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Kids and Allergies: Throwing out the allergic kid not good business

Submitted by on Tuesday, 4 November 2008 No Comment

Talk about dogmatic adherence to rules that backfired big time for a Washington State skating rink.

The rink has a policy that any food not purchased on site must be eaten in the lobby. That requirement exiled an 8-year-old milk-allergic boy from a friend’s pizza party last month.

“(The manager) basically said it doesn’t matter and that his choices are to either not eat or go out in the lobby and eat by himself,” the boy’s mother told a Seattle television station.

The manager saw nothing wrong with that. “Most of the people feed their kids before they come down if they know they have an allergy to something,” he told the station.

I do that, too, if we’re going to a baseball game or similar outing where I’m uncertain of menu options. But how any reasonable person could think this would be acceptable at a child’s birthday party is beyond me.

Granted, I don’t understand either why the mom didn’t call ahead. I always do that to check ingredients and preparation, though since Big Guy’s garlic allergy was diagnosed there’s scant chance he’s going to be able to eat anywhere that’s popular with the kiddy set.

I’ve never run into a place, though, where I couldn’t work it out.

It burned me up the first time I had to pay a restaurant full-price to prepare food with ingredients I was providing, but it was Big Guy’s season-ending soccer team party, so I did it.

It doesn’t make me nearly as angry now, particularly after Big Guy was so delighted at eating something close to the same pizza as everyone else enjoyed. We celebrated both guys’ birthdays at Pizza Hut this year using that same method, ordering a pizza for Big Guy made with sauce I provided.

I still feel a bit ripped off, but Big Guy seems happier with the restaurant made-mom made pizza.

And that appears to be all the Americans With Disabilities Act requires at the moment. According to peanutallergy.com, a customer can ask that an ingredient be left out and, if it’s easy, the restaurant has to do it. Chefs don’t have to prepare special dishes or items not on the menu.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And it gives me legal standing to request Mom Sauce pizzas.

An ADA settlement in Wisconsin three years ago gives me hope for something better. In that case, a restaurant agreed to let allergic customers bring food if the chef couldn’t alter a dish to fit the dietary restrictions, according to ada.gov.

It sounds perfectly reasonable and realistic to me. I wish it were national case law.

It’s not, though, so business need to remember this: You’re not just sending one child to eat alone in the lobby at a birthday party. You’re throwing out more than 3 million kids. You’re also showing their parents, siblings and more to the door. They’re going to be so hurt and angry that they’ll never be back, even if the allergy eventually abates.

And you’re making an ass out of yourself in front of the other party guests and their parents, too. They might well remember the jerk who ruined Little Billy’s bash when it comes time to plan next year’s birthday.

Is it worth it to you?

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg.

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