Monday, June 18, 2012

Restaurant Success

by Kelley Lindberg

Ten years ago, restaurants seemed completely unaware of food allergies. I’d ask about allergies and receive blank stares or statements like, “no, there are no nuts in this ice cream. It’s just pistachio flavored.” Hunh?

But now, many restaurants seem to be much more informed, as a rule. It doesn’t mean they’re perfect or completely safe, of course, but more and more restaurants are training their chefs and wait staff to take allergies seriously. They are publishing ingredients lists, special menus, or warnings if they can’t accommodate allergies.

The Cantina Southwestern Grill is a restaurant in Layton, Utah, that we’ve begun frequenting because of their attentiveness to my son’s food allergies to peanuts and nuts.

Now that my son is old enough that he’s no longer interested in the children’s menu, his choices are getting more creative, and the risk of nut contamination has grown tremendously. (I miss the days when he was happy with a plain – and cheap – cheese quesadilla.) And Mexican restaurants are often a challenge because mole sauces are made with ground nuts, and often enchilada sauces have a nut contamination warning.

So the first time we tried the Cantina Grill, my son decided he wanted the pan-seared tilapia. I tried to talk him out of it, thinking the contamination risk was too high, but he begged me to ask the waiter about ingredients anyway. So I did. She told me she would talk to the chef.

A minute or two later, the manager was at our table, asking us about my son’s specific allergies, discussing ingredients, and assuring us she would personally make sure the meal was prepared safely. The dish arrived, my son loved it, and the manager came out another time or two to make sure the meal was to my son’s liking.

Since then, we’ve been back a half-dozen times, and each time we receive the same treatment. This weekend we went again, and again the manager (a man this time) brought out an ingredients list for the dish my son wanted, including all the spices, and went over it with us. The food was prepared perfectly, there were no nut contamination issues, and everything was just the way we like it.

My husband commented on how surprised and pleased he was that every time we go to this restaurant, we get the same attention, regardless of which managers appear to be on duty – they are all pleasant, concerned, careful, and responsive. We never get the brush-off, and the manager always comes out to talk with us personally, armed with the ingredients list so there are no mistakes.

The owners/managers of the Cantina Southwestern Grill have obviously figured out a key ingredient for running a successful restaurant: if you keep your customers happy, you’ll earn their return business. And when it comes to food allergies, taking your customer’s allergies seriously and taking the extra few minutes to make sure they stay safe will not only bring that customer back, but chances are good they’ll share their experience with other food-allergic people.

So guess what? That’s what I’m doing today. If you’re in the Layton area and want to call them to ask about your specific allergies and check on any menu items that might be safe for your family, here is their contact info. (It looks like they also have a Sandy location in Jordan Commons, but I haven’t experienced that location, so I can’t vouch for it.) Remember that accidents can always happen, and mistakes are part of being human, so there is no guarantee that your experience will mirror mine, but I still wanted to share this story because the employees at this location have earned my business.

Cantina Southwestern Grill
296 N. Main St.
Layton, UT

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