Thursday, February 28, 2008

If only more restaurants and staff would be this open...Hannah & Mason's, continued...

If you've been following the blog chatter on my last few postings, then you know I've left Hannah & Masons employees with my word that I will be trying their new and improved post-Kitchen Nightmares restaurant shortly. I also requested that one of their employees, who responded to my post, fill out an allergy questionnaire of sorts, and return it to me so that I could post both sides of the issue online. I am pleased to report that I did receive the questionnaire back, not only in a timely manner, but very carefully filled out and quite detailed in the information it provides. I'd like to thank fellow blogger, Allergic Girl, for allowing me to co-opt several questions she uses when interviewing staff about the accommodations made for allergic patrons at their locales. I mixed hers with my own, and the result is what follows:

Here are the questions and their responses:

I just wanted you, as well as anyone else out there who has this misconception about our restaurant, to know that we are committed to showing our customers a good meal and whatever special instructions are needed are really not a big deal. Perhaps bringing this issue to light will help us to train our servers to better deal with the situation, because it is really not very difficult to work with an allergic customer.

1. Please tell me about your staff training on food allergens. Who conducts your training? How often?

We have no specific training on food allergens. All staff, when trained are told repeatedly that all food is made to order and if a customer has an allergy, they are to write it on their ticket for the kitchen staff. When a customer asks to have something left off a dish, staff is advised to follow the request by asking whether or not the omission is because of an allergy (most people will clarify before the question is asked), that way everyone knows for sure. If a server is not sure whether or not a dish contains an allergen, they are instructed to ash the executive chef. While there is no formal training, the staff is taught a proper procedure for ensuring all parties involved know about the allergy.

2. How do you prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen when dealing with special orders for food-allergic customers?

The majority of the components to the various dishes on our menu are made a la minute. therefore most any request can be granted for most any allergy. It is easy for the kitchen to leave the tomato out of the fennel, olive, and tomato tapanade, since it is sauteed on the spot. If it is not possible, the chef will let the server know. If two of the same dishes are required for one table, and one requires special instructions for an allergy, the two dishes will be made separately. \

3.If a patron needs more allergen and ingredient information than your menu provides, who can they contact at the restaurant?

The number to the restaurant is 609.655.3220 and the caller would want to speak to Chris, Brian, or Nick. The two executive chef's and the front of house manager are all well versed in ingredients and components on the menu. We receive many calls for this exact purpose and we welcome them.

4. Are there nut-free options on your menu?

There are a great deal of nut free options on the menu, and anywhere there is a nut on the menu (barring premade sauces like Romesco, and premade salsa's) it can be taken out. Meats crusted in nuts can be done without the crust, and nuts in salads can be omitted entirely or placed on the side. Nuts are usually crusted in the beginning, or placed on at the end, so there is no real danger of a special order being cross contaminated.

5. Are there gluten free options?

We actually just had a gluten-free diner in the other night who enjoyed her meal very much, and before the server took each course of the order, she came back and asked the cooks if each thing the person ordered was gluten free, which it was. The majority of the menu (except things thickened with flour, and desserts) are gluten free. Meats and fish are safe, as are potatoes, french fries, vegetables, etc. I would say the majority of our menu is indeed gluten free, and anywhere there might be gluten, the food can be removed and substituted with no trouble. Desserts are a tad more difficult, but we always have our delicious creme brulee (as well as fruit cobblers) on hand, 100% gluten free.

6.Are there dairy-free options?

There are also dairy free options as well. Mashed potatoes can not be done without dairy (butter, milk) but other starches can be employed, as well as double vegetables, cooked without butter of course. Meats and fish are always dairy free, and if sauces contain dairy, they can easily be omitted or substituted. The majority of desserts contain dairy, but the server and garde manger could easily (and would be happy to) work with a diner to figure out an alternative.

Ultimately, we are looking to make our customers happy. If that requires a little extra work on our part (which 90% of the time, it doesn't even) we are happy to do it. We just ask diners with allergies to let their servers know about the allergy up front, and we will be willing to work with the customer in whatever way they need. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.

Please don't believe what you hear, special requests take 5 seconds to abide, and we really do not mind. Come see us soon.

Nicole Stanke
Line Cook/Front of House Manager, Hannah and Mason's

In addition to thanking Nicole for such a prompt reply, I would like to offer my solemn promise of not only a visitation with NAH in the next several weeks to try this for myself, but a glowing thank-you on behalf of allergic patrons everywhere. I hope this restaurant's willingness to share on this blog serves to increase their business. To Hannah & Masons, of Cranbury, New Jersey! My favorite line? " is not very difficult to work with an allergic customer" On behalf of all of us, thank you!
~The Allergic Diner

P.S. It is important to note that several minutes after receiving the email response, I received a follow-up
"I wrote the wrong thing down there under gluten free :) When I said fruit cobbler, I meant to say fruit and whipped cream. Sorry for that :)"

Friday, February 15, 2008

A friend speaks up...

Well, I decided Blake was right (I may never live this down). That's right Blake, I'm responding to your comment for the world to see. What he, an old and dear friend of mine, wrote in response to my last posting, about my qualms of attending and participating in the taping of a tv show, was the below:

"... this is your chance to bring the world's attention to allergic diners and what do you do but shy away. You should be that person because it will go to show just how far that restaurant is coming and what they really say behind your back in the kitchen. One just has to wonder if all allergic diners get the same treatment. I say go for it. Opportunity is knocking, are you going to keep the door shut or open it and embrace it? Choose wisely and do it for all allergic diners everywhere!"

He's right. So I spoke with the casting people yesterday, determined to let this occur as it may, only to find out that every single available slot had been filled for both lunches and dinners through Saturday evening. Relieved? A little. Disappointed? A little....but very much looking forward to seeing what they found wrong with Hannah Mason's when 'Kitchen Nightmares' airs...I'll get back to you with the time when I know.

So thanks, Blake. Sometimes even yours truly needs a big ole' kick in the you-know-what.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kitchen Nightmares!

The FOX television show "Kitchen Nightmares!" is taping down the street from where I work at a restaurant called Hannah Masons. Personally, I've never eaten there, because the menu is a little too french-inspired to be allergic-diner friendly, but I've heard awful things about the service and restaurant itself. Enter Chef Ramsay!
For a week now, the better part of our parking spots at the public lot have been blocked off. Irritating. This morning, the camera crews were lining the street. Interesting. About two hours ago, I got to help cast extras for the show! Exciting!
A casting assistant came into my office to speak with me about the possibility of sending a few of our staff to the restaurant to be on tv on the 'before' portion of the show. I recommended a few people, and to my delight, all three were accepted. The catch? They had to pay for their own lunch, just as they would in the restaurant. That was ok with them. As for me, I couldn't leave my desk today (inundated with work), but I'm a little concerned to join the show at tomorrow's taping, as I've been asked to do.
I'm petrified of being portrayed on reality TV as that customer...the one who makes special requests, sends things back and is in general, a big ole' pain in the rear. Now, I do make special requests, but I show my med-alert bracelet as a qualifier (which upsets NAH to no end, he insists I shouldn't have to explain, but I think he's wrong...telling someone that if a tomato touches my sandwich I'm going into anaphylactic shock just might make them think twice before they simply pick it off and bring it over).
However, I happen to know that Hannah Masons hasn't always been very gracious about accomodating requests to begin with, so I think I may steer clear. Am I missing a golden opportunity, or am I saving myself from being scapegoated? Rest assured, if I made it onto the show, it'd be edited so you didn't hear me explaining the death-causing problems, just portrayed as upset when the tomato arrived on my sandwich.... I think maybe I'll just watch the show with the rest of the world....
Your Allergic Diner

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

reviews to come....

Hello all,
Well, usually this time of year work dwindles down (post-holiday slump). However, that hasn't happened. As you can see, yet again I am lax in my blogging. My apologies.
So many things are new in my world...
First off, NAH and I have been attempting to allergy-proof the house. We now own and operate a humidifier for the upstairs. Second, this weekend I am off to my company's retreat! Several fun-filled days of company bonding, lots of eating, and probably some drinking and shopping in addition to all those fun team-building exercises.
I'm excited about this because the people at my company did something for me that has NEVER happened to me before. I've received menus of all the places we have dinners, lunches, and brunches scheduled. I was shown the orders ahead of time, and allowed to order additional food so that I'd be able to eat at each function. For example, we're having dinner on Thursday at a very large, well-known, delicious Italian restaurant to celebrate our 20th anniversary, but we're eating family style. Large platters of baked ziti, chicken parmesan, and olive oil, tomato, and oregano soaked bruschetta. Not so good for your allergic diner. I get to order some plain pasta and a salad sans tomatoes, etc.
My excitement is that not only will I be able to eat, but I work with a bunch of genuinely nice people who know enough about my problems to be concerned and want to help. Very kind! No allergy alert for this trip, and I'll be back next week with a bunch of reviews of restaurants...
Yours in allergies, eating, and traveling,
~Allergic Diner