Asking About Food - At a Restaurant

Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!

It is hard to eat out when you have a food intolerance. Someone else has prepared food for you; you don't know what is in it, but you'd like to eat it, enjoy it, and feel good afterwards. Don't worry! Eating out doesn't need to be stressful, awkward, or complex. To find a meal at a restaurant, you just need to be smart about what you choose, and (when necessary) talk to your server about your dietary needs.

It doesn't seem like there is an easy way to do this (especially the whole tell-your-server thing), but, remember all you need to know is what the food contains. There are two main steps to figure this out:

  1. Chose a reasonable meal (one likely to be soy-free).
  2. When necessary, ask your server to check the ingredients (this is especially true if you have a food allergy).


Choose a Reasonable Meal

If you have a choice of restaurants, it helps to pick a place that you know, or that you think, will have more soy-free options. For example, don't pick a Chinese restaurant since almost everything will have soy in it. 

Once you've picked a restaurant, you'll need to do the best you can to chose a dish that doesn't contain soy. Check online first to see if the restaurant has an allergen menu (try searching for terms like "[restaurant name] allergen menu" or "[restaurant name] ingredient info") . If so, use it! If not, you need to be aware of common traps (like vegetable oil, butter, and bread) to make an educated guess that your chosen dish is likely soy-free. A good practice is to pick a couple of dishes that you think are probably soy-free.

If you've eaten the specific dish you've chosen at this restaurant before, great! You can likely order and expect it to be the same as last time. If the dish or restaurant are new, it is best to ask your server about the ingredients.

Check the Ingredients

Restaurants are used to this type of question, and a simple "Can you do a quick ingredient check for me? I'm allergic to soy." is usually all that is required. As we mentioned in a previous post (What is an Intolerance?), we often say Ashley has a soy allergy because it's easier to explain in a restaurant setting.

Here is how we do it:
Server: What can I get for you?
Ashley: I'd like the Fillet Mignon please, with mashed potatoes. Can you do a quick ingredient check for me, as I'm allergic to soy?
Server: Sure, i'll check with the chef and be right back.

Note - Ashley narrowed her choices down before asking (e.g., didn't ask about the breaded shrimp (which probably has soy in the bread), and suggested mashed potatoes as a side (to replace French fries, which are likely fried in soybean oil).

It is very helpful to give the server a specific dish to check - it makes it easier for them, and they will often return with other options if something does have soy (e.g., suggesting mashed potatoes instead of french fries). Sometimes servers will know right away if a dish has soy. In this case, it is helpful to have a backup dish in mind that they can check for you.



There is no need to be embarrassed about asking your server to check your food's ingredients; just be polite and be flexible. It is unfortunate that you may not be able to eat the dish that you've been eyeing (so frustrating!), but you should be able to find something to eat.

Some allergy resources insist that you should tell your server about your allergy right away when you go out to eat. That is necessary for some people, especially if it is possible to have a life-threatening reaction. But, we prefer not to make a big deal out of it when we go out since Ashley has an intolerance. We also tend to visit our favorite restaurants over and over again. We've identified what we can eat on the menu (through trial and error and some educated guesses) and then don't have to worry about ordering an unknown food.

Now that we've covered restaurants, on Thursday we'll talk about eating with friends and family. Let us know in the comments if you have any other restaurant tips!