First, I want to extend an apology to my readers. Many of you may have felt that I recently dropped off the face of the earth seeing that I haven’t put a blog out in over a week. This absence comes after me being so diligent in providing 2-3 new posts per week during the months prior. Thank you for caring and my apologies for the delay. I really don’t have any excuses as to why I have not been writing except that during the summer with the kids at home, the schedules and the free time available for me to write has changed. What used to be time spent being creative and advocating the gluten free and Celiac lifestyle through blogging has now been replaced and taken over by transporting children to camps and unscheduled trips to the pool. I know. Many of you are saying, “Oh, boo hoo, Celiac Teen Dad. You have to take care of your kids and you have to go to the pool.” Trust me. I had the same thoughts for 15 straight years and I’m not complaining about having the ability to spend time with the kids now while they still want me around. I’m just saying that it’s an abrupt change that I’ve needed to adjust to. Again, a pretty flimsy excuse for not sitting down and busting out 600 words for the sake of my son’s health. But, I think that I’ve got it under control. It took me two and a half weeks but I’ve found a groove where I can work on what I need to and also spend quality time with the children. I’ve learned to juggle writing with fishing trips. I’ve become “better than average” when it comes to balancing my work in advocating with my pleasure of parenting. Lucky for me, the opportunity to combine work and play presented itself last week.
My parents still live in the house that I was raised in and, fortunately for all of us, it is only about 25 minutes away from where my family lives now. Last week, since our schedules all happened to coincide, the kids and I arranged to go to lunch with them. My folks are very cognizant of Cam’s condition and what “sets him off” but they still deferred the choice of where we should eat to me. I immediately knew where we were going. There was a restaurant that we had visited just once since Cam was diagnosed and I wanted to go back to it again. That day presented us the perfect opportunity to return to Red Robin.
Red Robin is consistently chosen as one of the top allergy friendly chain restaurants in the United States. It has been touted by allergy web sites, bloggers, parents, etc. The one time that we had gone to Red Robin since Cam was diagnosed was an awesome experience. We were given a menu binder with the choices that he could have and, most importantly, he didn’t experience any symptoms of being “glutened” after eating there. Recently, based on this one visit and the reviews that I had read during my own research, I recommended Red Robin to friends of ours who were looking for a safe place to eat for their children who, unfortunately, have a variety of food allergies. But after providing this recommendation, I questioned myself for giving “expert” information after only one personal visit. What if we were just fortunate enough to go to a location that happened to be having a good day? How can I recommend a chain restaurant for gluten intolerance when I had only been to a single store? I knew that we had to go back and provide our own, honest review.
I was going to write this review in the style of “Pros vs. Cons” but after our experience during this visit and our past trip to Red Robin, the blog would have read like a commercial for the restaurant. The positives of our meal far outweighed the negatives (in fact, the negatives almost seem nit-picky). The Red Robin chain obviously knows what it is doing when it comes to catering to the needs of specific diets and food allergies. I had my worries when we arrived though. When mentioning Cam’s Celiac and the need for a gluten free menu, the hostess seemed taken aback. We were all seated and we patiently waited for the hostess to bring us something similar to the binder that we had received at the other location during our previous visit. I watched her criss-cross the restaurant a couple of times before she finally approached one of the managers, who happened to be sitting in a booth behind us running receipts and sales numbers. After receiving her instructions, the hostess came back with this.
If you want to win over a 13 year old boy’s heart at a restaurant (or anywhere for that matter) hand him an iPad. If you want to win over his dad, have that iPad contain ingredient information and pull up safe menu items based on interactive feedback. It was quite impressive. And the chances to be impressed kept on coming. From the option to get a gluten free bun, to our waitresses understanding that Cam’s fries would need to be made in a dedicated fryer, to watching her immediately convey this information to the kitchen staff, Red Robin has obviously done their homework when it comes to staff training and food allergens. My only other concern during our meal was when another manager brought the food to our table. He was not our regular server nor was he the manager who was made aware of our dietary needs when we asked for the special menu. From our experiences when eating at restaurants, the gluten free plate is usually served to us first or separate from the other entrees altogether. There are often gloves used during this process to avoid the possible cross-contamination. Neither happened when this manager brought out our food. He was not wearing gloves and he did touch two other plates, both which contained flour buns, before using those same hands to serve Cam’s. When things like this happen, my dad radar goes off. Cam also noticed what had happened but he put any fears aside and ate his meal. I’m happy to say that he had no ill-effects later that day. Again, it’s nit-picky and maybe (hopefully) that manager washed his hands prior to serving us but the action raised our eyebrows.
What really is the most important part of this visit, though, is that Cam enjoyed himself. So many times when he goes out to eat, his choices are limited. Red Robin, through their diligence in training and educating themselves to other’s special dietary needs, has given him another “comfort” place to go to. Here’s hoping that others follow their lead. For if they do, we’ll make sure that it’s a place of many happy returns from our family.