I talk about using a chef card with food allergies ALL. THE. TIME. I know.
However, there is a reason. It is literally THE best tool I have ever decided to use consistently when explaining my food allergies. Dining out can feel exhausting when you have to disclose your dietary requirements on repeat. By using a chef card, although verbal communication is still important, it relieves some of that tiresome explanation while also feeling better understood in the process.
For years I wasn’t consistent about using a chef card in the U.S. Whenever I traveled out of the US however, I never considered dining without a chef card. I didn’t know why I wasn’t doing the same at home. I always appreciated how much easier it made the entire process. Having multiple food allergies, it can be difficult to truly know if the manager and server have every single allergen written down and ready to explain to the chef. Once I started using the chef card in the US consistently to dine out however, it made the entire process much easier and more enjoyable because I wasn’t worrying if they had everything written down.
Now I use the chef card whenever I dine out. I keep it in the insulated bag with my epinephrine auto-injectors, since I know I never leave those behind.
Over this past decade, I have helped countless families with chef cards because I believe in how much they help both the patron and the restaurant staff. As a former teacher, I know that not everyone is an auditory learner. However, if you combine two or more learning styles, the chances are much higher that you are going to be able to communicate your message most effectively. With a chef card, I still briefly explain verbally, then hand the card over and they visually see it.
A Few Questions That I’m Often Asked
How detailed should my chef card be?
I recommend personal preference. I have seen it done a number of different ways. My chef card is detailed and sometimes I wonder if it’s too explicit. However, I’m always surprised by the food confusion that exists in the world, even when I think my allergens sound fairly straightforward. This is why I’ve found that having everything written decreases the risk that someone will forget that for example, Worcestershire sauce contains fish (anchovies). Those of us with multiple food allergies may have a chef card that looks rather overwhelming when we list it all out. This is why I choose the most relevant ones to list on the chef card and try to highlight the main allergen categories verbally. Remember, this is a tool to help you. There is no “best” chef card. You decide for you!
How do you feel comfortable using the chef card when dining out?
I’ve always explained my allergies verbally, so when I started using the chef card consistently, it didn’t seem like any more effort, but actually quite the opposite. I still give a brief verbal explanation and then I hand over my chef card. Whether you use a card or not, you still have to have a conversation with the server, manager, or chef. Therefore, it is no more uncomfortable than advocating for your food allergy needs in the first place. I’ve actually found it easier to be more discreet about my food allergies when dining out in larger group settings.
Help! I need a Chef Card.
Since so many people have reached out asking for my chef card, I have now shared the chef card template on here for FREE. Go sign up, download the Word doc and get started on creating your own chef card then let me know how it goes!
If you have any other chef card questions, please leave them in the comments below.