when your job interview is at a restaurant where you can’t eat anything on the menu

Last month we tackled the idea of lunch interviews in general. This month, it’s a different spin. A reader writes:

I recently had an on-site interview that went really well. I loved the institution, and I ended up getting the job and am starting in a month(!), but one thing bothered me on interview day. The institution is located in a city famous for its seafood, and the committee took me to a beautiful seafood restaurant. Literally every item on the menu was fish-based…and I am allergic to every kind of fish. Just the smell of the restaurant made me a bit wobbly.

Fortunately there was a buffet that had two fish-free items (steamed mushrooms and rice). The committee hadn’t asked me about allergies or dietary restrictions or given me the name of the restaurant beforehand, and I was really surprised that they took me to a place that might pose a problem for vegetarians or people with allergies or religious restrictions. I also just felt really awkward, as my hosts kept encouraging me to “try one the oysters, they’re delicious!” as I just smiled and ate my sad little lunch. And as I said, every single menu item (and 98% of the buffet) was fish-based, so I couldn’t say “Can I please have the X but without the salmon?”–it would be like ordering crab cakes minus the crab.

How common is this? I come from an (admittedly hippie-ish) institution where the restaurants we use for business have to have options that are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and nut-free, and we ask about dietary restrictions when planning on-site interviews. I assumed this was a policy for most places. I’m sure my hosts would have been mortified if I’d said I had an allergy. Would I have been within my rights (and would it have harmed my chances) to say “There is basically nothing here that I can eat without getting very sick. Can we go literally anywhere else?”

I’d love to tell you that it’s uncommon, but it’s totally not uncommon, at least not in many areas of the country. People who don’t have dietary restrictions and who don’t have people close to them with dietary restrictions often still don’t think about this; it doesn’t register on the radar for many. And it’s definitely not the case that the majority of employers require restaurants used for business have to have options that are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and/or nut-free, although more and more are starting to realize these are issues for a lot of people.

That aside, a reasonable person will be mortified when they realize that they’ve taken you somewhere where you can’t eat anything, and you certainly shouldn’t feel that it’s your responsibility to hide that from them. It sounds like you thought that allowing them to feel mortified might have been bad for your chances at getting the job, but it’s not going to be with most people. (The occasional unreasonable person? Sure. But that’s true of all sorts of other perfectly normal things you could say or do during an interview too.)

So, what should you do if this happens? Well, you’re not really there to enjoy the food, so I think it comes down to whether there’s anything you can eat there or not. Most places will put together a vegetable plate if you ask for it (even if it’s not listed on the menu), and while it’s often boring and flavorless, dealing with bland and boring food for one meal usually makes sense so that you can keep the focus on your qualifications for the job. Ideally, in this situation you’d say something like, “I’m actually allergic to seafood, but I’m sure they can put together a vegetable plate for me, and I’ll be fine with that!”

Of course, if the restaurant won’t even do that or if the smell is going to make you sick, that’s different and in that case I’d explain and use your “can we go literally anywhere else?” language.

But I do think it’s better to say something than not say something, because if you’d given them a quick, cheerful explanation at the start, you wouldn’t have been fielding all those suggestions to try the oysters and they would have had context to make sense of what was happening (and they might think about it next time!).

And yes, in this day and age employers absolutely should be thinking more about this and not assuming that everyone eats the same things that they do.

{ 327 comments… read them below }

  1. Mando Diao*

    I’d have said something, just because seafood is juuuuuust left-of-center enough to suggest that the employers really like this place. It doesn’t strike me as a natural generic choice (though that could be my Jewish upbringing speaking). I’d be wondering if this is a place that the employers go to a lot and would now expect OP to visit with them occasionally. The allergy conversation needs to happen eventually, and bringing it up grows more awkward every time you decline to speak up.

    1. Kylynara*

      The LA said the city is famous for seafood, and I got the impression she (he?) was traveling for the interview, so it may have been a case of intentionally sharing the city with the visitor.

      1. KR*

        That’s what I was thinking – for example if someone was travelling to Boston for an interview I might want to take them somewhere famous for clam chowder as that’s a Boston specialty.

          1. Letter Writer*

            Not Legal, but a small restaurant actually on the campus of the institution that had a pretty limited menu. It also had a great view of the city, so I totally understood why they’d take someone there.

          2. Jen*

            I go to Legal all the time with clients– there are non-Seafood options.

            Small places– like lobster shacks, No Name, etc are the ones that have no non-seafood option. You’d have to eat ketchup and cole slaw, maybe some french fries if you can eat something that was fried in the same oil as fish.

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          Ha, me too. My first day visiting the Boston office, they scheduled a team lunch at Legal Seafood.

          I’m not allergic but I do not really enjoy fish! It was a drag.

    2. anonanonanon*

      If seafood is a common food in the region, it’s not that unusual. I’m from Boston and going to a nice, seafood restaurant for a work event wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary, especially if you were treating someone from out of town. My company routinely take VIP clients or higher level interview candidates to some very nice seafood restaurants unless they specify an allergy or a preference for something else instead.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yep, this was in Boston. :) So seafood is a huge part of the culture, which means I’m going to have to be super vigilant when dining out. But at the same time, it’s an urban, fairly cosmopolitan location, so I did think that the menu of most restaurants would at least include one or two vegetarian dishes–food and gluten allergies may still be gaining awareness, but vegetarianism is a pretty widely practiced and acknowledged diet and most places at least have a simple pasta dish or veggie burger option.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Even so – it’s ridiculous that the restaurant didn’t have a single menu item for non-seafood-eaters.

          1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

            I agree with this. I’m not allergic, I just don’t like seafood. I visited Boston a few years ago and my husband loves seafood, and everywhere seafood place we went had stuff I could eat. Though TBH I may have checked ahead of time, I don’t remember. Usually they have steak as an option, which is what I usually get.

            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              Yeah, this is me. After an experience with bad fish that made me ill, I don’t eat seafood and places that smell particularly fishy make me nauseated. I would be pretty unhappy at a place like that. Most places at least have a steak or chicken option, and many have dinner sized salads you can order. I’m surprised this place didn’t have any of those things.

              1. Letter Writer*

                It was a restaurant on the campus of the institution (so not Legal or Union or any of the “big” places). It had a pretty limited menu.

                1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

                  Oh, that makes sense. We went to the overpriced “only the tourists eat there” places. :)

                2. irritable vowel*

                  As a Bostonian working in higher ed, I admit I am wracking my brain to try and figure out where you were. :) I will say that if this restaurant was run by the institution, the limited menu probably says something about the institution (and doesn’t speak well of it). I dined at the “faculty club” at a small college outside the city recently and their buffet was like school cafeteria food. It said to me that while they might be putting a lot of money and PR into new programs and facilities, they’re overlooking smaller details that affect people who work and study there.

                3. irritable vowel*

                  I had another thought – was your interview on a Friday? Especially during Lent, some places will only serve fish on Fridays. I looked at the weekly menu for the faculty club where I work and it looked pretty fishy on Friday (but other days had other options).

                4. irritable vowel*

                  Aha! So, I think it’s probably the case that this was not a seafood restaurant but a faculty club that normally has a much wider variety of food at the buffet. Boston isn’t as overwhelmingly Catholic as it used to be, but old traditions persist…

                5. Nelly*

                  I’m facing the same option for an ‘after the AGM’ luncheon shortly. Thankfully I was warned ahead of time and phoned the restaurant – they said they wouldn’t mind if I brought a sandwich, which they would need to ‘plate’ for me. Just the luck of the draw on that occasion.

                  (I’m not allergic to fish, it just tastes fishy, yetch!)

            2. Just Another Techie*

              Sure, some restaurants that prominently feature seafood have other options, but I can think of four places in the Boston area right off the top of my head that don’t have any non-fishy options other than a side salad. It’s definitely not the majority, but it’s not unheard of either, and I’m getting a whiff of disbelief that the LW is telling the truth here that makes me sad. Let’s take LW at their word that there really weren’t any options at this particular restaurant?

              1. Mando Diao*

                I don’t see anyone disbelieving the OP. What I’m getting is that this was a lousy restaurant and that the employers were thoughtless and tone deaf. They should have chosen better.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  This. I don’t disbelieve the OP, I think the restaurant is screwing up. How much money do they lose by not having one measly other option?

                2. doreen*

                  It was definitely a poor choice by the employer, but the restaurant might not be screwing up. It’s not terribly uncommon (at least on the East Coast – I’ve seen them in NYC, the Boston area and Baltimore ) to find a seafood restaurant that started as a fish market, and then added some tables and started selling fried seafood and maybe expanded a little more into broiled seafood, crab cakes and chowder. Non-fish options , if there are any , are limited to burgers, chicken sandwiches and a basic green salad.

              2. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

                Check your nose. And lower it a little while you’re at it. There’s a big difference between disbelieving an OP and thinking a restaurant is ridiculous for not offering other options.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I haven’t seen any disbelief — I think you might be misinterpreting people’s annoyance at the restaurant as disbelief, but I don’t think that’s what’s intended.

              4. neverjaunty*

                I don’t know where that whiff of disbelief is coming from (maybe somebody is making fish in your office’s break room)?

          2. MK*

            I thought it odd too. But in my country almost all restaurants have a variety of dishes, not out of awareness for dietary restrictions, but because of ordinary business sense. They don’t want a party of 15 to rule out their place because one of them is vegetarian or insists on having meat with every meal or is simply in the mood for seafood today.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yup. Most places will have at least a salad and a chicken dish, even if they’re boring. This strikes me as a lack of business sense by the restaurant, unless there are really a lot of people who pride themselves on going to the All Fish Nothing Else place! (I say this because I’ve met a few people who are like that about red meat, as if the presence of anything but red meat is some kind of affront to their sensibilities.)

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                Weirdly, out of all restaurant types, I’ve found vegetarian options the hardest to find at a seafood restaurant. Possibly because they end up being so much cheaper, so you’re either being overcharged for your veggies, or all the other menu items end up looking way too expensive. (And I understand the pricing for seafood, so I know that it should be significantly more expensive than veggies. Unless you really put some effort into making a super-expensive vegetarian option.)

                1. Daisy Steiner*

                  That’s interesting – the only place I’ve ever been that had literally NO vegetarian options was the Grand Central Oyster Bar. As I live in the UK this may be a country/culture difference, but that would support your theory.

                2. INTP*

                  Now that I think of it, that’s true. Maybe because their “token non-specialty menu items for picky eaters” section is already full with the chicken fingers and cheeseburger?

                3. Charlotte Collins*

                  If the seafood place is also an Italian restaurant (common where I’m from), then there is usually an option for the vegetarians.

                  And I wish all restaurants would stop thinking a sad little side salad is somehow a true option for those of us with limited diets… I’m OK with that once in a while, but show some creativity, Executive Chefs of the US!

                4. Sparklekitty*

                  A lot of people think vegetarians eat fish. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told someone I’m vegetarian, only to have them say, “But you eat fish, right?” I also know several people who are 99% vegetarian, but will eat fish if there’s no vegetarian option on the menu.

                5. Pinkie Pie Chart*

                  Also many people think vegetarian means no red meat. So fish is totally fine, right? [/sarcasm]

                6. Eugenie*

                  I agree 100% with this. I’m vegetarian and I’d rather go to a steakhouse than a seafood place because a steakhouse is likely to have some kind of pasta dish or enough veggie side dishes to make a meal out of. I think it’s what people said above about most non-vegetarians thinking we’re totally okay with eating seafood.

                7. OlympiasEpiriot*

                  @Daisy_ Steiner (we are out of nests)

                  If you are ever at the Oyster Bar again, there are pretty decent veggie sides that I’ve asked to be made into a platter with rice. The time I did that, they were pretty accommodating. (I’m not a vegetarian, but do often eat all veggie meals. That was one of my I’m-Craving-This meals while pregnant and as I loved them for their oysters and bouillabaisse, I was very happy to learn they had decent veggies, too.)

                8. Alienor*

                  I think it’s definitely the vegetarians-eat-fish myth. I’ve been vegetarian for 20+ years, and the level of awareness has gotten quite a bit better over time, but I still get asked pretty regularly if I eat chicken and fish, or just fish. To be fair, there are a lot of people who describe themselves as vegetarian but do eat chicken and fish, so I can see where the confusion comes from.

                9. Megs*

                  In defense of the only-fish-and-chicken crowd (of which I am aspiring) it can be easier to ask if a dish is vegetarian than to go into the details of what one does and doesn’t prefer to eat.

                  Also, I read an article in salon (I think?) recently arguing that oysters are one of the best foods ever and should be considered vegetarian. To each their own, obviously, but it was pretty interesting.

                10. Aella*

                  My aunt is a fish eating vegetarian. My sister, meanwhile, is a vegetarian-vegetarian. She is under orders not to fight my aunt over vegetarian status.

                11. Daisy Steiner*

                  @OlympiasEpiriot – thanks, that’s good to know. Coming from the UK, I don’t tend to feel comfortable asking for things that aren’t on the menu, or even asking for modifications! It’s not that restaurants here won’t do it, but it’s not really a standard part of the culture the way it is in the US, I think. You feel a bit like you’re putting them out.

                  Luckily, I’m a flexitarian myself (I eat meat about once a month or if there really are no other options) so I was able to tuck into a fish sandwich.

            2. INTP*

              Most chain and business-oriented places in the US do this too, ime. But the privately owned, local places are less likely to do so unless they specifically cater to a healthier or trendier crowd.

              Of course, the vegetarian and gluten free menus often have zero overlap and I wind up pouring a side of beans onto a side salad. (Unless I’m at a southern restaurant where I can’t eat the beans.) But for an interview, I’d just order the salad and eat something satiating afterward.

          3. Not Today Satan*

            I’m a vegetarian and seafood places are by far the worst places for me. It just doesn’t seem to occur to them that anyone doesn’t eat seafood.

            1. Letter Writer*

              Right! Like at this place, even the salads either included fish (like tuna or smoked salmon) and/or they were dressed with a Caesar dressing that included anchovies. I was really surprised that there wasn’t just like, a caprese salad or veggie burger or something really simple and vegetarian.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Did you try asking for an off-menu vegetable plate (meaning not on the menu)? I’ve never been anywhere that wouldn’t put together something vegetarian if you asked, even if the menu didn’t list anything.

                1. Development Professional*

                  Yup, this is the key. As the partner of someone with a pretty serious dietary restriction, I have seen this play out over and over. If you don’t see something on the menu that works for you, the onus is on you to say something about what you need. And then give the server enough time to speak with the kitchen to suggest something. Alison is right, it may well be a bunch of vegetables over white rice, but a halfway decent restaurant will at least attempt to make it look like a full plate.

                  But if you say nothing, then no one can help you. And honestly, it’s so much more awkward to say nothing and weirdly eat very little than to just be clear about why.

                  I do think that I would leave out the “can we go literally anywhere else?” and give your host a chance to suggest that. The kindest, most empathetic people will. Others won’t. But it will be less awkward to let them come to that conclusion themselves. If you were on a pretty big campus where it would take several minutes to get anywhere near an alternative restaurant and there was limited time for the interview, I can see how they might not want to try to have to do that. But once you say “can we go somewhere else?” many people will feel compelled to do that. It sort of feels like you’re asking for solution C when you haven’t tried A and B yet.

                2. The Other Dawn*

                  Agreed. Most restaurants have something they can throw together for someone with an allergy or special diet.

                  There’s a really nice steakhouse near my old job and they really don’t have anything on the menu that doesn’t involve steak, or come slathered in butter and/or cream. My former coworker was vegan, which meant there was pretty much nothing on the menu she could eat. She asked and they put together a plate that had a HUGE baked potato, as well as a ton of roasted veggies. It looked like a feast!

                3. Dorothy Lawyer*

                  I have had to do this, and most places are happy to comply – I had a off-the-menu pasta dish at Jazz that was actually pretty good. I wouldn’t go back for that dish, but it wasn’t bad.

              2. TL -*

                Yes – for allergies, I’ve gotten off-menu items more than once. (Or they’ve made extensive modifications to a dish.) It’s worth asking.

              3. DeskBird*

                I am also a person allergic to pretty much all seafood! And I’ve spent a lot of time in Seafood restaurants over the years because my father loves seafood and refuses to understand my allergies.

                My go-to is to always consult with the waitress – even if there is something on the menu that looks fish-free. “Hi – I’m sorry – I’m very allergic to all forms of seafood – do you have anything that doesn’t touch the same pans that cook the fish?” That way the people interviewing you find out without you having to tell them directly – and you can avoid cross contamination (a big issue for me). Sometimes there is something – and sometimes they will throw something together for me in clean pans – usually pasta or maybe a chicken breast. I ALWAYS tell seafood restaurants about my allergies – and they are usually very grateful that I told them. I’ve found (decent) seafood places tend to be higher end – and higher end places are more careful about these things.

          4. Allison*

            Agreed. I didn’t really like seafood growing up but most of the seafood places my parents dragged me had some sort of steak, or pizza, or something for me to eat.

          5. TootsNYC*

            I agree–and I think it’s completely possible that the person who picked the restaurant assumed that the restaurant would have SOMEthing on the menu that wasn’t seafood, and that they’d have some level of accommodation for all the major food-restriction categories.

            It might have been such a strong assumption that they didn’t bother to check. I might not.

          6. Dan*

            I don’t think it’s ridiculous. The restaurant is making a conscious choice of limiting their menu; if they don’t feel they need to provide anything beyond seafood, that’s up to them.

            1. Megs*

              I think this depends on the style of the restaurant, honestly. I think it’s both good business practice and very common for larger restaurants to provide at least a couple of vegetarian options, but I understand smaller/niche places not doing so. Given what the OP has said about this being a smaller spot, I think the issue is the employer not checking with the OP about the limited menu.

        2. Liana*

          I live in Boston (and LOVE seafood), and I still think it’s weird that they did that – we have tons of fantastic restaurants all over Boston and the surrounding neighborhoods that serve seafood and cater to a whole bunch of different dietary restrictions. I’m kind of curious where they took you that didn’t have a single non-seafood option, although you totally don’t have to tell me if you don’t want.

          1. Letter Writer*

            It was a restaurant on the campus of the institution (so not Legal or Union or any of the “big” places). It had a pretty limited menu.

            1. Doriana Gray*

              Ahh…okay. So they chose this spot for convenience. It still would have been nice if they had asked you where you wanted to go, but they probably take everyone here so it probably didn’t dawn on them that they should have asked if the restaurant was okay with you.

              1. Letter Writer*

                Yes, and it also has an amazing view of the skyline, so I think they’re pretty proud of it. I totally get why you’d want to show off a piece of local culture to candidates–it just happened to be my least favorite piece of local culture!

                1. Doriana Gray*

                  LOL, I feel your pain. As a celiac sufferer, I’ve been there. Hopefully once you tell them, they’ll start being mindful of these things and will begin asking candidates prior to taking them out whether they have dietary restrictions that need to be accommodated.

        3. processimprovement*

          Get used to this in Boston! They love their seafood, and are proud of it. However most restaurants will make you something without seafood, even if it not on the menu, just ask!

          1. LBK*

            As a Bostonian with a boyfriend who refuses eat anything that came out of the water other than canned tuna, I don’t think it’s really that pervasive. I work right in the Seaport and I haven’t been to a seafood place here yet that didn’t have a few non-seafood options on the menu.

          1. KR*

            The LW said in the letter they didn’t know until they got there that they were going to a seafood restaurant and that they didn’t want to offend their interviewer.

            1. Fifi Ocrburg*

              No need to be offensive, just say something about allergies or ask if non-seafood options are available.

        4. Security SemiPro*

          I’m in Boston and hear you on the seafood culture! I do find it really weird that there weren’t any other options – I find that most restaurants around here are pretty aware and accommodating of various allergies and diets. So, don’t be concerned that it is all seafood all of the time here, I think you just ended up at a weirdly focused restaurant. I work with someone with a lethal seafood allergy and we manage to feed them with the rest of the team just fine. Along with the vegetarians, gluten free, vegans, paleo, foodie, and my highly picky self.

        5. bibliovore*

          Our dean is allergic to fish . We all know it. We always take that into account when planning events etc. A major donor insists on a sushi restaurant for every meeting. I have learned from her to just suck it up and plan to eat something before or after. For my interview dinner , I had s migraine and could barely look at food , let alone smell it.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Oh yeah, because with a seafood allergy, even if the restaurant offered to make something non fish, it’d still be super risky because it’d be prepared in close proximity to all the fish.

        6. Lora*

          Oh no! I guarantee this was pure thoughtlessness on the part of the interviewers. Every university campus around here, even the tiny ones, have an abundance of other lunch options, most definitely including vegetarian, vegan, kosher, etc. We have loads of restaurants, on campus and off! Heck, when I worked at a private business that happened to be near HBS, we went across the street to their cafeteria because it was yummy and had a good variety of options. And it’s not a big deal at all to just say, oh hey, I am allergic to fish, can we go somewhere else? It just wasn’t on their radar.

          I’ve had to remind folks at work quite often to be considerate of people’s dietary restrictions and at least make sure there are a couple of veggie things, because veggie things generally cover most dietary restrictions. Honestly, unless you entertain a lot for a fairly wide group of acquaintances – and are the person who does the cooking – it’s not usually something that occurs to you. Once you tell them, they are usually happy to oblige.

          My sales guys like to take folks out to steakhouses. But a great many of our international clients are vegetarian, and they are too polite to say anything, so I always ask. I personally am just a picky eater, though :)

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, it really sounds like the interviewers 1) looooove this restaurant and 2) are kind of self-absorbed, if they live in a major metropolitan area and have never thought ‘gee, some people don’t eat this stuff and the restaurant offers no alternatives’.

        7. Tafadhali*

          I’m a vegetarian living in Boston, and most places do have a variety of options! For whatever reason, I find that seafood restaurants typically have the most limited menus — even a steakhouse tends to have more for me on the side and salad menus (and obviously would have a lot more for you, since it is fish specifically that you cannot eat).

      2. BananaPants*

        We’re a bit further south in New England, but taking visitors to a seafood restaurant/fish house is very common. It’s basically part of sharing the local culture/dining with a visitor from a different part of the country (or world).

        That said, the restaurants we frequent always have something on the menu that doesn’t contain fish or seafood and are the kinds of places where my vegetarian boss can outline exactly what he will and won’t eat and the chef is happy to prepare a non-menu dish.

  2. Case of the Mondays*

    I think you need to bring it up when you are invited to a lunch interview. Just say “just so you know, I have a fish allergy, so I would prefer if we could go somewhere that has options beyond seafood.” If, however, you were surprised to learn you were at an all fish venue, I’d just tell them “oh, I have a seafood allergy so I’ll be sticking to the rice and veggies today which I actually love. So, tell me more about this job!” It’s all about delivery.

    I’m gluten free and dairy free and allergic to a handful of other foods so I’m used to having to navigate this. I actually don’t order anything without telling the server I can’t have dairy and gluten. It can be hidden in the most obscure places. Veggies boiled or steamed in the same pot as pasta for example.

    At a seafood place, for your own safety, you really should tell the server you have a seafood allergy. It is nothing to be embarrassed about.

    1. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

      Yes, I agree. If you have a serious allergy, say something up front to avoid this type of situation.

      I have a bunch of serious food allergies too and I’ve had them most of my life so I’m pretty comfortable navigating them. I agree with Case of the Mondays that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If they’re jerks about it, you wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. I also agree that it’s also about delivery – don’t be apologetic, don’t act embarrassed and keep it light even though I know it’s a serious issue. If you don’t treat it like an embarrassing deal-breaker, they won’t either.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I did double-check that the buffet items I ate were fish-free (no fish sauce or anything) and cooked separately! The interview was actually a full-day interview that included a lunch, so I didn’t even think about the food until I actually got there. And as I said above, this was in a big enough city that I figured most places would have a simple vegetarian pasta dish or caprese salad situation–food and gluten allergies and veganism might still be working their way into the general consciousness, but vegetarianism is hardly uncommon. I’ll have to be pretty careful when I move there!

      1. Alter_ego*

        I think you’ll be okay. I live in Boston, and I’ll second being really curious about where you were, though of course I wouldn’t expect you to say. I don’t know that I’ve eaten anywhere that doesn’t have a chicken or vegetarian dish, except for one place that serves lobster rolls and nothing but lobster rolls.

        Honestly, the seafood thing mostly manifest in that a lot of restaurants you wouldn’t expect to necessarily have seafood do. Fish and chips is really common at American restaurants, and every steak restaurant has a few grilled fish options. But seafood and nothing but hasn’t really come up for me.

        1. Letter Writer*

          It was a restaurant on the campus of the institution (so not Legal or Union or any of the “big” places). It had a pretty limited menu. My boyfriend and I have since traveled to Boston to find an apartment, and ate at a ton of places where he could eat fish to his heart’s content and I could get something else. I’ll just have to check that things don’t have a fish-based sauce or dressing, or aren’t cooked with fish, etc. :)

          1. sunny-dee*

            What’s weird, is I was at a Legal location not too long ago, and it literally had one-none fish option (a chicken dish), and that was it. I was there with a coworker, and we were both surprised — and he also has a seafood allergy.

            1. WellRed*

              I was surprised by that too at Legal. And that chicken dish was way overpriced and not very good.

            2. TL -*

              Legal is really great for gluten allergies – most allergies, really – but it’s not really the place for a non-seafood eater.
              But I’m okay with that, because it does bill itself so clearly as a seafood place.

              Now that I think of it, I know maybe two Boston places where non-fish in a seafood restaurant would be hard to come by or very limited.

              1. Doriana Gray*

                Legal is really great for gluten allergies – most allergies, really – but it’s not really the place for a non-seafood eater.

                Oooohh, good to know. When I’m up that way, I’ll be sure to stop in and try the food (love seafood and have celiac disease).

                1. Liza*

                  Doriana, they have fries you can eat! I went to Legal once with someone who has celiac and she said she hadn’t eaten fries in years (possibly because you never know what else was fried in the same oil?). But Legal has separate oil for their gluten-free items. They take food sensitivities really seriously.

                2. TL -*

                  Their gluten free rolls are so amazing I half expect to get sick every time I eat them… :) but they’re amazingly careful and aware.

                3. TL -*

                  @Liza if your friend is in the Boston area, 4 burgers in central does a full gf burger and fries deal – they don’t do anything with gluten in their fryers and all their sides are gluten free. :)

                4. Liza*

                  TL, that’s good to know! FourBurgers is on my way home, but I haven’t been in there in a while. Maybe I’ll have supper there tomorrow just to support that they have GF options.

      2. KR*

        Honestly this restaurant was out of the ordinary for the region. Most places are more considerate to different dietary restrictions or are pretty obviously seafood oriented.

    3. recruiter*

      When I was last job hunting, I had an all-day, out of town interview that I flew in for. The assured me that they would provide lunch and asked if I had any allergies. I don’t, and am not a picky eater, so I basically said “I’m good!”.

      Now, I’m a recruiter so I’ve scheduled a lot of lunch interviews – they’re usually at a restaurant, or, if schedules don’t allow, we’ve presented a menu to a candidate early in the day and then ordered delivery, so that’s what I was (maybe naively) expecting.

      You can imagine my surprise when the provided lunch was grilled out hot dogs with chips. Which, whatever – not a huge hot dog fan but I’ll take one for the team – but have you ever tried to politely eaten a hot dog while wearing a SUIT during an interview? So uncomfortable. Normally I would have just avoided the hot dog, but I had gone 7 hours since breakfast and still had four more hours of interviewing ahead of me. FWIW, they did offer me the job…..(which I turned down…the hot dogs weren’t the weirdest thing).

        1. recruiter*

          haha – well not to completely derail, but a two things that st00d out: when they emailed me to confirm the interview, the email included a statement to the effect of “we are a professional business, and as such, expect our employees to act and dress professionally. Please wear a business suit for your interview or contact us to let us know you are no longer interested in the position”. And then everyone was wearing sweatpants (and not sweatpants that could pass for slacks – like actual sweatpants with t-shirts), except the CEO who was wearing jeans (and me…the chump in a suit eating a hot dog).

          And they quizzed me during the interview. Like, “What month was the Affordable Care Act put into place?” and “What is the penalty for noncompliance with XYZ regulation” – this was an HR position at a small business…having general knowledge about the topics would be important, but this was like a school quiz. In what instance would an in-house HR person need to know what month the ACA went into effect?

          1. Letter Writer*

            Ha! That place sounds kind of nuts! Any place where they feel like they need to tell candidates to dress professionally *for an interview* seems like it’s either compensating for something or has had an extraordinary run of really bad candidates.

    4. Anonforthis*

      What would you say if you have a gastrointestinal disorder? I have IBS and am on the low-FODMAPS diet which is amazing and definitely helping, but really complicated to explain. I generally stick to “I have a long list of allergies” and try to order discreetly with the server what I can eat.

      However onions and garlic are two big no nos and people often say “onion and garlic?! How are you allergic to those?!” And then ask all about symptoms. What’s a good script for not going into my intensely personal and gross symptoms? (It’s gastric-intenstinal yo- what do you think happens?!!!)

      1. Rob Lowe can't read*

        I think you should say exactly that if someone is nosy enough to press you on it.

      2. Case of the Mondays*

        For those type of issues you are probably just trying to avoid things in your food and are less worried about cross contamination, I’m assuming. Plus, you wouldn’t likely rule out an entire restaurant based on your restriction. (Again, assuming). If changing venue was the issue, I’d just say I have some dietary restrictions and that place is difficult for me. Is there somewhere else you would like?

        If it is ordering, I’d just like my preferences. Chicken, no garlic or onion, veggies, no butter please. If you are worried about looking picky I’d turn back around and say “doctor prescribed but since it’s helping I really can’t complain” and move on without specifying.

        1. orchidsandtea*

          Sadly no—the particle is transferred through water, so contamination is still a thing. Not a problem in oil, though, which is useful.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Actually, not necessarily no – more “it depends”. It depends on the level of sensitivity the person has to the particular carb. I can have a slice of regular bread every now and then if I’m careful; clearly, I’m not sensitive enough to what’s in wheat (oligos, if memory serves right) for a little cross-contamination to be a problem. If I eat a single bite of cheddar cheese, I will probably pay for it; I’m wildly sensitive to lactose.

          It’s going to vary from person to person where their greatest sensitivities are, and how much they can afford to push it. So cross-contamination *can* be an issue, but the IBS response to FODMAPs is not a “nothing or else you’re toast” in all cases – sometimes small amounts (and thus cross-contamination risk) are fine, and in other cases it’s not.

          To add insult to injury, IBS is stress-mediated, so when you’re stressed, worried, anxious, etc., amounts that you could tolerate you now may not (because the same physical response to the carb is present, but also your stress response, and where your body could maybe deal with one or the other, both might be too much). I would absolutely avoid any hint of a FODMAP in the days leading up to and inclusive of a job interview, for example. (And of course, worrying about whether you’ve managed that is…enough to set off a reaction, so you get to practice being a mindfulness ninja.)

          1. Anonforthis*

            Ugh it really is adding insult to injury that stress makes symptoms worse!! And I actually do have to eliminate a lot of restaurants due to cross contamination or the fact that a lot of food is pre-prepped with spices that include onion and garlic. I just found two burger joints that use unspiced hamburger meat in my town and its glorious to be able to enjoy a burger (on butter lettuce, I can only have one slice of bread every couple of days without symptoms).

      3. Kyrielle*

        I have IBS too! My go-to script is (and the first part probably doesn’t apply to you): “I’m sensitive to tree nuts and need to avoid those. Due to a medical condition, I also need to avoid a lot of specific carbohydrates; this means I need to avoid dairy, wheat, garlic, onion, and numerous vegetables and fruits. I don’t suppose you could have them make me the (whatever dish) but do the (breast, fish, whatever) grilled plain in oil, not butter, and with no spicing beyond salt and pepper?” And then I tailor the vegetables if needed.

        If they ask again I explain that it’s a “low FODMAP” diet, which they can Google for more information if they want it, and I spell FODMAP for them. Odds are that most won’t Google it; the rest can read about what it’s commonly used for, symptoms, and all the wonderful things it cuts out of my diet on their time and comfort, not mine.

        The “onion and garlic?” exclamation, when it occurs, nets an “I know, right? It _really_ limits the options. It’s the same carbohydrate that means I can’t have wheat, actually – which I thought was fascinating, if rather annoying.”

        I carefully don’t call it an allergy, since it’s technically not, and that seems to help divert most of the questions. The onion/garlic gets an exclamation a lot of times because they are such ubiquitous flavors, though.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Side note: I truly do have to avoid *all* dairy (I’m wildly lactose intolerant). However, I would suggest even if you don’t, not admitting that in a restaurant; you could end up with more dairy than your personal tolerance allows.

        2. LBK*

          Ugh, I tried the low FODMAP diet for a bit and decided it wasn’t worth it. It’s just so restrictive I felt like I could barely eat anything I usually eat. Props to you for sticking with it!

          1. Kyrielle*

            I needed the help really badly – and it was seriously aggravating at first. It’s gotten a lot easier as I’ve accumulated recipes and good substitutes, though! (If you ever decide to make a go of it again, Nicer Foods has some low-FODMAP seasoning mixes, and garlic- and onion- infused olive oils. And I was able to find products I can one-to-one substitute for butter and flour.)

            In theory, if you stick with it for a few weeks and it’s helping you, you can start adding things back in – so you might reduce your intake of one of the carb types, keep another completely eliminated, and discover that still another is actually just fine for you. (I have serious envy of those who can have cheese, which actually includes most people who have to watch even lactose, given the small amount in hard cheese; I have yet to find anything I consider worth eating as a cheese substitute.)

            (I actually tolerate oligos to some degree, so I can take a risk on garlic or have a slice of wheat bread – but I don’t do it if I _really_ need to be sure of no reaction, just in case. And I don’t do it at restaurants because I have to guess how much I might get in a serving, and that’s not an easy guess.)

            1. misspiggy*

              Kyrielle, you might want to look at the blog North/South Food, which has lots of great FODMAP-safe recipes.

              1. Kyrielle*

                Ooo, thank you! I’ve found a lot of good resources on the internet, but somehow that one was not among them.

                There are so many of us hanging out here, I think I might start a “FODMAP friendly notes” sort of sub-thread on this coming weekend’s open thread.

                1. Anonforthis*

                  Yes! Please do!!! I wonder if there is a higher percentage of fodmapers that read AAM than other blogs? lol

                2. Kyrielle*

                  Anonforthis – maybe, but it’s estimated that 10-15% of the adult US population has IBS and 5-7% of the adult US population has been diagnosed with it. If even half of those have heard of FODMAPs (and it’s something more and more doctors are aware of, as well as plastered all over the internet), there’s a lot of us.

                  But it’s *entirely* plausible to me that we’re more likely to mention it here, because these comment sections are generally “safe” in ways that the comment sections of many other sites aren’t.

          2. Anonforthis*

            Oh I am so sorry to hear that- I’ve been on it for 2 years now having added back in some things and it literally changed my life. I have so much more energy, symptoms are much more manageable. It does require cooking a lot from scratch, but if you ever want ideas for meal plans do let me know, I’m happy to share!!

        3. Liza*

          Kyrielle, I’m going to make a note of that wording–thanks! I’m still getting used to low FODMAP. I have my go-to foods for home figured out, but negotiating restaurants (and how to tell people about the restrictions) is still a challenge.

        4. Anonforthis*

          Ah!!! I love your scripts! Also IBS SOLIDARITY :)

          Come to think of it I’ve tried the science angle and it does work to make me feel less like a patient/walking symptom machine in general conversation. Thanks for the reminder :)

      4. Turanga Leela*

        I’d say something like, “I have to follow a strict-ish diet for medical reasons. I know it seems complicated, but I feel so much better this way!” and then change the subject. I’d avoid saying “allergies” unless you’re actually allergic, because restaurants (and your coworkers, if they know what they’re doing) will take serious precautions if they think you have allergies.

        1. Kyrielle*

          To be fair, I object to ‘allergies’ myself because some people will think you might stop breathing, but on the other hand, I _want_ people to take serious precautions around my low-FODMAP diet. If they don’t, and they get a sufficient amount of dairy (one of my particular problem spots into me, and a sufficient amount isn’t very much at all!) into me, I will spend hours in the bathroom, possibly have to take extra medicine, and have to work really hard to stay hydrated enough not to go into secondary problems from dehydration.

          I…think that’s as much as I can describe without getting fairly gross, but suffice to say that I can lose a day or two to the experience and the recovery from it.

          1. Misc*

            Yeah. Another FODMAP-er here (fructose intolerance* turned out to be my worst offender (apples! cooked tomato! sugar with the wrong ratio of glucose to fructose!), but the fructans – wheat, onion, etc and lactose and … well all the other letters, are all pretty bad).

            My friends keep trying to make me tell people I’m allergic, because half the time, my requests get ignored and the food comes out with onions or something anyway. Or chilli. (My favourite is the places where I ask for a non-spicy option and they bring me something spicier than everyone else’s food. Every. Time. I don’t go to those restaurants any more).

            But the best part is the cripplingly violent stomach ache doesn’t kick in until I’ve just *finished* the meal, so it’s too late to send it back and get something safe. At which point, my stomach is ruined for the rest of the week, and I get to spend the next couple of days feeling terrible and looking for toilets constantly.

            *btw, apparently most IBS is actually probably fructose intolerance, which is also why the wheat/onions cause problems – breaks down into fructose. Which is not something I discovered until recently despite being on/researching the FODMAPs stuff for over a year – I only figured it out when I realised the awful crashes and depression was directly caused by sugar, but I wasn’t in the least diabetic. Turns out it was fructose! And I’ve just survived my first week ever without a single stomach pain. Until my mother made a cake with pear in it last night… The lactose intolerance developed more recently, probably due to stomach upsets from all the fructose intolerance (which I have definitely had my entire life, it explains SO MUCH about my ‘picky eating’).

            1. Misc*

              My usual script however is ‘I can’t digest a bunch of foods’.

              Can’t digest = obviously not good, without needing to go into details, doesn’t go straight to ‘allergy!!’ but makes it clear my stomach is abnormal and that it’s complicated enough that I need to scowl at the menu for half an hour and then make some special requests.

              1. Anonforthis*

                Thank you for this! I totally sympathize. Was an hour late for work this morning as I needed a toilet instead of being on the bus. It’s the worst when it’s caused by food made by somone who cooked for you!

                I don’t have many major episodes now thankfully (2-3 a month) but even the minor ones are disruptive. My fav symptom is the distended stomach- instant 9 months pregnant look in less than 30 min. I call it my “onion baby” BF was horrified the first time it happened, now we just laugh and laugh and pretend I’m having an onion child. :)

      5. Letter Writer*

        YES this is a problem! When I mention I have a fish allergy, people immediately ask “ooh, what happens if you eat it?” in this very “give me all the gory details” kind of way. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t really think to bring it up in an interview context–nothing like the words “well I spend the next two days ralphing and trying to avoid severe dehydration” to kill my chances! I don’t understand why so many people feel they have a right to know all about other peoples’ bodies.

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          People always assume mine is a life-or-death allergy, but actually, my seafood allergy isn’t all that serious – I’ll get a scratchy throat, swollen tongue etc. but I’ll live. But I don’t want people to think that means it’s OK for me to eat seafood! Every time I accidentally eat it (and because it’s a mild allergy, this happens every so often as I’m not super-vigilant) the reaction gets worse. I’d really rather not waste my 9 lives and get to the point where I DO have a life-threatening allergy!

          1. JessaB*

            Especially since allergies can turn on you and BOOM all of a sudden you’re anaphylactic. Seriously. I know someone who ate stuff most of her life and suddenly bang.

        2. Erin*

          I could see myself idiotically asking something like that – maybe – but if the other person responded politely but firmly, something like, “Let’s just say I will not feel well for awhile”, or something fairly vague, I definitely would not press further. I’m sure if you had a firm, go-to answer it would shut most people down pretty quickly.

        3. M from NY*

          I’ve asked in the past so I could be aware if person (unknowingly) starts to have reaction. I’ll save the gory details but cross contamination is real and knowing what was possibly wrong definitely saved time getting the help needed.

      6. LQ*

        Others have given really good advice here.
        When someone wants to get into the symptoms how about something like “I try to keep personal medical conditions out of polite conversation.” (Alternately, “Discussing my medical condition would make this a very impolite conversation.”) Though I’m not sure how much someone who thinks it is ok to ask about the symptoms of anything cares about being polite.

        1. Observer*

          They may actually care about politeness, but they almost certainly don’t want to be seen as not caring about it. Also, sometimes people do care, but just haven’t thought it through.

          On the other hand, there is my friend who does care about politeness. When I pointed out to her that it is impolite to ask about a particular thing she responded with “But then how can I find out about x if I’m curious?” My response was “You don’t. Who says you have a need to have your curiosity satisfied.”. She was pretty startled – but she hasn’t crossed that line since.

        1. Anonforthis*

          You’d be surprised by how many people respond to that with, “yes actually, it won’t bother me!”

          Then usually I say, “it’s really not polite dinner conversation”

          Then they reply, “oh come on, now I’m curious!”

          So at that point I think “f-it, they deserve the nasty details” and hen just lay it all on the line.

          One time a guy said, “OH, that’s what you meant by not polite. Yeah I get it now.”

          My friend said,”what the heck dos you think happens?! She said Gastrointenstinal issues!”

          He replied “yeah, I don’t now, sore stomach?”


      7. wanderlust*

        Honestly, for something that specific I’d probably just tell the interviewer in advance if there’s any kind of lunch scheduled that you’re on a restriction diet for health issues and suggest something that you can eat to help them choose something that works. Low-FODMAPS is SO specific that I think almost any restaurant would be a challenge. I have a friend who recently had to cut out all dairy and gluten and she just doesn’t eat out, period, pretty much.

      8. He threw a stabler!*

        I’m allergic to onions. It’s not impossible to be allergic to almost anything. Just some allergies or more common than others.

      9. TootsNYC*

        when people ask about symptoms, I’d go for, “It’s really best for me to not be specific” or “I’d rather not discuss things that granularly,” or something like that.

        And just be bland and boring. When they do the “?!” thing, just smile vaguely and say, “yes, it’s difficult at times.”

        And the third time, say something dead-ending, like maybe “Nevertheless.” Which is, actually, a full sentence. Hell, it’s a full paragraph.

        And my mother-in-law uses the phrase, “It doesn’t agree with me.” She doesn’t eat bell peppers; I think they give her gas or something. She could well be allergic, but she’s never said, and I don’t think she’s ever investigated. They just don’t agree with her. It’s somehow an innocuous enough phrase that no one ever challenges her on it.

      10. CM*

        The best response I’ve heard is, “I would tell you, but it’s really disgusting.”
        And then if they still press you about your symptoms, make it REALLY graphic and disgusting.

    5. INTP*

      I’m gluten free too and people can be so weird about it that I would be afraid to draw attention to it in a job interview context in any way. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “I don’t judge people for being gluten free as long as they don’t talk about it” or “as long as they have celiac disease” or “I don’t mind if people are vegetarian as long as they don’t expect people to cater to them.” I think it’s pretty likely that what I see as trying to navigate an awkward food situation as politely as I can, they would see as me jumping on opportunities to talk about my food restrictions. And people like to ask whether you have celiac, and I actually don’t know (the doctor I asked said I was too fat to be tested and after being GF for a year testing would be inaccurate), and then they helpfully bring up that study they read that said non-celiac gluten sensitivity might not exist. Even trying to choose a restaurant with my parents has devolved into eye-rolling (on their part) and telling me I might not really be gluten intolerant because they weren’t satisfied with what I was willing to eat in the restaurants where they wanted to eat. In social situations I don’t really care if those people get huffy, but in a situation where they are judging my professional future, like a job interview, it’s such a loaded subject that I would do anything to avoid bringing it up.

      For the OP though, I think people are far less judgmental about fish (or or nut or other anaphylactic type) allergies. That should be fine to bring up, though places with no non-seafood options are so rare that I can see someone not even realizing it would need to be said.

      1. Letter Writer*

        The gluten free really kills me. I had a roommate in college who had fibromyalgia and tried to eat gluten free, and people were such jerks about it. For some reason it has this reputation as a “fad diet” that people don’t take seriously. I saw firsthand how painful it was for her even accidentally having a little bit of something, and I couldn’t believe how rude and judgmental people could be. Like, just because one person can’t or won’t eat something doesn’t mean *you’re* not allowed to eat it! Nobody is judging you!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same here–someone in my meetup group has celiac and we always try to have stuff she can eat when we have food parties. She’s pretty good about taking care of her own stuff beforehand, or bringing her own, also.
          And some of the gluten-free recipes are pretty darn good, actually.

        2. INTP*

          Yeah, you really can’t win with GF unless you have a positive celiac test in hand (not that having CD is remotely enviable for other reasons). If you don’t say anything about why you are eating gluten free, people judge you for being a pseudoscience-believing bandwagon jumper. If you say something about your particular medical reasons, then they judge you for talking about your gluten sensitivity too much. And it’s pretty ironic that people react with defensiveness as though what I don’t eat is somehow an act of confrontation towards them because I consciously resist any impulses to say “Oh, giving up gluten helped me with that!” unless the person has specifically asked for my advice.

          1. Violet Fox*

            My dad has celiac and he’s had the problem that cross-contimation has become a lot more of an issue since GF has become a fad diet. The fad GF people who aren’t really GF and won’t actually get sick from it has made it a lot harder for people to believe him when he travels/is in an unfamiliar restaurant etc.

            1. KR*

              Also, there are varying levels of sensitivity with celiac disease! My dad has celiac, but he can handle minor cross contamination versus some people who need completely separate utensils and cooking surfaces!

              1. L*

                I’m one of those people with the separate cooking surfaces and utensils. My inlaws thought I was a major hypochondriac until I ended up in the hospital for multiple days with extreme issues and actual bloodwork that showed HOW bad their carelessness was.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          Geesh if it were a fad I don’t think entire sections of major grocery chains would be devoted to it. People don’t realize how serious celiac can be. My cousin in his early forties is having serious issues with his lungs right now that’s related to his celiacs (and he’s never smoked in his life).

          1. Megs*

            Well… the fact that entire sections of major grocery chains are devoted to it kind of shows that it’s a fad* – fads can certainly last long enough and be widespread enough to warrant major grocery stores stocking things that people want to buy. As TootsNYC and Aella note below, though, it’s a fad that has generally benefited people with Celiac’s and the like by making the food they can eat more available and cheaper (though I understand there are other drawbacks, like people not believing you when you say you really *can’t* eat gluten). Something can certainly be a fad diet for many people while being a medically necessary one for others.

            *I’m defining “fad” here as a diet intended to make one generally healthier or to lose weight.

          2. Observer*

            Oh, it’s a fad all right. I’m not arguing with the reality of celiac, nor the reality that some people who may not have celiac have a sort of significant sensitivity to gluten. So, when someone tells me “I can’t eat that” I don’t argue AT ALL, and I do whatever I can to accommodate them. (And if there is some shortfall, I warn them.) They may be faddish, but maybe they are not and I am not about to take that chance.

            But gluten as the root of all evil has no sensible basis. And, in fact, some people who do well on gluten free diets are successful because they are gluten free but because of the limits it puts on the junk they can eat. Also, gluten free works well for people with other issues that overlap gluten. For instance, you can be allergic to wheat but but not gluten. And wheat actually is a common allergen. Gluten free means wheat free so if you are allergic to wheat gluten free is great.

        4. TootsNYC*

          I have celiac. And I get really, really stroppy when people say, “Oh, you must hate all those health nuts jumping on the ‘gluten sensitivity’ bandwagon.”

          Like–what the hell do *I* care what they eat, and why? If they think they feel better when they avoid gluten, more power to them! Maybe it’s only a placebo effect–but you know what? Good for them! If they think it’s working, maybe it is. Even if it’s all in their head–it’s working, because they feel better.

          And good for them, trying to take care of themselves. It isn’t actually hurting them, and even if it was–it’s not my problem.

          And I mentioned elsewhere my mother-in-law, who doesn’t eat bell peppers because they “don’t agree” with her. Would anyone give her shit about it? No! it would be rude. So why the hell do you care about someone who’s avoiding gluten because they feel better if they do so?

          Plus: their buying decisions have created many more options for ME! I’m all for those people!

          It’s never happened at a job interview, but anytime I hear that, I go off on my little rant.

          1. Aella*

            Also, the more people who are gluten free, the more gluten free food they’ll buy, and the more options will be brought in.

          2. Observer*

            Actually, you would be surprised at just how many people WOULD give your MIL a hard. Why? I don’t know. I honestly do NOT understand people who get bent out of shape by what other people won’t eat.

            1. Observer*

              Just to be clear – I believe you when you say that she doesn’t get a hard time. I think she’s lucky and probably has a delivery that tends to stop that kind of stupidity.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              I wouldn’t. After a year on warfarin back in the late 1990s, I can’t eat broccoli for some reason. It makes me sick. It never used to. And it’s in every stir fry, every vegetable mix, etc. I’m lucky I can pick it out and not be affected, but it’s still annoying to explain it to people who ask, “Why aren’t you eating your broccoli? You don’t like it? Are you picky? Did you not like it as a kid?” Well, yes, I did, actually! And I still do–I just can’t eat it!

              So this wouldn’t surprise me at all.

      2. Mononymous*

        Your *doctor* said you were “too fat to be tested”?! What even… How does one’s weight interfere with endoscopy/biopsy or blood testing? Good grief, what an asshat!

        I totally get that the test wouldn’t be conclusive after already going gluten free. I have Crohn’s and developed gluten sensitivity at some point. I went GF on my own because I didn’t trust my awful doctor at the time, but still had a slight positive for Celiac on a blood test after a month or two GF when I did eventually tell him what I had discovered. I declined to go back to a “normal” gluten-filled diet for several months so he could do a more conclusive test.

        I do consider the “slight positive” to be a positive diagnosis, full stop, but I still feel uncomfortable calling it Celiac except when in a restaurant, trying to eat safely. I’ve gotten sick way too many times when restaurants were careless or didn’t really believe I wasn’t just on the fad diet bandwagon.

        It sucks not being invited along to events like girls’ nights or family outings because it is supposedly “too hard” to find a safe place I can eat. So, family, being able to eat anywhere you want is more important than spending time with me? Gee, thanks. Bad enough when this happens around optional/fun events; I’m super lucky I haven’t run into this at work yet.

        1. INTP*

          Well, in a literal sense she just said, “If you had celiac disease, you would have problems absorbing your food,” then looked me up and down and said “You don’t look like you have problems absorbing food.” Which I totally understand is untrue, but I don’t have a medical license to order my own tests, unfortunately. The kicker is that I have a family history of autoimmune disease, too. I figured a gluten intolerance + likely inherited autoimmune-prone gene (I forget what the variant is called) would warrant a test, but apparently not.

          I’ve had the most issues with my family, too. I’ve always had friends that were into types of food that can easily accommodate me and generally very tolerant of my quirks including eating iceberg salad with a kind bar from my purse if need be. But because of already dysfunctional family dynamics, trying to find a place to eat with my parents got so heated that they now will take my brothers out without telling me, and I live with them, lol. I’m even okay with them eating wherever they want and I’ll eat iceberg lettuce or whatever and have my meal later, but my mom feels guilty when I don’t eat a full, enjoyable meal because we’ve gone someplace that doesn’t accommodate me, and my stepdad refuses to eat anywhere that markets themselves as healthy/modern/exotic aka most places I can eat, so my food restrictions resulted in explosive conflict without me even caring where we ate, and I guess they decided it’s easier to tell themselves that I wouldn’t want to go.

          1. TootsNYC*

            total stupidity

            You have trouble absorbing NUTRIENTS. But you still get plenty of calories.

            1. GH in SoCAl*

              God yes. My close friend whose celiac was diagnosed in 2000 (before it was widely known) gained a ton of weight before they figured it out. Her body was sending her “Malnourished” messages because of the lack of nutrient absorption, she was anemic, and she kept eating to try and satisfy her body’s cravings for vitamins and minerals. But no amount of food was enough because she wasn’t processing it right.

              That Doctor should be reported.

          2. KR*

            I highly recommend that you find a new doctor, see a GI specialist (or another one if this was your GI doctor) and/or get a second opinion if you’re able – and I don’t say that a lot to people. Seriously. They’re right that the blood test is not very accurate once you’ve been gluten free for a while. A lot of the time, though, people only have trouble absorbing their food when the most of the damage is already done. Also, celiac disease can have a lot of other impacts on your health besides the usual diarrhea and abdominal pain and it’s something a medical professional should be looped in on. I say this as someone that has celiac disease in my family and am sensitive to gluten – time will tell if I have celiac but I am very vigilant about being aware of any symptoms I’m getting.

          3. Viktoria*

            Wow, your doctor was pretty offensive and incorrect when they said that. I have type 1 diabetes, which means I have an increased likelihood of getting celiacs also. I believe standard of care is to test us once per year for celiac… Regardless of weight.

            On that topic, now I’m wondering if I developed it, would the blood test work for me? I don’t eat gluten basically at all as a totally unintentional side effect of eating low carb.

            1. KR*

              The blood test isn’t effective from what I understand. They usually test with a colonoscopy to see how degraded the villi are.

      3. The Bread Burglar*

        To be honest, I would lie in that situation. Unfortunately people have too many varied opinions (mostly wrong) about gluten free to risk an unfair prejudice (especially a subconscious one).

        I would just say “Sorry I can’t have gluten because I am coeliac. I just avoid certain foods and I’m so used to it now it’s pretty easy to navigate…” Then figure out what you can order and redirect the conversation to talking about the job/employer with a “so tell me more about…” (Good opportunity to show you researched the company) and move on.

      4. Misc*

        If it helps, I’ve had much better reactions just saying ‘wheat free(, and gluten free means it’s wheat free)’. It sidesteps all the armchair sceptics who know just enough about gluten free to judge it a fad.

        …and it may actually be true for a lot of people trying to go gluten free (there are half a dozen other things in wheat that people can have the same problem with which are really hard to test for, or you could just be allergic, or you could have FODMAPs issues for *entirely* different reasons, so it covers all of them so people are less likely to nitpick (which happened to be my case. I had so many tiresome conversations that basically went “psssh, gluten free? Really?” “I don’t think I ‘can’t have gluten’, I just know I can’t have wheat because it does horrible things to me and gluten is a good way to check for wheat” “…oh, well then”. Now I actually know what it IS (fructose intolerance), so I can just go straight to that, but I had a few years of ‘wheat bad but not sure why’ before that)).

    6. TootsNYC*

      I think I’d personally be saying, “Could we have a non-lunch interview? I have to stay gluten free for medical reasons, and eating out is just such a pain in the neck.”

      I don’t know what I’d do for a full-day event, except that I do think you have obligation, actually, to let people know about food issues.

  3. Amo for This*

    I find it disappointing that any organization would pick a seafood restaurant for a lunch of this type as shellfish allergies are so common and can be deadly. I would have definitely said something if for no other reason this type of thing needs to be on the organisations radar for future interviewees. Future interviewees may not be able to eat in any sort of restaurant where cross contamination of food could cause an allergic reaction. Could you say something now? Or after you start? So at least in the future the organization can be more sensitive to these sorts of issues?

    1. Letter Writer*

      I’m definitely planning to say something after I start! This restaurant is on the campus of the institution and a lot of work functions either take place there or are catered by the restaurant, so I’m sure this isn’t the only time I’ll have to deal with this. I was just totally caught off-guard in the moment.

      1. auntie_cipation*

        Getting farther outside the scope of the original question here, but it sounds like there might be an opportunity to let the restaurant know how much more the institution (as well as outside customers if that happens) would enjoy and patronize the restaurant if they simply added a few non-seafood meals to their menu.

    2. Not Treif For Work*

      And many, MANY religions prohibit eating some/all types of seafood, so insisting on conducting job interviews at a seafood restaurant puts lots of candidates in a really tough spot!

    3. Erin*

      Yes, but, there are actually eight major food allergies: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. I think it’s too much to ask about and worry about. IMO it’s reasonable in a city known for seafood to choose a seafood restaurant; I think it’s on the person with the allergen to speak up – they won’t know there’s a problem otherwise. Once they do, reasonable people will be happy to accommodate. I have CF and I don’t expect people to cater to my lung issues if they don’t know about it.

      That being said, yeah, it would have taken one second to ask about food allergies in general. But yeah, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect them to single out a fish or a shellfish allergy when there are many potential allergies or special circumstances that could come up.

  4. Bend & Snap*

    I have a severe shellfish allergy, and I get not wanting to speak up in a business situation, but so many restaurants are good with allergies. Legal Seafood is by far the best restaurant I’ve ever encountered as far as allergy accommodations.

    I had a business dinner with a large group at an oyster house and that was awkward but they found some salads and sides that I could eat.

    When in doubt, ask the server!

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      And Legal’s is simply amazing food in general. I highly support business lunches there!

    2. Letter Writer*

      That’s good to hear about Legal! My boyfriend LOVES fish and never gets to cook it unless I’m out of town, so he’s really excited about being in Boston. He’s been wanting to go to Legal and it’ll be nice to know that I have options there.

      1. straws*

        A chef-friend of mine once told me that you should always tell your waiter. A good chef wants you to love their food and not get sick from it. So if you do have an allergy, they should make sure you have something delicious & will work with you. Coincidentally, he used to work at Legal :) I have a dairy allergy, and since I took him at his word on this I’ve found that it’s always worked out. Some chefs have completely redone dishes just so I could eat them, and then come out to make sure I liked it!

      2. TL -*

        Legal is *awesome* about allergies. You might not have many options (and I doubt they’ll be as good as the seafood) but you’ll never get sick there.

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I’m allergic to everything that lives in water, so I am always on edge when clients pick a seafood place.

      I get embarrassed that I have to ask people to ensure that there is no cross-contamination of my salad.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I’m never afraid to ask for chicken or steak to be pan fried…gets around the grill and deep fried issue.

      2. straws*

        Please don’t be embarrassed (and see my comment just above about my chef-friend!) Restaurants are there so you can enjoy food (& ambiance & company), and that includes not getting sick. As long as you’re polite, you’re not an inconvenience or anything like that.

      1. L McD*

        One could also live on their cheddar biscuits.

        Probably. I’ve never tried. That’s where I’m headed in the zombie apocalypse though. They’ve probably got plenty of lemon slices for scurvy, too.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I totally believe this happened, OP, but I’m more surprised that not even the sides were vegetarian, such as mashed potatoes or steamed spinach, which are common at steakhouses.  I guess if a restaurant is known for its seafood, then it won’t waste too much effort on anything else.

    OP, I totally get why you didn’t say anything.  I wouldn’t want to say anything either because you don’t want to make the other person uncomfortable for the remainder of the lunch.  But you could have said something, preferably as soon as you heard the restaurant choice, that would have been well-received.  Any reasonable employer will get the message immediately and accommodate appropriately.  At the very least, you should let them know as soon as you start because I can see you facing a lot of offers for oysters and crab cakes.  The longer you don’t tell them, the more awkward it’s going to be.

    But don’t dwell on it either.  It’s hard in social situations, especially job interviews, to know what the “right” response.  No one is perfect because if they were, this blog wouldn’t exist.

    This post reminds me of the Friends episode where Rachel had to pretend she smoked because her boss and her rival coworker were discussing work opportunities on their smoke breaks and Rachel didn’t want to miss out.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I didn’t hear the restaurant choice until we walked into the restaurant. :( I was also surprised that there weren’t any pure vegetable salads or anything! But all of the salads either included tuna or smoked salmon, or had a “classic Caesar dressing” (which includes anchovies). I’m definitely going to say something when I’m there–the restaurant is actually on the institution’s campus and it seems like a fair number of business lunches and brunches take place there or are catered by the restaurant.

      1. danr*

        Maybe you can go to the restaurant and speak with the manager to explain the problem. They might be willing to add some non-fish and vegetarian options. And they might be surprised by having a popular new dish or three.

  6. Erin*

    I can’t eat gluten and always pack snacks in case I realize too late that there’s nothing for me to eat at the restaurant (I’ve been given a plate of rice before). I just thought this was common practice if you have dietary restrictions. I ended up having to order gluten free pizza to a wedding reception one time because the couple had a spot for dietary restrictions on the RSVP and ignored them completely. The pizza place was the only one that delivered. Now I always travel with snacks, even if I think they’ll be feeding me appropriate food.

    1. Mando Diao*

      It’s honestly really rare that a seafood restaurant wouldn’t have a house salad or even a basic chicken or beef entree. This isn’t a dig at you personally, but I wouldn’t advise people to start bringing their own food into restaurants for business lunches when the better solution is to speak up about a health issue.

      1. BananaPants*

        It is really unusual that a seafood restaurant wouldn’t have a non-fish entree or even a salad or veggie plate. I would not bring my own food for a business lunch, especially not where I was being interviewed for a job.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Also, seafood is generally much, much easier to avoid in the US than gluten. So I can see why OP didn’t even have it on the radar.

      2. Erin*

        Yeah I’m not talking about bringing a lunch box with me, but I keep a couple things of beef jerky and kind bars in my car/purse. They get eaten most when I’m at conferences or interviewing. Fish allergies might be different, but gluten hides so very well in lots of places (salad dressing, seasoning on meat). I speak up when I can, but often it’s too late and the host feels awkward if they can’t do anything about it.

        1. Mando Diao*

          This is tapping into certain sensitivities for me, but bringing your own food and not saying anything, as opposed to just casually saying you have an allergy, is pretty bog-standard eating disorder behavior. You’d be raising eyebrows instead of diffusing the situation.

          Having snacks in your bag for a conference is one thing, but bringing enough food into a restaurant to sub for a whole meal is not only rude, but it’s bound to eventually “ping” with someone and make them suspect you have an illness that you don’t actually have.

          I mean, do what works for you in your particular work setting. All I’m saying is that continually showing up with your own food and eating it without comment isn’t a way to avoid drawing attention to your eating habits. Since we’re talking about an interview (and not a long-term employment situation), optics and first impressions matter.

          1. TL -*

            Oh, hey, corn and wheat allergy here. Bringing your own food is practical, not eating disordered. If someone tells me a restaurant is fine with gluten free options, and then I see they make pizza dough in-house – nothing there is good for me to eat. Flour is everywhere at that point and I can get sick, starve, or pull out snacks I brought discreetly afterwards.
            The LW’s situation is unusual, but there are some allergies where you just get caught out sometimes. It happens.

            1. Mando Diao*

              But the point is that you’d at least say something, or ask about gluten-free options when you get there, in front of your prospective employer. Sitting there with your own food, saying nothing, and expecting people not to notice isn’t the way to go.

              1. TL -*

                Oh I’d say something, sure. And I’d eat later, very quickly, if I couldn’t eat, not pull out my own food at the table.

            2. Emilia Bedelia*

              Sure, but that’s not the situation they’re describing. Asking in advance about meal options for your eating needs and being prepared when plans go awry is very different from showing up with your own food and not indicating why. That would read very very weird, in my opinion- not necessarily because it reads as an eating disorder, just because it’s so out of the norm. Even an offhand “turns out the gluten free didn’t work out, good thing I love this snack food here!”would give enough explanation as to why you BYOFood’d to a restaurant.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I guess I missed it–I didn’t see anybody suggests bringing your own food for a whole meal’s worth.

          2. Tinker*

            The bit about “not saying anything” was not contained in the comment you’re replying to — what she’s talking about is bringing backup food in the event that one finds oneself unable to eat any of the food. This is something that can happen for certain sorts of food allergy, and when this happens eating the restaurant’s food in order to stave off inappropriate speculation about one’s mental health is not an option.

            I hope that it would be obvious that it would not be healthy behavior for me to eat a shrimp because someone else might think it rude or disordered for me not to.

            That leaves eating nothing at all, which I can’t help but think is also on the menu of eating disorder behavior, and eating some food not provided by the restaurant of things that are going to kill you if you eat it. Obviously you want to avoid this circumstance if at all possible, and obviously regardless of which option you choose casually disclosing the allergy is likely to be the best option, but having known good food available to fill the gap — which is specifically what Erin said they were doing — is the sensible decision.

            The behavior of people with food allergies is invariably going to overlap somewhat with at least some forms of disordered eating. If that is a problem for other people, they are going to have to deal with it.

    2. LBK*

      I think gluten is a lot more pervasive, though – it’s common in pretty much any type of cuisine so it’s likely you’d need an alternative regardless of the restaurant. I don’t think the OP should’ve had to anticipate that they’d be taken to a seafood-only restaurant, which is pretty unusual. I live in Boston where seafood restaurants abound and most of them have at least a few non-seafood options (at least more robust offerings than rice and mushrooms).

  7. matcha123*

    I think it would have been best to say that you were allergic to fish. It wasn’t until I came to Japan and saw a lot of people online asking about non-fish options that I realized that a seafood allergy was a thing!

    Telling them will also keep them from inadvertently giving you something that could make you sick.

    There are a lot of foods that I just don’t like, but I’m not allergic to. And I feel awkward saying I don’t eat oysters, but yours isn’t a situation where you just don’t like something…you can’t eat it. Don’t be afraid to speak up!

    1. AFT123*

      I agree, and also it would be good to give them a heads up just in case you accidentally ingested something that caused a bad reaction! At least they would know what was happening right away and be more equipped to get you the right help.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I think a lot of people don’t think about seafood allergies, or if they do they only think shellfish.

      Recently, I have just started ordering the vegetarian option at luncheons, because everyone is doing a salad with salmon or tuna.

  8. LBK*

    I’m surprised someone would choose a seafood restaurant if only because there’s plenty of people who just plain don’t like it, not even factoring in allergies. Maybe I have a particularly seafood-averse social circle but at least half of the people I go out to dinner with regularly don’t eat it.

    1. Letter Writer*

      The institution is in Boston, so seafood is a pretty major part of the culture. It made sense to me that they would try to “show off” what their city is famous for…unfortunately that’s the one part of the city that I’m not excited about! :D

      1. Jillian*

        I’d have been right there with you – I wouldn’t have said anything up front because I would’ve assumed there would be SOMETHING on the menu I could eat. Once you’re settled, you really should talk to the restaurant manager. If your institution does a lot a business there they might listen. You really aren’t the only person in Boston that either can’t eat or doesn’t like seafood.

  9. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)*

    There’s also a point where not being any trouble becomes you’re being super weird. Just eating a sad place of rice and mushrooms in a seafood restaurant without saying why is that point. If a potential employer thinks badly of you for adocating for yourself, that’s already a giant red flag.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Or even that you have an allergy. They’re not all that uncommon, and if I’d invited someone to a place centered on one specific dish and they ate weird sides, my first thought would be “Oh crap! Did I invite you somewhere you can’t eat anything? How thoughtless of me.”

          1. Kelly L.*

            Well, I didn’t say everyone would jump to that conclusion–just that a lot of people would, and this person might have been a bit of an outlier.

      2. Cat*

        That’s actually not a great assumption for people to have in many of the kinds of jobs where you’re taken out for lunch at an interview. If part of the job is entertaining clients, for instance, which is often what those lunch interviews are kind of simulating, people are going to subconsciously and consciously be evaluating that, and partaking in food is (rightly or wrongly) part of that. Which is one reason why I think cheerfully getting dietary restrictions out on the table is a good thing.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, there’s something really primal about sharing food with somebody, even at a restaurant. You want a way to say “My meal is not a judgment,” and an allergy announcement does that.

        2. Meg Murry*

          Yes, I also agree that if OP could get a clear “I’m allergic to fish, but the mushrooms and rice are good” message across in a straightforward way, that probably would have been best (although I totally understand why OP didn’t in the moment). If I was at a restaurant with a person who was only eating 2 items off the menu, I would be afraid that I was in for a repeat of my super obnoxiously picky former colleague. No allergies, she just only had a very limited number of foods she liked, she absolutely wasn’t into considering trying new foods and she wasn’t overly polite about letting you know that. I’m recovering from being a super picky eater, so I understand a little bit, but it got to be a major headache when we tried to plan team lunches and she vetoed pretty much everywhere but your standard “American” restaurant. Finally I think the boss talked to her and told her we would accommodate her on some team lunches, but not every single time, and not if it was a celebratory lunch for someone else.

          So because of that, I’m afraid my brain goes to “picky and potentially obnoxious” rather than “allergic” if I’m not in a super gracious mood. I wouldn’t have been rude to OP about it, but I would have been watching for other signs of being difficult to work with if it wasn’t made clear to me that she was only eating mushrooms and rice due to an allergy.

  10. Meredith*

    If I were the interviewer, I would have vastly preferred you bringing it up when we got to the restaurant. That way I would have some sort of context for what was going on, and I’m the sort of person who would have been happy to change plans and go somewhere else. That way, you and I still get a good lunch, and I’m not wondering what the heck is going on. I guess that might be hard to bring up in the moment, though.

    I mean, ideally they would have cleared the restaurant with you first, but Allison’s comments about food restrictions and general knowledge thereof are accurate. This is all up to you and your comfort level, but with an expansive allergy like “allergic to all fish,” I would say that it’s not unreasonable for you to bring it up proactively if you’re arranging an interview where lunch will be served so that the interviewers know where they can take you.

    Congratulations on getting the job, though!

    1. Letter Writer*


      I agree, I definitely should have said something! I could tell walking in that it was a seafood place, but it wasn’t until I started reading through the menu that I realized it was an ONLY seafood place. I was so caught off guard that I went into damage control “ok is there anything here that I actually can eat” mode. But this restaurant is on the campus of the institution, so I think a lot of work functions either happen there or are catered by the staff, so I’ll need to speak up sooner or later.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Definitely speak up soon! I had a vegan employee, only I didn’t find out he was vegan until his welcome lunch. Thankfully I had selected a place that had a few vegan options, but I was kicking myself because there are so many better options around town.

      2. hbc*

        I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’m vegetarian, and I was suddenly presented with Jack’s Slaughterhouse as the restaurant, I’d be disappointed, but still expect to find something. Then looking at the menu and realizing I have to go off-menu or make a meal of two bland sides? Normally I’d choose the former, but in an interview, I’d do the same thing as you, in a heartbeat.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      If I were the interviewer, I would have vastly preferred you bringing it up when we got to the restaurant.

      If I were the interviewer, I would have checked with the interviewee beforehand: “We’d love to take you out for lunch, and we have lots of great choices here in Boston. Do you have any dietary restrictions or cuisine preferences?”

      I used to live and work in Boston, and my co-workers were all meat- and seafood-eaters and drinkers. I didn’t eat meat or seafood, and I was a teetotaler at the time (for medical reasons). It wasn’t an issue. I just made it clear to my co-workers “This is what I eat, and this is what I don’t eat, and I don’t drink.” We still went to steakhouses and seafood restaurants, but they would make sure there was at least one vegetarian option. I did sometimes have to order off-menu. That said, there are a lot of seafood restaurants in Boston that make excellent (I kid you not) grilled cheese sandwiches / tomato soup.

  11. JB*

    I have food allergies too, and it’s sometimes really hard to find something acceptable on a menu- especially at a place like that! I totally understand not wanting to say anything, but it’s getting a lot more acceptable to have food restrictions than it was a few years ago. And like others have said, a lighthearted delivery will make the message go over way better. My go-to phrase when people try to get me to try things is “sorry, I’m allergic to a lot of things, so it’d be safer if I stick to my salad. It smells great though!”

  12. Emmie*

    You’ll be faced with this often in the new city, so you’ll want to proactively address it in future meetings. Something like “hey, I have a seafood allergy. What’s the name of the restaurant, so I can check the menu for non-seafood items?” But, I totally get why you would not want to address this during the interview. I would have been reluctant to do so as well. Good luck!

  13. TCO*

    In both my personal and professional lives, I’m used to managing dietary restrictions at events. In my office we always ask about dietary restrictions and happily accommodate even the more complicated ones. We really care about customer service so it’s essential that we make sure everyone can eat. We also have various allergies and restrictions among our staff, which has helped raise awareness and understanding even among staff who aren’t responsible for event planning.

    That said, as a vegetarian I’m always surprised to discover how many events/places don’t take even common restrictions like mine into account. It’s not uncommon for me to attend weddings, banquets, etc. where there’s simply no meatless option. I don’t personally care–like many others here, I pack snacks and manage just fine and keep a cheerful, “But this salad is great!” attitude or whatever–but I do hate that it can draw unwanted attention to me. I don’t want a fuss.

    Anyway, OP, a lot of people would have done better than your interviewers did, but it’s also still really common for people to just not think about this. You were in a tricky spot because you don’t want to appear high-maintenance or weird or unwell. I’m glad you got the job and I wouldn’t put any more thought into the interview. Congrats!

    1. TootsNYC*

      We had a big potluck at church, and I was so p.o.’d at myself. I’d made a rice salad, and thought, “Oh, hey, if I set aside some without cheese, it can be vegan!”

      Then I remembered (thank God!) that I’d tossed some boullion powder in the water when I cooked the rice. Rats!

      But next time, I think I’m going to make a point of making it without that next time, so I can cover gluten-free and vegan with a single dish.

  14. Liana*

    I think the employers should have asked you – it’s pretty tone deaf on their end. Plenty of people, such as my mother, are allergic to seafood, and you’d think they’d be more conscious of other people’s diets. You mentioned upthread the interview was in Boston – we have tons of restaurants that don’t serve seafood, or are full vegetarian, so it’s not like they didn’t have options. I also think it’s completely fine to mention this proactively! As I mentioned, my mother is allergic to seafood, and whenever she has a business lunch/dinner, she says so upfront.

  15. Liraeal*

    This topic is really timely for me, as I was just diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I’m going to a conference next month, but luckily the organizers have taken dietary restrictions into consideration. But I’m worried now about future business-related dining.

    1. danr*

      Speak to your server when you’re ordering. A friend with celiac did that when we went out to eat. The server had some suggestions and checked with the kitchen. Our friend had a fantastic meal and it was priced in line with the rest of the menu.

      1. KR*

        Yes! If you mention that you have celiac disease, many chefs will take the time to properly wipe down their work stations and check for cross contamination. People are much more aware of these things than they were even 1o years ago.

        1. Master Bean Counter*

          Yes they are!
          A few years ago I was trying to figure out my Citrus fruit allergy. I just tried to avoid all of it for a very long time. It was hard. I love seafood, but back then the only it seemed to come in a restaurant was cooked with lemon. One time I asked for some scampi with out the lemon. They still used lemon juice in the sauce but took the lemon wedges off the plate.
          Another time I asked for no lemon I got lime and orange instead. Um….I guess that’s my fault because I didn’t say no citrus fruit at all.
          I am so happy now that things like teriyaki mango and sesame mustard are popular for seafood. Also the chefs now have much better knowledge about allergies. If I ask for no lemon I don’t get other fruit in the same family.

    2. Navy Vet*

      Unfortunately in areas famous for their seafood, the locals often assume it’s a perk. Because they like it. In fact, I sometimes feel like the odd one out who thinks seafood both tastes and smells horrible.

      This is a huge problem for me too. I am a pretty strict vegetarian. (No fish no meat of any kind). I also happen to have Celiac disease and a shellfish allergy. Which makes eating out an absolute nightmare for me. Gluten is often hidden in many things you wouldn’t suspect. (Like soy sauce. The word soy is in the title, but most soy sauce is made primarily from wheat). You really have to speak up. If the city is known for it’s seafood, your interviewers probably just made the assumption you would be up for it. There is really no way for them to know you have allergies. And like Alison said, if you don’t have them or know someone who does, you might not even think to ask.

      And seeing that Celiac disease reactions are frequently not immediate….you might not see results for a couple hours. Since you don’t get the dramatic anaphylaxis you do with allergies you are frequently told you are making it up.

      After my diagnosis, when I turned down a piece of cake at a company event and had to explain why. (I hate when people just can’t take “No thanks” as a reason for not wanting cake etc) The president of the company told me that I was full of it and Gluten intolerance (and celiac disease) was not real. The rest of the company took cue from that and it got to the point where I had to actively make myself scarce for any company event to involved food.

      So question for everyone: What’s the best way to respond to a person who says your diagnosed medical condition is not real? And by not real I mean, the condition in their minds is made up.

      Side note @ liraeal – if you can get the menu in advance you can see what items a restaurant has that can be made into something you can eat. Do not be afraid to tell the server you have Celiac disease. Use those words. Most places have a separate gluten free menu. Make sure they know you can not have cross contamination and beware of deep fryers. If the restaurant does not have a dedicated gluten free fryer, do NOT order any fried food.

      1. Jillian*

        I would say “My intestine thinks it’s real”. (Maybe not, but I’d want to). Due to damage from chemotherapy and pelvic radiation, I can’t digest a lot of really common foods and have been told it’s my imagination – “My aunt had radiation she doesn’t have any issues”. Celiac is even worse; lots of people don’t believe it’s real and feel free to comment on someone else’s dietary choices or requirements.

        1. Navy Vet*

          Oh that’s the worst…I make an effort to not say the words “my xxx (fill in the blank for relative etc) had that and they xxx” (Fill in the blank for how they responded to same thing).

          Everyone has different results from chemo/radiation. I had a friend with pin straight blonde hair before chemo. Now its curly and red.

      2. Erin*


        “I have celiac disease” is worlds away from, and should be more effective than, “I’m gluten free.”

      3. TL -*

        “I have a gluten allergy” is the best phrasing I’ve seen – allergy is the key word in restaurants and people generally are aware of gluten, if they’re not aware of Celiac’s.

        1. KR*

          It’s a shame that it’s the best phrasing. I always feel so wrong calling it an allergy – because it isn’t. You’re right though, it’s the best way to get people to respect your dietary restrictions.

          1. Navy Vet*

            I have 2 problems with calling it an allergy.

            1. It invokes images of throats closing and epi pens. Which is far from the case for most people with celiac disease. And when restaurant staff who think they understand allergies/dietary restrictions better than the patron who suffers from it, it ends in articles where they brag that they “glutened” everything and nobody became ill. (too bad they aren’t at your house later on when you ARE ill)
            2. It makes me think of the sex and the city episode where Carrie told the waiter she was allergic to parsley. Then she confided in her dinner partner that she just hated it. Which is the reason many restaurant workers tend to not take patrons seriously when they do tell them they have a dietary restriction.

            1. TL -*

              So I have a wheat allergy that I shorthand as gluten allergy and most restaurants get that in a way they don’t either wheat allergy or celiac’s (which a good friend has.) I have a reaction within 15 minutes of consuming and most places are actually pretty good about giving me clean food. (I’m pretty careful about what I order and where I go.)

              If the terminology works, I use it.
              Now I’m careful not to order beer where I eat, because I say gluten, but frankly, I think you should use whatever term gets your point across.

            2. KR*

              Yeah, that was my point that it’s a shame it’s the only one that seems to get the point across. I’m familiar with the disease and the whole not-taking-allergies-seriously thing.

        2. TCO*

          I’ve had a friend explain it as, “It’s a severe allergy, not just a preference” to really help distinguish him (who has Celiac) from people who just prefer to eat gluten-free.

          1. Misc*

            There’s a local salad wrap place that actually asks upfront if it’s ‘celiac or intolerance’, which is pretty awesome. I never have to feel bad pretending I’m celiac, they can sidestep half the hassle of avoiding cross contamination.

      4. Doriana Gray*

        The president of the company told me that I was full of it and Gluten intolerance (and celiac disease) was not real. The rest of the company took cue from that and it got to the point where I had to actively make myself scarce for any company event to involved food.

        That is awful. And I would have been tempted to hit him with that cake.

  16. jm*

    I live in a coastal city and we often take visitors to one of our local seafood restaurants as a treat (or, what we perceive as a treat for people who do not have access to fresh, local seafood). Thanks for posting this…it’s a reminder to me that the food we consider a treat could cause trauma to others! I’m checking the menus at our favorite places for non-seafood, GF, nut-free, etc., items right now….

    1. Mando Diao*

      I think a lot of people don’t realize that seafood isn’t Kosher. There are a lot of progressive, trendy regions in the Northeast that don’t have seafood joints that aren’t Red Lobster or Joe’s Crab Shack. As an adult (and lapsed Jew) I’ve discovered a love for shrimp and crab cakes, but I’d be at a total loss in a seafood restaurant if I got the vibe that it would seem weird to just order a few shrimp sides. I’ve never eaten lobster or real crab. Lobster is actually one of those weird etiquette things…people who didn’t know how to eat lobster were judged as low-class. Bringing people to a seafood restaurant and then “setting an example” by ordering lobster or crab can bring up some pretty weird associations and pressures.

        1. Mando Diao*

          Depending on the cooking methods, even the regular fish might be contaminated. Same fryer or pans? I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be okay with that, and again, I’m from a region where there’s a lot of variation and levels of casualness with Judaism. Still, I would never suggest even fish at a seafood place; there are enough people who wouldn’t touch it.

          This isn’t to be fussy about anything, just that as someone who grew up keeping Kosher in a Jewish region, saying “just get the salmon” would absolutely not fly.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Well, sure, but anything could be contaminated, not just the fish. But it sounded like you were saying that fish across the board isn’t kosher, and that’s not true. Salmon, for example, is kosher — assuming it’s prepared according to kosher rules, just like anything else that’s kosher. It’s just shellfish that’s inherently not kosher, no matter how it’s handled.

      1. Observer*

        There is a similar problem with any meat restaurant, though. In fact, it’s probably worse, because fish like salmon itself is kosher unless you mess up by cooking it with non-kosher stuff. Meat isn’t kosher even if it’s from a kosher animal if it hasn’t been properly slaughtered. And cross contamination, so to speak, with something like pork, isn’t the only potential problem, even if you don’t care about Kosher slaughter. Meat and dairy is another major no-no. Given how many sauces use milk, butter or cream, there is almost no way you are going to be able to avoid either something with dairy or someone that was prepared in utensils with dairy / meat and dairy mixture.

        The bottom line is that if you want to accommodate someone who keeps kosher, just go to a kosher place. And if it’s someone who is casual about it but wants to avoid the major issues, go to a vegan place.

        1. doreen*

          I know people who keep kosher to varying degrees ( everything from only at home, to only during Passover to people who eat cheeseburgers but not bacon cheeseburgers) but if they wouldn’t eat salmon because it might have been cooked in a pan that was previously used to cook shellfish , they wouldn’t eat in a non-kosher restaurant at all.

          1. Observer*

            That’s mostly been my experience too. It’s just too hard to avoid that kind of problem.

        2. Cas*

          Yes, I just have to avoid lunch meetings or only have a drink because there are no Kosher places around. But it can be very hard to explain because you don’t want to get too far into the details, but people can be a bit curious…

          1. Observer*

            That’s the advantage of living in a city like New York, where there are lots of options.

          2. November*

            If there’s a lunch meeting at a restaurant, I just try to bring my own lunch and keep it carefully clear from the food on the table. Some restaurants don’t really allow outside food, though.

      2. Chinook*

        ” Lobster is actually one of those weird etiquette things…people who didn’t know how to eat lobster were judged as low-class.”

        This really is a cultural thing. Out on the east cost of Canada, lobster is considered low class food by locals because they could only afford to eat what they caught. It made for really disappointing meals with in-laws who insisted on showing the prairie girl how upper class their family was by serving her pot roast instead of crab, lobster and mussels (which I was hoping for).

        For me, one should not be shocked if someone from away is brought out for a meal to show off the culture and it is food that is culturally specific. In Boston, that would be seafood. If you were in Alberta, that would be steak (even though we have raised some very public vegetarians as well). If I went to India, I would expect some spicy curry and lentils. If my guest didn’t speak up about allergies or other dietary restrictions, this would be my go to treat for them because this is my chance to show off what makes my part of the world special and, in fact, would feel like I was insulting them if I didn’t offer them the food we were known for.

  17. Nye*

    They should have asked if you had any allergies when setting up the interview. I would have been really embarrassed if I’d been in charge of picking the restaurant and it turned out that nearly all the food would make the interviewee sick. That said, as someone without allergies, I would love to be taken out to a good restaurant that showcases some regional cuisine. I don’t think it’s necessary to bring everyone to a restaurant that can cater to every possible dietary allergy or aversion, especially since such restaurants can be rare in many parts of the country. But I do think it’s important to pick a place where your guest can eat, and asking about allergies in advance, as a no-big-deal thing, would be easy and thoughtful.

    That said, if I were ever in OP’s position, I’d probably do the same. I get that your hosts would probably have preferred to know that you really couldn’t eat there, but personally I think I’d feel self-conscious bringing it up. Once you start working there, it should be a bit easier to mention if the topic of work lunches comes up!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yeah, I totally understand why they took me there! It makes sense to show off the famous local cuisine if you’re trying to attract someone to the institution (and therefore the area), and the place also had a really beautiful view of the city, so I could tell they were proud of it. I think, like many are saying, the idea of food allergies or other restrictions just didn’t occur to them. Maybe I can be the official allergy advocate once I start there. :)

  18. Letter Writer*

    Thanks for the advice, Alison et al! I agree that I could have and should have spoken up in the moment, and will definitely do so the next time this comes up. :)

    I think part of my hesitancy came from the fact that in the past, when I’ve mentioned I have a fish allergy, people tend to immediately ask what happens to me when I eat fish! (I’ve seen a few other people with food allergies commenting…does this happen to you?) And since what happens to me is, well, not pleasant, I didn’t really want to go down that road in an interview context. But I guess at that point, I can give a polite MYOB and stick to my little hobbit lunch.

    1. straws*

      I hate that question! I tend to stick to laughing a little and saying “I don’t really want to discuss that while we’re all eating!”, and that usually helps stop the discussion from going down that road.

    2. Allison*

      Yeah, that’s not polite to ask. It doesn’t matter what happens, even if it’s a minor reaction that doesn’t mean you should “eat some anyway.”

    3. Kristine*

      >(I’ve seen a few other people with food allergies commenting…does this happen to you?)

      I’m not allergic to many foods, but I am a vegetarian. Whenever I bring it up (in the context of selecting a lunch place), I always get a million questions. I realize people aren’t trying to be nosy or annoying, but it can get tiring when I have to answer the same questions so many times. There’s also the few people who get really antagonistic or defensive about it and that just makes me uncomfortable.

      Thankfully I can usually avoid bringing it up, because it’s very rare that a restaurant will have literally nothing I can eat. Plus, I genuinely enjoy soup and salad. :)

      1. LQ*

        I read antagonistic as agnostic 3 times and just could not figure out how someone who was agnostic about it would care at all. I think my office may to be to hot to read today!

    4. Don't you tell me how to get to Sesame Street*

      I am allergic to sesame seeds/oil, and “what happens when you eat it?” is ALWAYS the first question people ask me when I tell them. I guess they’re trying to gauge where it falls on the spectrum of “will die if in the same room with it” to “brief, mild discomfort”, but it just seems like such a weird and intrusive question to ask. If my allergy were life-threatening, I’d lead with that!

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      I think one of the reasons for the question is that the type of reactions are varied. Some get itchy, some get hives, some people’s throat closes, others vomit or have diarrhea. Most of my allergies are of the itchy hive variety except for the gluten and dairy which are actually intolerances. My avocado allergy, however, is a true allergy but manifests with the severe vomiting, at times leading to hospitalization for fluids. My response to questions about what happens if I eat avocados is “severe GI distress. Sometimes requiring a trip to the hospital.” They can use their imagination from there.

      1. Mimmy*

        While I still think it’s none of their business, I can see their point: they probably just want to know what to look for should there be accidental exposure to the item you’re allergic to.

        1. Windchime*

          My sister has some pretty severe allergies. The worst thus far is hazelnuts; she always says, “No hazelnuts, unless someone is ready to call 911”. The first time she had a reaction, she was (luckily!) dining at a friend’s home. The friend happened to be an RN and knew what was happening and gave sis some Benadryl while she was still able to swallow.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Or do they want to pass judgment on the severity of your allergy?
          “It’s just an itchy nose, I don’t need to worry about accommodating you.”

          1. Chinook*

            “Or do they want to pass judgment on the severity of your allergy?
            “It’s just an itchy nose, I don’t need to worry about accommodating you.””

            Nope, in my case I ask in order to judge if I should be worrying about cross contamination. If it is something life threatening, then I won’t risk it the contamination. But if it is just an itchy nose, then I feel safe having the food at the same table as the person with allergy as long as they have an alternative meal.

    6. DeskBird*

      I suppose I do get asked that – although it’s never really bothered me. Usually I’ll just say “I’ll end up in the hospital – let’s try to avoid that yea?”

      What bothers me is when people try to find an exception. “What are you allergic to?” “Fish” “So just shellfish” “Shellfish and fish” “But what kind of fish?” “All the fish” “No – but what kind of fish can you eat?” “I can’t eat fish!” “Have you tried allll the kinds of fish??? eh??” “No – because I don’t want to die.” Like if I keep trying different kind of fish and being hospitalized, then trying more fish then one day I will find a kind of fish that won’t send me to the hospital. As though fish was some magic food that it’s not worth living without.

      1. Chocolate Coffeepot*

        This happens to me all the time, too — I’ll mention that I can’t eat fruit and then everyone else starts naming every fruit they can think of. (You can’t eat oranges? Grapefruit? Bananas? And on and on …) I do usually explain that I’ll break out in hives 6 or 8 hours later, because not tolerating fruit is so unusual.

        1. Observer*

          Actually what is unusual is not being able to handle ANY fruit. Most people can handle some types of fruit, but not others. Like some people cannot handle a single fruit. Others cannot handle ANY citrus, but apples and “stone fruit” (peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots) are ok. Or the reverse – stone fruit are dangerous, but citrus are ok.

          Not that anyone should be pushing. Just because something is uncommon doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And, if you can’t eat any fruit, you can’t.

          It’s not quite the same as with fish – if you are allergic to fish you are generally allergic to ANY type of fish, and even any fish extracts.

    7. Mononymous*

      I usually assume people asking the “what happens when…” question really just want to know if you’re going to stop breathing and collapse in front of them; I doubt they want the gory details otherwise. It’s still gross and intrusive for them to ask, though!

    8. Navy Vet*

      I usually say, “I don’t have time in my schedule today for a trip to the ER” with a little chuckle and usually they let it go.

      If they do not let it go, then I am not responsible for their poor life choices, and I will start detailing what happens, from least “gross” to most gross and see how long it takes them to ask me to stop. I’ve been working on not allowing myself to be embarrassed by someone else’s lack of manners. :)

    9. TempestuousTeapot*

      Constantly. I’m allergic to peanut and a few other things. I get that question so often, along with but not if it’s in: (insert list of foods here) questions. I’m no longer afraid to stress the word severe and hold up my epi and advise them to follow up with calling an ambulance. I don’t even have the luxury of Benedryl since I’m allergic to that also.
      Best answer is to respond with what works for you and what you are comfortable with. As someone with a few severe allergies I have found that going a road like finding a mentor in the office also helps. Heavens forbid some well meaning person try to show you your allergies are not that bad (not a fun experience).

  19. Susan*

    I don’t think you handled it poorly, fwiw. Handling it poorly would be replying to their offer for an oyster with a passive aggressive comment that you were allergic. I think if you get the job, and if you ever become friendly with one of the interviewers, you could casually bring up how awkward it was for you (framed in a funny story way, not judgmentally) and get it on their radar that they should be thinking about things like this in the future.

    1. Adonday Veeah*

      Not clear how telling someone you’re allergic to an offered food can be “passive aggressive.” Can you give an example?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think Susan meant saying it in a snarky way, like “well, you would have known if you’d asked me about it in advance — I’m allergic.”

    2. Mephyle*

      If someone offers you something you’re allergic to, and you tell them you can’t eat it because you’re allergic, why would that be passive-agressive? Can you explain the reasoning?

  20. Allison*

    As a seafood loving Bostonian myself, I totally get why a seafood restaurant would be a company’s go-to place for lunch interviews, or any other time they’d want to take someone out to eat. But I also know enough vegans, and people who just don’t seafood, to know that it’s important to have at least one backup restaurant as well, like a steakhouse and/or a place with lots of vegan-friendly options, like The Friendly Toast or Veggie Planet (depending on where you are, of course), and it’s important to say “We’re gonna take you to a seafood place near the office, that’s usually our go-to; is that okay? We have some backup options if you have any diet restrictions.” Inclusiveness is important, y’all!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Off-topic, but my boyfriend and I actually had breakfast at the Friendly Toast in the Back Bay when we visited to look for an apartment. :) It was so good!

      The next day we had donuts from Blackbird Donuts on Tremont and OH MY GOD. I’m so excited to actually move there and keep eating our way through the city!

      1. Kristine*

        Was Blackbird good? I live a few blocks from them and their doughnuts were not very good when they first opened. But if they worked out the kinks, I’m happy to try them again.

        1. Letter Writer*

          It was really good when we were there in March! I think it’s our second favorite doughnut place we’ve ever been to.

        1. Granite*

          I wonder if we’ve crossed paths? Love the Friendly Toast, especially the toast. Yum. Breakfast any time of day.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        I hope you don’t mind if I make a few unsolicited recommendations:
        * Post 390 (just for dinner—their brunch is actually not as good)
        * Eastern Standard (yes, it’s a seafood restaurant, but they have a great grilled cheese)
        * Panza (great Italian restaurant)
        * Oishii Too (out in the suburbs but with the drive)
        * Trident Booksellers and Cafe

  21. Anonymous for this post*

    At my previous job I was in change of co-ordinating office celebrations, setting up business and interview lunches and scheduling people for seminars. I always made sure that everyone’s preferences, religion and allergies were accommodated when it came to food. Unless the person you are speaking to is a total jerk, no one is going to bat an eye if you mention a food allergy or other preference after being invited to an interview lunch. If they are rude about it after they know they aren’t the kind of people you would want to work for anyway.

    For myself, I find that interview or business lunches can sometimes have issues, but for a different reason. Due to medical issues I get all my nutrition through a feeding tube. It’s been this way since I was born. I don’t eat or drink anything by mouth. I’m perfectly okay with going to restaurants or sitting down with others while they eat, because it’s a social thing and I don’t want to feel left out. To me not eating is normal because I have never done it so it doesn’t bother me at all when others are eating in front of me. Usually people feel awkward or insist that we don’t go to a restaurant but once I explain that it doesn’t bother me because I have never seen eaten and can’t physically eat it’s fine, but there have been times at business lunches or seminars when people insist I eat something or they order or bring food for me. I’ve even had people accuse me of having an eating disorder or demanding to see my feeding tube. I’m not shy about having it but I’m not lifting or undoing my shirt just to satisfy a random persons demand.

    1. KR*

      How rude of those people to demand to see your feeding tube or not believe you. It’s so interesting to me that you’ve literally never ate.

    2. Erin*

      Yeah, what KR said. That is absolutely appalling. Glad it sounds like at least most of the time people aren’t insensitive jerks. :)

    3. Marisol*

      Oh…my…GOD!!! If I were in your place, I’d whip out that tube immediately in the hopes of making your interrogator realize what a horrible person they were. Even if he didn’t feel bad, the people around him would be uncomfortable and maybe the social pressure would teach him a lesson. But I’m sure you handle those moments more gracefully than I ever could.

  22. Sunflower*

    I’m really curious what city OP is in- every seafood restaurant I have ever been to has one chicken, one steak and one vegetarian dish. It seems really short sighted on the restaurants part to not have these available also.

    My first professional job, my first time traveling/having dinner with the president and CFO. We went to legal seafood. I do not like seafood at all but it was my first business dinner and I didn’t know what to do! I ordered some stir fry with tofu- I also never had tofu but hoped it would be ok. Tofu was not very good but I stomached it.

    Don’t be shy about mentioning the allergy. Any sane person would happily offer up a different place.

  23. jaxon*

    It’s odd to me that we talk about this topic as something “employers really ought to do.” All human beings ought to do this.

    I’d like to take my friend out to dinner. I better check if she has dietary restrictions! She’s a vegetarian? Perhaps a burger joint isn’t the best choice, even if they have salads. I could at least ask my friend, rather than making a reservation and dragging her there.

    Is there any sensible human being who doesn’t do this? I am honestly asking.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, like I said at the start of the post, loads of people don’t do this because it hasn’t been pushed on to their radar as something they need to think about.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      It’s odd to me that we talk about this topic as something “employers really ought to do.” All human beings ought to do this.

      I think the reasons we’re talking about this as “employers really ought to do” are 1) this is Ask a Manager, so it’s mainly about workplace issues (apart from the Weekend Free-for-All), and 2) in hiring, there’s a power differential—interviewees don’t usually get to just say “You’re taking me to lunch, and we’re going to __________” but it’s fairly common for interviewers to say “We’re taking you to lunch at __________.”

  24. Erin*

    I went to college in Rhode Island, and a few years after graduation I was invited to a farewell dinner for a proffesor who was retiring. It was at a seafood restaurant in Providence, and they didn’t have any nonseafood options that I could see. I remember thinking it was so awesome that you could plan a large dinner like this without having to check with the guests on if they liked seafood or not; this would never have happened at home for me (Albany, New York).

    So…I could see how this could happen to the OP, being in a city famous for its seafood. Today, there are so many food preferences and allergies and sensitivities I could honestly see how an employer wouldn’t even want to open that door. If it were me, I’d be worried about having to cater to every little whim for every person, so I just wouldn’t worry about it, assuming if there was a problem they would bring it to my attention.

    So I am landing on the side of, you should have just spoken up. Although I completely understand why you didn’t. An additional option could have been to call the restaurant beforehand and ask what their alternatives to seafood were, if anything.

    It’s also worth mentioning, how to handle this situation would also depend on the severity of your allergies, because that varies widely for everyone.

    I have a friend allergic to onions who will literally be in the hospital with one bite, but if she gets them in a salad or something like that, she can pick them off and be just fine; it doesn’t matter that the onions touched her food, and she can be in the vicinity of other people eating onions just fine.

    But with you, it sounds like being around seafood at all kind of made you a little nauseous. And what if the mushrooms and rice had come into contact with the seafood? It makes me nervous just thinking about it. Next time speak up. :)

    They might have been a little mortified at inviting you to a seafood restaurant after learning about your allergies, but driving you to the hospital as you go into anaphylactic shock would have been much more mortifying for all parties involved. :P

  25. Kimberly*

    I think the letter writer handled it as best as possible off the cuff. Personally I would now say something now maybe ask a mentor or coworker how to handle it going forward.

    Personally I can think of 5 restaurants nearby that I can’t even walk into without risking my life. They use peanut oil in their food and I’ve reacted to airborn particles at least twice. I’ve landed in the ER 7 times in the last 14 years because of touching something in public that was contaminated with peanut proteins (probably from another person eating chocolate or granola then touching a door handle.) So I would have had to politely declined to eat there. If it cost me a job at least I would still be breathing.

    BTW 4 of the 5 restaurants will tell people flat out they can not accommodate someone with peanut allergies. I’m fine with that and appreciate their honesty. The 5th restaurant is run by religious extremists who claim that god protects all that eat there from harm and that their peanut oil is so pure it doesn’t cause reactions. I don’t go anywhere near them.

    1. Blurgle*

      In my experience there isn’t a restaurant in existence that I would trust for even a glass of tap water, because they’ve got to put that stupid citrus in it.

  26. Student*

    The time to bring this up, if it isn’t asked, is right when you’re headed out for lunch. Asking what’s for lunch is reasonable. Letting them know if it is very likely to cause problems for you due to a major food-group allergy or a major dietary restriction is reasonable. It helps immensely if you can name one place nearby that won’t require a reservation with a menu suitable to your needs.

  27. Mimmy*

    Well this thread is kinda timely – I’m not allergic to seafood officially, but I’ve developed a bad reaction to king crab legs where I get VIOLENTLY ill, which makes me concerned that it could expand to other seafood down the road :(

    When planning events or interviews, I think the employer/planner should be mindful of dietary restrictions. But, Alison is right, not everyone thinks about it, so it is also up to the individual to speak up. My niece has a severe nut allergy, and her parents are always having to navigate it, often requiring advocacy on their part because some places don’t take food allergies seriously.

    Bottom line – Next time, I’d err on the side of speaking up if no one says anything to you. It won’t look bad on you at all!

    1. TychaBrahe*

      Talk to an allergist. I have a friend with allergies to latex. Apparently this is closely related to certain fruits, and she also has a kiwi and cantaloupe allergy. There are other fruits are are likely to associate with a latex allergy and some less likely to.

      If you have an allergy to crab, you’re more likely to be allergic to other shellfish like lobster than finned fish like salmon. You’re also likely to be allergic to housemites, apparently, per this site.

      An allergist can help you determine what is safe for you to eat.

  28. Gaara*

    LW, did you ask the restaurant if they could make something fish-free for you? My fiancée is a vegetarian, and we’ve found that a lot of places that don’t have much (if any) vegetarian choice on the menu can make something, be it a vegetable plate (as Alison suggests) or something else. I don’t know why they would make this, in essence, a hidden menu option — it’s more things people might want to eat! — but it’s worth keeping in mind in the future when you go out to eat.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I’ve often had servers even volunteer off-menu items, when they see I order a side of sauteed mushrooms and baked potato: “Are you vegetarian? We don’t have it on the menu, but our kitchen can make you a ______ instead.”

      1. Erin*


        Yeah, there are a bunch of reasons why a restaurant would keep certain stuff off their menu. For example, they might have a rotating list of what produce is available depending on what’s in season and how certain crops did this year, and they don’t want to have to constantly update and print new menus. They can almost certainly make stuff that is not on the menu, especially at a higher end place, which it sounds like this was.

        1. neverjaunty*

          ….although you’d expect a seafood restaurant to print menus on the regular, given how quickly seafood offerings can change based on season and availability. But that aside, while I agree OP should keep this option in mind, massive side-eye to restaurants that make people have to bother them for special orders.

  29. Chocolate Coffeepot*

    I have a friend who was bitten by a tick & cannot eat meat from mammals without getting ill later. We went to a burger place for her boyfriend’s birthday; most places around here provide turkey and/or veggie burgers as well, so she was okay going there. It turned out that all the burgers are cooked on the same grill, so the turkey/veggie options are all exposed to hamburger fat! And apparently the staff won’t tell you that unless you ask. We were appalled.

    The place did have some vegetarian pasta dishes, so my friend didn’t have to settle for a “sad little salad” as someone upthread called it.

  30. Nicole*

    This is not the same thing, but made me think about an incident years ago. A former director decided to treat me and a coworker out to lunch to thank us for our hard work. She chose a seafood place where SHE wanted to eat even though neither of us liked fish. Not that she bothered to ask. We both ordered shrimp which wasn’t even good (it was breaded and overcooked). Honestly, I was so annoyed I would have rather not gone at all, but I kept my mouth shut (until now).

  31. Laura*

    Another reason why lunch interviews make people nervous! Personally, I have to avoid gluten (and often dairy) for health reasons, which is hard enough… but during Lent, things got really awkward when coworkers pressured me to go out with them on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Both are fast days for Catholics, so… yeah, I wasn’t able to eat or drink anything with my work team.

  32. Chocolate Coffeepot*

    This makes me so thankful for my current employer’s sensitivity to food issues! When I interviewed here, I had both lunch & dinner interviews (different days) & was given a choice of restaurants both times.

    There are <100 employees here, but there are Moslems, Hindus, Jews, & Christians (some of whom have dietary restrictions), people with gluten sensitivities, vegetarians, vegans, mammal meat allergies … afaik no peanut or seafood allergies, though. But whenever there is a company-wide event involving food, the planners are always careful to ask, & are amazing at finding foods that everyone can enjoy.

  33. L McD*

    Seafood is honestly such an incredibly common allergy, even before the recent uptick in instances and recognition of food allergies – and it’s also a type of food that a LOT of people really, really dislike. I think it’s really tone deaf to drag someone to a seafood restaurant in a context where they’re likely to feel uncomfortable speaking up about it, without any kind of forewarning. And I say this as someone who grew up in Seattle and currently lives in Boston. Yes, there are some restaurants like this in coastal cities, but they are a bad choice for job interviews.

    That said, OP, you should totally speak up in these situations. Be polite and matter of fact. You don’t want to work for someone who wouldn’t be understanding of something as simple as a food allergy. Any restaurant should be happy to make you a special plate, and your hosts should apologize profusely and learn a thing or two.

    Honestly I’m shocked no one said anything when you were eating your mushrooms and rice. That’s about the time I’d be mortified and ask my guest if I’d accidentally taken them somewhere they can’t eat anything.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, it’s not rude at all to speak up for yourself in this situation.

      I’m sure my hosts would have been mortified if I’d said I had an allergy. Would I have been within my rights (and would it have harmed my chances) to say “There is basically nothing here that I can eat without getting very sick. Can we go literally anywhere else?”

      I don’t think they’d be mortified at all… well, not if you mentioned it before setting foot in the restaurant. It’s very different if you mention it after you’ve already sat down and ordered food.

  34. Nicole Michelle*

    This is good for me to keep an eye out for…I’m gluten-free and although that tends to give me “yeah right, you are not” kind of reactions, it’s good to know what to do in the case of a meal-based interview. I’m wondering…did they tell you in advance they were taking you to a restaurant? Just wondering if you were warned so maybe you could slide in “oh by the way, I’m allergic too…”

    1. Kyrielle*

      If I had a seafood allergy, it wouldn’t occur to me to warn (unless I couldn’t be in the same restaurant as seafood), because in my experience, seafood restaurants have non-seafood items (as other posters have said). Now I know there is at least one (and presumably more) that don’t, but it’s kind of a shock to find anyone sticks *that* firmly to seafood. They’ll miss out on any social groups that include someone who can’t or won’t eat seafood. I’d have expected a token non-seafood dish or two, and thus not known to say anything until I was perusing the menu (and often you’ve ordered drinks before you have a chance to closely look at the menu).

  35. Sue Wilson*

    It kinda amazes me how perception warps things, because if I went to a seafood restaurant and my companion got the only things without seafood in them, at no point would I think “Well I guess they just doesn’t know what to try!” At the very least, I would assume that seafood is not to their taste.

  36. Observer*

    Just a quick note for all of those people who are highly allergic or intolerant to anything lactose. You can eat ANYTHING you want in a Kosher non-dairy restaurant, because they won’t even bring dairy into the place. (They may have a separate place for staff to eat, but they would have to wash their hands before they came back to the kitchen.

  37. Jack K*

    I respectfully disagree with Alison’s advice here. If you have an allergy to the point that the smell of seafood makes you uncomfortable, grinning and bearing it through dinner in a seafood restaurant might very well be dangerous for you. Allergies vary in intensity over people’s lifetimes, and feeling discomfort from the smell of the allergen is the first step to having an airborne allergic reaction. It’s better to cause a small disruption by mentioning your allergy early and suggesting a change of location than to potentially have an allergic reaction during a work meeting.

  38. CM*

    OP, I would have done the same thing as you. If you have no idea that nothing will be safe for you to eat until you’re at the table looking at the menu, I think it’s too late to politely suggest going somewhere else (unless you feel like just being there is a health hazard). But I do like the suggestion of quietly explaining your allergy to someone who works at the restaurant, and asking if there is something else they can make you.

  39. Quinalla*

    Folks are slightly more aware of food allergies and dietary restrictions for health/religious/cultural/moral/etc. reasons, but not much more, at least in my area. My daughter has peanut & tree nut allergies and how savvy restaurants are to it varies pretty widely and how savvy businesses are to that also varies a lot, but generally leans towards not very aware of it. I’m in the midwest, so at business lunches there is always plenty of meat without much thought to maybe not having pork, a salad that doubles for the vegetarian option, sometimes one other veggie or fruit option, bread, and good luck on gluten free or anything else without prior request and who knows how accommodating folks will be. Fish isn’t a huge problem here, but yes on Fridays during lent it is common to have fish be a special option as there are plenty of Catholics in the area. I could see that being different in Boston, but it’s pretty terrible that the restaurant didn’t even have salads! That’s the pretty typical “See we have a vegetarian option!” in my experience in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

    I’m personally aware of it because of my daughter and because my SIL does not eat pork for cultural reasons, so I always ask folks if they have any allergies or other dietary restrictions when planning lunches, but I always have to speak up for my daughter when she goes to things (except school & daycare, they are on top of it), rarely do other parents think about allergies/dietary restrictions.

    If you have the desire, maybe you can try and raise awareness around food allergies and dietary restrictions if you get the job, sounds like they desperately need it! And yeah, I would suggest speaking up and maybe letting folks know before any interview at a restaurant because unfortunately most people still aren’t thinking about it.

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