While traveling with E and A today, I visited one of Cracker Barrel‘s 600 locations. E has never eaten at the Cracker Barrel but since so many restaurants have embraced the challenges of providing for allergic customers I thought I would give it a go. Welp…a half hour (and 3 bathroom breaks with a potty training 3 year old) later, we left with empty bellies, frustration, and PICTURES.
I will start with the positive. I appreciate the language added to the internal reference that specifies that the servers refer food allergy questions to a manager. I also appreciate the mention of cross contamination and the attention given to educate the server that even a small amount of a food allergen could be “life threatening” for some people.
Why did I italicize and bold internal?
Apparently, the Cracker Barrel feels that the customer should not be allowed to read its poorly developed and horribly executed allergy menu. The food allergen reference even specifies that “it should not be given to the guest or posted for public reference.” Cracker Barrel even goes as far as to state that the server (or manager as it would seem) “must review ingredient labels and take extra care to prevent cross-contamination.”
I didn’t know any of this valuable information when I sat down. I didn’t know that I would have a server “suggesting” menu items to me off the “allergy menu” that I requested but was not allowed to read.
My waitress would not give me the menu, at first.
I simply explained that I deal with my son’s allergies every day and that there are several names for each allergen. I know these names. If you are reading this blog, you probably know them too. She, however, does not. And since I was not allowed to read the “menu,” I did not know how the information was listed or provided. I convinced the waitress that I should be the one reading the menu.
Maybe Homa Woodrum could shed more light on this but I would assume that having the server/manager translate an allergy menu and specifically suggest food items would actually be more of a liability to the corporation. This is even more poignant given the fact that the allergy menu specifically states that it should not be shown to the customer.
Another issue that gets me heated is their attempt to educate the waiter (who is then to educate the customer since the customers aren’t allowed to read the paper?) on the recommendation for the guest to “discuss with a physician” the need to avoid soy lecithin and soy oil. Within the paperwork, I found a statement referencing the “Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network” which we know merged with the “Food Allergy Initiative” in 2012 to become FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). In the upper right hand corner of the menu the “revised” date of October 2013 can be seen.
So, not only was this menu updated with outdated information even at the time of its revision but also, it has not been addressed for a year and a half. Could it be possible that food venders, and potentially the food ingredients themselves, have changed over the course of a year and a half? I think yes.
The FAAN statement talks about how soy lecithin and soy oil are not “indicated as allergens.” I guess this absolves the Cracker Barrel of the need to disclose these ingredients in the so-called allergy menu. My son reacted to the type of soy oil to which most people do not react. I don’t need nor do I want lectured on soy from the waitress at the Cracker Barrel. I want ingredients. I want a clear, easy to understand menu that is updated frequently and does not talk down to me or belittle an allergen that is important in my family.
Needless to say, we did not eat there. Additionally, I would not recommend any person with food allergies or sensitivities to consider Cracker Barrel unless some serious, extensive changes are made. First and foremost, the customer should ALWAYS be allowed to read the ingredient list. Restaurants should be transparent with all aspects of food prep and content. I am not talking about specific recipes of proprietary ingredients but simply the basic list of included food. ALL food. Any and everything used in the making of the food. Period. Simple.