A letter to the restaurant manager who ruined my birthday

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.

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Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 06.42.56It’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.

The narrative

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. 

 Gross Misconduct

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)

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29 Comments

  1. November 1, 2017 / 8:35 am

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this experience and good for you writing about it. I totally understand the feeling of not wanting to be awkward but also not wanting to slip up and cause your baby pain, I’ve ended up sitting with only a drink on a lot of occasions because I didn’t want to cause a fuss at a restaurant. How you were treated is not ok and I do think you should consider making the restaurant name public. Well done for being brave enough to share this!

  2. November 1, 2017 / 9:55 am

    Having worked as a chef myself in a previous life an allergy is an allergy and must be taken extremely seriously. You should not suddenly realise it is actually serious when the guest gives more details and there are laws in place to this effect. The chef here was clearly capable and able to cook without dairy. 11 days is much more notice than needed and during this time period whilst making the dozens of pork pies it would have been easy to make a note that one should be dairy free. When putting dozens of cooked potatoes through a ricer the first few blobs could be put to one side before passing the rest through with cream and butter. It’s not hard and every organised kitchen is capable of doing so as would this one have been I imagine if the manager had informed the kitchen with half of the notice you gave him.

    Leaving that message on a system about a customer such as in your photo however is a sackable offence. Are your servers going to read “Waaah waah waa” and seeing their manager’s attitude towards you be inspired to go that extra mile to make you feel special or feel it is acceptable to treat you with less respect than customers who do not have serious allergies.

    Well done to you and your husband/boyfriend for dealing with that then and there despite being justifiably upset and also well done on the restraint in not naming the establishment and appreciating that the actions of one cockwomble shouldn’t impact on the other hardworking staff there.

    • November 1, 2017 / 8:45 pm

      James, what a lovely and thoughtful response you have written. It really gives an insight into the ‘back of house’ of a restaurant and in some small way helps make another fellow ‘allergy mum’ feel slightly less awkward when asking for special accommodations. (Not currently Dairy-free but as my third baby is shortly due I’ve no doubt I’ll be heading that way again soon). X

  3. November 1, 2017 / 10:26 am

    What an obnoxious man! I hope he loses his job over his obvious utter contempt for his customers.
    And really, if the chefs were able to whip something up so easily it should have been offered from the start!
    I hope you managed to salvage the rest of your day. We’re all fussy customers together Mama!
    Happy Birthday!

  4. November 1, 2017 / 11:03 am

    Fay I am SO sorry you went through this, and well done you for writing such a fair and balanced blog. I really think you need to take it further – dining out for me is as much about the service experience as it is about the quality of the food, and there’s no way as a potential customer that I would want to eat in that restaurant x

  5. November 1, 2017 / 11:19 am

    This man clearly needs the sack, and his letter is as bad as the booking. Talk about passive aggressive.

  6. November 1, 2017 / 11:30 am

    Absolutely ridiculous! The complete lack of manners and professionalism demonstrated here is staggering, I can’t believe it. How this person has managed to acquire the title of manager is beyond me. He is a disgrace to the establishment.

  7. November 1, 2017 / 12:07 pm

    Wow :( I’m so sorry you had to go through that. That man Needs to be fired. If he can’t treat a cow’s milk protein allergy seriously, what other allergies does he not take seriously? As another person commented, an allergy is an allergy, whether they are commonly known or not.

  8. November 1, 2017 / 12:15 pm

    P.S. I wonder if the chef/owner knows about the email that the restaurant manager sent? Having worked in management myself (granted not in a hospitality setting) the nature of the email alone would have me wondering if the person I have employed to lead my front of house is capable of the role, let alone the actual service you received. Despicable.

  9. November 1, 2017 / 12:24 pm

    That email went so well until the last paragraph which is so hideously passive aggressive. It was clearly written out of duty rather than genuine regret. It comes across that they are sorry they got caught rather than sorry they said it. “I’m only human” is a poor excuse, being human does not excuse bad manners or ignorance. I think it’s incredible that you’ve managed to deal with this so politely. I would be posting bad reviews everywhere had I experienced this dangerous and unprofessional attitude.

  10. November 1, 2017 / 12:36 pm

    So disappointed for you Fay, I hope this didn’t spoil your day too much. While i don’t work in the food service industry (I work in Oil and Gas), i do work for a service company, as a manager. If one of my guys had made such unprofeessional comments as this, they would be out the door so fast their feet wouldn’t touch the floor! Gross misconduct is gross misconduct and this kind of attitude can ruin a business, fast! This restaurant should drop this guy before he makes more customers drop them.

  11. November 1, 2017 / 12:38 pm

    As a fellow Mum breastfeeding an allergy child (19 months old) I am disgusted by the behaviour of this employee! I have successfully dined at many places without giving any notice what so ever and the same with my child he has eaten at a few places, Nando’s being my go to as they have such an extensive allergy menu and every time the staff have been attentive and very often the head chef comes to discuss it with us. I’m so sorry you went through this despite your boyfriend letting them have plenty of notice and those comments made on the iPad are absolutely disgusting! I hope this is dealt with further by the owner! Xx

  12. November 1, 2017 / 1:02 pm

    I am so sorry you went through this. I’m afraid that insult for an apology would have left me feeling angrier than before. I can only hope that your experience ends up having the positive effect of alerting more people to the very real dangers of allergies.

  13. November 1, 2017 / 1:45 pm

    What an appalling person. Personally, I would have named them already.

    With a ‘cynical’ attitude towards food allergies, they’re almost certainly going to end up making a lot of people ill or even killing someone.

  14. November 1, 2017 / 2:53 pm

    I am a believer that it is easy for people to come across incorrectly in the heat of the moment but this is clearly insufficient to explain the actions of this manager who acted inappropriately at booking, service and afterwards. Their customer service levels are also considerably below the standard required of their position. It does seem like the issue is with this particular manager and I am glad that the chef/owner did all that they could to salvage the situation. As I work for a multinational catering company, I appreciate the importance of the regulations regarding allergens. The owners of the business should do everything within their power to stop such attitudes (quoting the manager: ‘blah blah blah’!) as they are ultimately dangerous and it is the business/owners that would be held legally accountable if there was a serious incident.

  15. November 1, 2017 / 3:36 pm

    As a coeliac with a baby allergic o dairy, egg, soya, oats and beef, I am no stranger to being an awkward customer when eating out but even with my long list of can’t haves, I have never experienced anything like the level of rudeness and unprofessionalism as you have on what was supposed to be a very special occasion. The employee involved clearly needs to spend some time working on his empathy and imagining situations from the perspective of the (paying) customer. I hope the restaurant will learn from this.

  16. November 1, 2017 / 4:18 pm

    Can’t believe this manager has so many years service in this industry . He now seems to have exhausted his people skills so may be time to move on. A restaurant with a good reputation could soon loose it with front of house manager with this attitude towards paying customers. He does not deserve to keep his job!!! I wonder what other comments about customers is on that I-pad???

  17. November 1, 2017 / 4:50 pm

    What baffles me is they had given them so much notice and had a dialogue and were furnished with so much information that I am sure that all of that heart ache and unpleasantness could have been avoided if the manager had done his job and comunicated between the kitchen and guests. It realy is not difficult, but by being a twat he just made it needlessly hard.

  18. November 1, 2017 / 4:59 pm

    Eating out is incredibly hard when dairy and soya free . I also hate having to ask so many questions about the food , I find it embarrassing too . I feel like I am being awkward when I don’t want to be . We do it for the unconditional love of our babies . It’s vert disheartening when you experience a bad response from food place staff and makes it so much harder
    Lovely blog . Very bad move from the manager .

  19. November 1, 2017 / 7:31 pm

    The pathetic attempt at an apology email from him is vile. What an arrogant man. This made my blood boil. I would like to know where this restaurant is so that I never set foot in the place, that is, unless said vile staff member has been sacked.

  20. November 1, 2017 / 7:55 pm

    This man has a very dangerous attitude towards people with allergies, I hope nobody gets hurt because of it. I’m amazed that the owner did not sack him on the spot for his disgraceful behaviour. There are endless options for diners and no one is going to pay to eat somewhere that treats people like this.

  21. November 1, 2017 / 8:00 pm

    Reading this has made me so angry on your behalf. I know how awkward it feels having to question so much about the menu as so many people don’t understand that even a trace of dairy can make a difference. How unprofessional of the manager to write a comment like that on the booking form, surely that’s a sackable offence! I think you’re very generous not to name the restaurant. I hope you managed to enjoy your birthday despite this fiasco.

  22. November 1, 2017 / 9:37 pm

    As a breastfeeding mum of an allergy baby (15 months) firstly I would like to say well done to you. You/we are making sacrifices to help our babies and to be treated in this way is horrific! Our son is allergic to Dairy and Soya and previously eggs direct and i dread to think how this man would have dealt with us. I too feel extremely awkward when dining out as I worry that others may see me as this man saw you. I totally understand that many people “choose” to eat in various ways and this is the world we are living in so restaurants need to move with the times BUT…. ALLERGIES ARE NOT A CHOICE!!! I feel your pain with regards to prosecco… last Christmas I had 2 small glasses of prosecco and our son was screaming in pain for 3 days, he was having horrific nappies and his bum started to bleed. Only then did I find out that some prosecco and white wine is made using milk…. this is a learning process for us too and we can’t get it right all the time …the restaurant however have a legal obligation to know about allergens and to be honest this man’s attitude towards them scares me and should scare the owners too! The comments on the iPad would surely be a sackable offence which could be forgiven had he sent you a genuine, heartfelt email. The email makes me more angry as he is condescending and rude and still trying to belittle you! You are very good not to name, many people wouldn’t

  23. November 2, 2017 / 1:33 am

    I’m stunned reading this. I’m also a dairy free mother because of cow’s milk protein allergy, and I know all too well how if you don’t check every detail, people do things like put butter on your vegetables, not realizing it’s no longer dairy free or not realize a meat is basted with dairy in the factory. You gave them ample time to prepare and even went away from a busy time. To then turn around and say these things about you on your booking form is beyond unforgivable, and I’m feeling distressed that you haven’t named and shamed the restaurant.

    To me it seems clear the email was under duress and rather than apologizing for being a jerk and ruining what he knew was your birthday by mocking a serious health concern, the manager spends most of the letter defending himself and trying to make it look like he was helping you and caring, which your photo clearly shows he wasn’t. To me, this email shows little regret or understanding of how horribly inappropriate his behaviour was. Now that he’s written the email, the matter is closed, but he learned nothing, and this was condoned by the business owner. I also started in food services at 16 and we’ve owned a food production company and a restaurant. Given how polite you were to help give them advance notice, I’d have easily found better substitutions or made dairy free food before adding butter. Likewise, I’d have fired any employee who treated a customer the way they treated you and wrote crude commentaries about requests they should fulfil by law, like checking allergen ingredients.

  24. November 2, 2017 / 6:17 am

    OMG this is AWFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a horrible horrible experience, so glad you wrote this (although i’m dying to know what restaurant it is!!!) ….. hope you never have go through anything like that again!

  25. November 2, 2017 / 9:18 am

    It’s so sad to read that things like that still happen and I am really happy you talk about it out loud. We need more people to talk about these situations so you or anyone else would not have to feel like that again!

  26. November 2, 2017 / 11:14 am

    This is so shocking! I’m so sorry this happened to you. I think you should name and shame the Restaurant. My son has a dairy allergy and I would want to make sure I avoid it! I breastfed my son for 2.5 years with his dairy allergy and had to avoid dairy for that time so totally empathise with what you went through and how you felt. To me, this is just a sterling example of how some people just don’t take allergies seriously and think of them like food fads. I’m appalled. Well done for writing about it. I’m sorry it happened on your birthday (which incidentally, is the day before mine).

  27. November 3, 2017 / 8:31 pm

    It’s regrettable that the author of those comments and subsequent email seems to confuse being “human” and cynicism with being downright obnoxious and insolent (at best). Such blatant apathy for serious allergies is dangerous. Surely this might at the very least be a heads up that some urgent staff training is in order. Sounds like this particular member of staff might be in the wrong business though… I’m horrified!

  28. November 5, 2017 / 9:38 am

    Unforgivable!
    I’ve had time to think about this situation since it happened.
    It’s left me angry and so sad for both of you.
    Firstly, all the effort afforded to make this a special day after all you’ve had to go through was absolutely wasted on a manager that went beyond simply not caring. His acts and omissions not only made your day a disappointment, it went way beyond that, it caused embarrassment, distress, & insult. His attitude is very dangerous to those who have allergies and place trust in his position.
    Secondly, you’ll remember this birthday for the rest of your life for all the wrong reasons. I’m guessing that your choice not to name the establishment at this stage is your way of giving the restaurant owner an opportunity to do the right thing without damaging his business.
    Thirdly, the level of direct insult involved with regard to this persons disrespectful comments against your booking is beyond shocking. It’s staggering and unforgivable.
    As I know you I’m in a position to know the restaurant involved. High end, upmarket, trendy area, it should have been a very special day.
    I know a lot of people are aware of this situation and are awaiting a proportionate response.
    Unfortunately your special day is lost forever.
    Sorry for you both.

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