Recently it was my Mother’s special birthday, ever since she was a small child she had dreamed of Tea at the Ritz. My Dad and I splashed out on a wonderful weekend in London involving many things and included traditional afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel.
Now although I am adapting to life with the food intolerances, eating out for me still feels stressful – I’m barely one year on from identifying the food groups not suitable for me so I think it’s fair to still be anxious when I never ate out that often anyway. Most of the time if I have a enough notice of where we are going to be eating I can check the menu in advance and find something suitable or ring ahead and speak to the chef to explain and agree something I can eat. That’s what I did when booking the Ritz. You have to book in plenty of time in advance (I booked the reservation in August 2014). I explained on the booking form under dietary requirements the foods I cannot eat that would be mostly likely included in an Afternoon Tea menu.
The Ritz called me on the day of our booking to explain they do not have speciality breads but can provide Gluten Free – I asked them to check that the wheat replacement is not Potato Starch – in my experience shopping for bread I haven’t found a gluten free option that doesn’t have potato as the replacement. It did, but was assured I would receive the full Ritz experience nonetheless.
For a few hours I suspected I would turn up and be faced with a salad. How wrong I was! The Ritz experience is one of the best I have ever had – they went and got speciality bread that I could eat and provided me open mini sandwiches with fillings I could have. They met every single one of my dietary needs, including speciality baked scones and customised cakes. The food didn’t just taste delicious; it was the effort they went to for me that contributed to a perfect dining experience. I honestly felt quite overwhelmed, and stuffed by the end of our booking. Add to that, my Mother enjoyed her experience too and it was worth every single penny.
What I’m trying to get across here though, is not “Go to the Ritz because it’s brilliant” (you could consider that too); but more that it is never not worth ringing ahead and explaining that you have a food intolerance. Practically every restaurant I have spoken to (except one) have been understanding and accommodating. It is far less embarrassing admitting in advance, explaining what you need and finding out if they can provide something you can eat, than it was when I first had to do it. I apologise less now and feel less of an inconvenience because I accept that this is now me, this is what I need when dining out. If you don’t ask you don’t find out.
My ongoing challenge is eating out with no pre-booking – when we are out for the day and I haven’t brought a packed lunch. Having to face traipsing around several places before finding one that has something on the menu I can eat and it not being the cheapest for everyone else, is something of a mountain for me to overcome. I feel guilty, I feel frustrated with myself and I feel a burden to my companions. But I am slowly getting there to controlling that feeling of fear and panic.