I made the tastiest dinner tonight: chicken, carrots, ginger, garlic, brown rice flour and chicken bone broth, simmered and thickened so I could have it over brown rice.
What was missing? The dreaded dairy, gluten, soy and sugar, now possibly permanently banned from my diet. But let’s face it – those things are pretty difficult to avoid when going out to eat. Luckily I have my pocket-sized computer (phone) with internet access because there is a new app on the market that will help take the pain out of trying to socialize over a meal that may or may not be okay for me.
DineSafe is free to both the patrons and the restaurants. To participate, restaurants have to enter their menu items, which might sound labor-intensive, but here’s the great thing: they can put directly on the app which allergenic ingredients are included on each menu choice. I mean, who better would know which ingredients go into their food? This takes all of the guesswork out of the equation for the patrons.
For instance, maybe you are allergic to dairy, shellfish and mushrooms; the first thing you will be prompted to do when you enter the app is plug in all of the items you are allergic to. They have such a great list pre-programmed in, including dairy, peanut, gluten, garlic, soy and eggs, that most of the common allergens are available to choose. There is also a tab for specific diets, including vegetarian, vegan, paleo and organic. The creators did not skimp on categories! They are open to suggestions, so if you think that your allergen or diet are not represented, you can give them the feedback. I didn’t see sugar on the list so I’ll be giving them that suggestion. Sugar can hide out in simple things like salad dressings, and I’d like to make the most informed choice possible when someone else is preparing my meal.
The app can search for nearby locations according to your GPS position, but you can also ask for it to look in specific areas (great for when you’re meeting other people out and you’re trying to find a suitable restaurant). After all, most cultures have socialization built around meals; there’s no reason a person should have to give that up because of some restrictions.
The next step is to visit the restaurant on the app. The landing page has a pull-down menu that is a space where the restaurant has described its theme and atmosphere. You can go to an area that indicates which menu choices you should avoid. If you hop over to the next tab, you can see which items are safe for you to order. Lastly, there is an area to customize your order: if a dish contains mushrooms but everything else is “safe,” you can request no mushrooms on your order. By the time you are at the table and the server is ready to take your order, you’re prepared with a choice rather than having to quiz the server and send him/her back to the kitchen a few times. There is a flashing reminder on the landing page to advise the server of the allergies so they can expect a dish to be returned to the kitchen if something is included by mistake. (This leads me to another thought: Is there something in the point of sale terminal that the servers can enter to call attention to allergies for the kitchen staff, even if something like “Attention: Allergies” pops up in red above the “hold” items?)
I feel like we are overdue for an app like this. Right now I see listings for the Orlando, Florida area. What’s the best way to make sure restaurants are getting on board in your city? Load the app on your phone and talk to restaurant managers about the advantages of making their menu information available online including known allergens and diets, and consumers will feel empowered about choosing their products.
The app will also have an area built in where patrons can enter reviews. Part of my research on where to spend my money is influenced by reviews, as I’m sure the majority of people feel the same way. Now we’ll see things like, “I ordered a dry, unmarinated chicken breast, and I got exactly what I wanted,” or “We had to send the dish back three times because they kept putting peanuts on my pud Thai.”
Lastly, the U.S. is very slow about getting on board with safety – basically it’s up to patrons to be detectives and figure out if something is safe for them to eat. The UK and Europe have already passed laws regarding requirements to disclose allergens in sit-down and take-out establishments. We SHOULD have those laws here, but for now, we have to rely on our pocket computers to guide us. I look forward to using DineSafe when it reaches my area.
****This is a sponsored post for DineSafe.
******I was excited to talk about this app and its features anyway because my life is going to change drastically as a result of having these restrictions placed on my diet.