Going to happy hour at Claim Jumper in Long Beach is nothing new to my fiancée and I. We’ve been there plenty of times and are often pleased with the high quality of food and pleasant service at happy hour prices in a clean and relaxed atmosphere. This last visit, unfortunately resulted in a visit to the ER.
At first, everything seemed to be going fine, we find an open table without a problem and were promptly greeted by our server. Noticing a few new items on the menu, I asked about one I was interested in, Apple-glazed meatballs. Being severely allergic to nuts (not just peanuts as many inquire when I mention it), I explicitly state that I have said allergy, and that if there are no nuts in it, I’d like to put in an order for them to go along with our mini Caesar salads and drinks. Shortly after enjoying the meatballs (which I do admit, were glazed deliciously and had a pleasant taste to them), I started to exhibit tell-tale signs of an allergic reaction: an itchy mouth, lips, a slightly swollen throat, and a stronger than average upset stomach. When another server had brought out a separate item, I had asked him if there were nuts in the fish tacos (which I had, but had had previously) or the meatballs. Shortly after, a manager came out and I knew there was going to be a more serious discussion.
Apparently, after I had asked our server about the presence of nuts in the meatballs (again, stating that I am allergic to nuts), she had went back and asked if there were nuts “in the glaze” but not in the actual meatballs. As it turns out, there are cashews in the meatballs. The manager was apologetic and repeatedly apologized for the “miscommunication,” and then asked if there was anything else he could get us to help. Knowing from previous experience that I can sometimes “override” or “wash out” the nut-product residue (if it was only a small dose) I asked for a Sprite and some of the Asian spicy wings (which I’ve had before and do thoroughly enjoy). This didn’t help at all, and my fiancée and I decided that we needed to leave.
I did not explicitly ask for our tab to be comped, but I honestly did hope for some type of compensation, and was disappointed to discover that none would be offered. The manager did come by the table once more and asked for my phone number so that he could “check up” on me, and I gave him my business card from work, indicating that the number on it was my cell phone number.
Upon leaving, we stopped at a 7-11 to get a pack of Benadryl (which is the first line of defense before heading to the ER) and after taking two at home, the allergic reaction really kicked in and I broke out into a cold sweat and my body took care of rejecting everything I’ve eaten through nausea. At that point, my fiancée had driven me to the ER (thankfully very close to my house) and was quickly admitted since I was experiencing shortness of breath due to the swollen throat.
At the hospital, a couple of the attendants asked how I had eaten nuts if I knew I was allergic, and when I explained what had happened, they automatically assumed it was at an Asian restaurant since nuts are popularly used in Asian dishes. After sharing that it was at Claim Jumpers, they were as surprised as I was, acknowledging the restaurant to be a fairly straight-forward American eatery with steaks, burgers, and barbecue-style food. Needless to say, the next few hours (thankfully with my fiancée by my side) was a blur of IVs, blood draws, and shots of Benadryl and epinephrine. We eventually left (with a brand new bag of allergy-suppressing and after-effects remedial meds) and groggily went home.
The next day, feeling a little bit better, I tried going into work, but I gave my boss a heads up about the events of the night before and let her know that if I started feeling worse and not better, that I would take off. As much as I needed the hours, I couldn’t ignore my declining condition and left after a half day.
That last bit is probably more story than you needed, but my point is this: Servers, if a customer explicitly states that they have an allergy, you should treat it with great care. Don’t filter the question, or think you know the answer already, because what happened to me is a much milder case that what could have happened. I recognize that this server is just one server out of many at that establishment, and that we’re all human, but this is no laughing matter when it deals with the health and safety of a person’s life.
Please share this with anyone you know that works in foodservice, has an allergy, or anyone. I'm not trying to come off as some radical allergy spokesperson, I'm just trying to help spread the word about something that affects many peoples' lives.