant locator that identifies restaurants in your area that have completed ServSafe® or AllerTrain™ training at http://www.safefare.org/find-a-restaurant.

AllerEats also offer a allergy free restaurant finder.

If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t choose the restaurant, try to view the restaurant’s menu before arrival. Fortunately, many restaurants now have their menus posted on their website. If there is not a menu available online, call and speak to a manager to determine if they offer dairy free dishes. Be polite and clear as possible about your needs. If they do not offer diary free dishes, ask the manager what can be done to make a dairy free dish. Let him know when you are arriving and ask for them by name when you get to the restaurant.

There are international cuisines that offer a wide variety of dairy free dishes. Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese dishes generally contain no dairy. Indian, Greek and even Italian dishes will require caution, but usually offer delicious, dairy free dishes. Seafood restaurants are also dairy free friendly.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has a Kosher restaurant or deli, you are in luck. Kosher laws do not permit meat and dairy to be prepared or consumed together, so every dish will either have dairy or not.

In the end, your health and the health of your family members, is more important to any meal. It is not always easy, especially if you have other people with you, but if you are ever in doubt about a restaurant’s ability to safely prepare and serve dairy free food, walk out. No meal is worth an allergic reaction.

Many restaurant dishes are finished with butter. Make sure that you tell your server, no butter. They will be cautious about milk products, but often forget about butter. Ask to have your food served plain.

Here is a list of common dishes that have butter:

  • Pasta – often tossed in butter before the sauce is added. Ask for your pasta to be tossed in olive oil.
  • Sauces and Gravies – most sauces will have butter, sour cream, cream or milk. Ask for no sauce unless you can see its list of ingredients.
  • Potatoes – usually tossed in butter or have cream, milk or sour cream added to them.
  • Vegetables – many restaurants will finish vegetables with butter or sour cream for added flavor. Ask for your vegetables plain, steamed or grilled.
  • Steaks – surprisingly, many steaks are finished with a pat of butter. Ask for no butter.
  • Salad dressings – stick with oil and vinegar or a dairy free vinaigrette. Avoid any creamy dressings.
  • Soups – often contain milk or cream or are finished with a dollop of sour cream.
  • Anything with cheese – ask for no cheese.

Here are some strategies that will help you have a pleasant and safe restaurant experience.

  • Always try to pick the restaurant.
  • Do your homework before heading out to the restaurant.
  • Ask questions
    • Has there been allergy training in this restaurant?
    • Is there a back-of-the-house system for allergies?
    • I am dairy free/allergic to dairy. Can I speak with the manager or chef?
    • Can dishes be made dairy free on request?
    • Will you make a dish’s list of ingredients available?
    • When in doubt, walk out.