You may have noticed I’ve not posted for a while, eating out isn’t something I get to do very often at the moment, which is why yesterday (my birthday) was all the more upsetting. I’ve decided not to mention the restaurant name, at least at this stage, because I don’t think one staff member’s attitude should reflect on an establishment. Also, your boss did try and rectify the situation and then as we were settling down for the night you sent my partner an email. Before I respond to your lengthy communication, let’s take a little look at the comments you wrote on our booking and left on the bar for everyone to see, including my partner who spotted his name as we walked past to leave the restaurant after taking the decision to cancel our booking. He snapped this photo. I think it’s important to highlight that the notes next to the booking about my dairy allergy and us possibly wanting the tasting menu ‘waa waaa waaah!’ were added at the time of booking.
It’s a long one isn’t it? I do think you could have safely cut it to start at “I hope that our Chef/Owner following my ghastly unforgivable actions was somehow able to provide you with an experience that met your requirements”. As it happens, he did cook us a lovely meal, it came out quickly, which suggests putting together something dairy free wasn’t beyond the capabilities of a talented kitchen team, after all. I’ll add some fancy numbers to this when I get the chance so that it’s easier to see which of your points I’m addressing, but for now I’ll just approach this in order, as I should be getting ready for work after a poor night’s sleep.
Thank you for iterating the order of events from my partner contacting you on numerous occasions prior to our visit up to and through our attempts to order food yesterday. Please note, we aren’t actually married, sorry about that, my boyfriend did mention I was his girlfriend but let’s not quibble about a lack of wedding ring. I agree for the most part with your account of our attempts to order and thank you for offering up your ‘feelings’ about it. Let me tell you about mine. Dining out is embarrassing for me. Asking questions makes me feel awkward, difficult, guilty even.Once the things you can’t have start stacking up, you begin to feel more and more disappointed. While you did suggest changes to the dishes mentioned, these were, let’s be honest, for the most part omissions. Scallop and pickled veg in place of scallops, pastry and other delicious accompaniments isn’t as innovative as your restaurant ethos. And being offered lamb and double cabbage for mains while probably lovely tasting was making my tummy grumble louder. I’m a breastfeeding mum who doesn’t get much sleep and runs around a lot, which is why we asked if you could offer any carbs. I suggested chips as I know some restaurants cook them separately. I’m sorry that’s not the case at your establishment and that my partner suggesting you make some was so ridiculous. I was hungry. What would have been really lovely is if you’d actually taken the time to talk me through what I could have on the menu or what could be created easily without too much inconvenience. Whether subsconsciously or consciously your curt manner, sighs and lack of effort to check in advance about the suitability of the menu items that day made it obvious to us that we weren’t going to dine as valued customers. At this point, rather than eating a meal we would be disappointed in we decided to pay for our drinks and go elsewhere.
Being a Mombie on Halloween
To address the confusing paragraph about the wine – which only serves to highlight your lack of allergy knowledge – it was indeed a horrific oversight on my part to forget to check if the wine contained milk. That’s what we were checking for by the way – if a bottle mentions sulphites ( a separate allergen) it should make mention of whether it’s milk filtered. Thankfully, it wasn’t. In a full year of being dairy free, I’ve never forgotten to check, I was incredibly upset because the reality that my baby might be caused pain as a result sunk in quickly. Yes, that’s right, it’s not myself who is allergic to dairy, it’s my child. Over the past few weeks as a sleep deprived parent I’ve put things meant for the dishwasher in the fridge, for the dishwasher in the bin and worn both my underwear and outerwear inside out. Too much information? My baby is teething and I’ve not been getting much sleep, I can only presume my one and only oversight was due to that and the excitement of dining at what was previously my favourite restaurant. I would mention however that you did know I had a dairy allergy – your staff are required by law to be trained on allergens in ALL your products and to check labels of any ingredients or products.
It was on the way out that my boyfriend spotted his name on the iPad, photographed it and showed it to me. I felt my face flush and eyes wet. HOW DARE YOU. Your job is to make diners feel special, as I questioned at the front of the restaurant – do you have no empathy? I didn’t choose the dairy free life, it chose me. Previous to yesterday we’ve dined with you a handful of times since you opened and had a completely different experience, we were treated as valued customers. As we told you, I’m dairy free because my daughter has a cows milk protein allergy and feeding her myself is the best possible thing for her. It’s hard. I have to check every label for the supermarket shop, I pack snacks for us both wherever we go, I miss social occasions, I haven’t been blogging. But I do it because breastfeeding is proven to help allergies, it helps heal, prevent further allergies and is a great comfort to my daughter during a reaction. Guidelines recommend I continue until she is two years old. Just as some added information, my feeding her rather than giving prescription formula (which is without the benefits I listed) also saved the NHS upwards of £5,000. I appreciate society didn’t ask me to breed, but I do hope that money saved is useful for operations and paying for NHS staff. Maybe think about that next time you’re sat in the doctors. Additionally, breastfeeding lowers my chances of cancer and my daughter’s risk of developing problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. More money in the bank for other poorly folks, I’d say!
After some shouting and crying you were persuaded to get the owner, so I would like to apologise to other diners who were disturbed. They may well have been celebrating special occasions too and I hope it wasn’t spoiled for them, though I think the responsibility for that situation undeniable lies with you, your lack of professionalism and your prejudiced attitude. We are all human, it’s true, but if you are, as you say, ‘cynical’, and you’re unable to direct frustrations appropriately, I’m not sure the hospitality industry and in particular, front of house service, is for you.
Let’s talk empathy
Addressing your request that we are empathetic to restaurants because of my whacky dietary requirements that have been successfully managed by kitchens including your own with ease, I’d like to just outline why we’re luckily in a great position to be empathetic.
- I’ve worked on and off in the hospitality industry since I was 13 years old. I’m not ashamed to say I was 34 yesterday, so not quite your 22 years. Also, I’ve only worked in lowly positions like waitress, deli assistant, bar person, events assistant, street food server. I’m proud to say I’ve never treated a customer as you have.
- My partner has worked in the hospitality industry on and off since the age of 14. He’s a year younger than me, as he loves to remind me, so that clocks up a nice 20 years. He has (and does) work in managerial positions. He would be sacked on the spot if he wrote the comments you did on that iPad.
- We didn’t just land and expect you to cater for what is a very common dietary requirement – particularly with the rise of veganism. You were given 11 days notice, multiple calls and emails from my partner – this should highlight that the dietary requirement was serious.
- While cross contamination is always a risk, environment health best practice advises keeping allergens separate. Sensible measures like washing hands and cleaning pans and substituting with safe ingredients is sufficient to avoid issues for us. We have dined out successfully in high street chains and other award winning restaurants. At both ends of the scale servers elsewhere have made an effort to identify and satisfy my requirements without making me cry. One to think about when you look in the mirror there. Time to sharpen up those customer service skills,
- With the notice given, it would have been perfectly possible to make some simple changes in advance. My partner had stated we would be happy if there was just one option for me. For example, that pastry that couldn’t be eaten because of the milk glaze? You could have simply made one portion without milk glaze that morning. Genius, huh? If you’d like any further tips on easily adapting your crazily complicated menu, I’d be happy to put you in touch with my mum, who successfully cooks multiple course Sunday dinners for myself, my diabetic dad and my baby. All with a smile on her face despite having MS.
- Our booking was purposefully midweek, early lunch so that you wouldn’t be too busy and would therefore find it wasier to accommodate us. The restaurant wasn’t busy when we arrived. You made the difficulty.
I am grateful to the chef who cooked us a delicious meal – provided on the house. Waaaa waaaa waaah, indeed. I can appreciate you can’t work a million iterations of the menu through the kitchen but cooking for me was certainly possible. I drank an additional gin and tonic and cup of coffee on the house too, for reference, and added my delicious Oatly Barista to finish it. Your younger serving staff were a credit to your establishment. Hopefully they won’t pick up your prejudice or cynicism and go on to have successful careers in catering. I would like to thank them for making extra effort to make me feel at ease after your failings.
Unsurprisingly, we won’t be dining at the restaurant again while you remain working there in your role. You guys probably won’t miss the few hundred pounds a year we spent with you since you opened or the votes that I made for those awards that you’ve won. I’d suggest you review your career path and implement proper allergy training. When our next special occasion comes round, we’ll spare you the incredible inconvenience of trying to eat with you.
Regards, Fay Nyberg (also known as Mrs Lightley, though somewhat lacking in the relevant sparkler or marriage ceremony)