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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Day

Dumbo Shrimp & Ridiculous Customers

Once upon a time, in a restaurant far, far away, there sat a family at a table. The family consisted of a man, a woman, and their 13 or 14-year-old daughter. They had a special request, which revolved around a food allergy at their table.

The server let me know there was a food allergy at a table. As I took my seat with the family, they shared their concern. Their daughter had an incredibly severe shrimp allergy, and they were anxious to ensure her meal would be shrimp-free. They were adamant about checking our protocols for cleanliness and sanitation. 

I explained our rigorous procedures to prevent cross-contamination and maintain a clean kitchen environment. They thanked me for the reassurance, and I returned to the kitchen. Once the server brought their ticket, I saw their order and was somewhat surprised. They ordered a shrimp appetizer, a shrimp and clam linguini, another dish with shrimp, and a cheeseburger. That made it a total of two entrees and one appetizer with shrimp at the same table with the daughter, who was supposedly deathly allergic.

I couldn't help but feel concerned, so I double-checked with them. I thought, "Surely, they didn't order all this food with shrimp. Maybe they moved tables, and this order wasn't their order. They wouldn't want shrimp at their table." So, I approached them again to ensure we had the correct order for their table. They confirmed it, saying their daughter was indeed deathly allergic, but they absolutely love shrimp and wanted all three dishes. Is it just me, or are these ridiculous and selfish customers asking ME to take the risk of their daughter's life?

Shrimp seared dish

Shocked, I gathered myself and suggested a plan: we'd prepare the daughter's food first and serve her before we started the dishes with the shrimp to ensure there was no risk of cross-contamination on my end. They agreed to this precaution, and we proceeded accordingly.

What really struck me was the potential danger. What if, as people sometimes do, they accidentally coughed or dropped a fork that splattered shrimp on her plate? They could have easily knocked over a dish, or the server accidentally bumped over a plate with shrimp sauce. It could have been a catastrophic situation. Despite this risk, they continued to visit our restaurant multiple times, ordering the same way every single time, causing fear and frustration to all the staff.

It still bewilders me how parents could put their child's life in the hands of total strangers. No matter how well a kitchen cleans and correctly decontaminates an area, is it really worth the risk? And I was there the first night, ensuring everything went as well as possible. But what if I wasn't? What if we had a new cook who didn't understand the full potential of this risk and accidentally cross-contaminated? 

Food allergies are real. And they can be dangerous and life-threatening. This family clearly had an enormous amount of faith in my restaurant, or the allergy wasn't as severe as they led me to believe, or they didn't care. I certainly hope it wasn't the latter.

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