Eating at Gourmet Burger Kitchen with multiple allergies…

We recently put Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) through a pretty stringent test of their allergen catering protocol. I wouldn’t normally ever turn up somewhere without having first phoned, exchanged emails and been through the menu to ascertain before hand what would be safe.

But things happen in our busy lives and we are not always able to afford the luxury of military planning.

How not to eat out with allergies…

Don’t do this at home folks. It is always best to phone, speak to the chef if possible or someone who can explain each dish in detail and agree what will be suitable.

However, we found ourselves in Aylesbury with an hour or two to spare before our film started so we thought we’d try GBK. I knew I’d eaten there years ago at another outlet and managed to order a very nice meal. I wanted to be impulsive. I wanted to just go somewhere without all the checking. I just wanted to be normal.

I had had a look at their online allergen menu which appeared to indicate that all 14 of the major allergens would be indicated so I thought, what the hell. How hard can it be? Order the gluten free burger, check my allergens, do without the bun if necessary.

But it wasn’t quite as plain sailing as it might have been, though with lot of help from the staff, we survived.

My delicious gluten free, dairy free burger with Brewdog Vagabond #GF pale ale

Gluten, dairy, tomato and nut free burger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Gluten, dairy, tomato and nut free burger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Is it just me or does my burger slightly resemble gonzo from the muppets? It looks tired and has it’s eyes all droopy and shut but it was a very nice burger.

But this experience just went to show how important one member of staff can be. The one who really knows their stuff. The one who has a member of family with a condition which means they have to avoid certain food. The manager’s girlfriend had Chrohn’s Disease so he knew the challenges she faced and was very sympathetic.

Thank you so much to the manager of Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Aylesbury, it could have all gone horribly wrong but he stepped in and sorted everything out.

Allergen menu – did it help?

If you are a coeliac and avoiding just wheat they have a gluten free menu which was really useful. The menu provided however didn’t really list other allergens apart from nuts. There does seem to be a bible that staff can look at but this wasn’t available for me to see and didn’t appear to help where only a certain element of a meal might make it contain dairy. e.g. the cheese on a burger – without the cheese it might be OK? It wasn’t clear. The staff were able to explain but the menu was lacking in detail and I felt very awkward, the queue grew and grew behind us and it took a lot of toing and froing checking with chef that their assumptions were correct.

Check the burger seasoning – could contain dairy

They have gluten free burgers. Brilliant. But did you know that they use a seasoning on all their burgers which may contain dairy? If you have a dairy allergy this makes it more complicated.

I say it contains dairy, it transpired that they were in the process of changing from the old seasoning to the new. The new one now being dairy free – brilliant GBK – makes it more inclusive and we thoroughly approve.

The kitchen however were not sure which seasoning was currently in use as they no longer had the packaging. They were right not to take a risk and opened a pack of the new seasoning for my burger. If the old seasoning was being used on other burgers however the grill could be contaminated and might have had traces of dairy on it.

The chef then cleared an area of the grill, cordoned it off with a little cover so no one else would use it and to prevent anyone flipping or interfering with contaminated utensils and cooked my burger using the new seasoning. I am so grateful to them for really pulling out the stops and checking everything but it was these two members of staff, the manager and the chef that checked and checked.

If they hadn’t been on duty would it have been such a successful meal? I’m not so sure. So a message to GBK. You could really help your staff if you provide more training AND help them to understand easily which elements of a meal may or may not be suitable.

Also if a seasoning is being used, make sure the staff have some way of filing the packaging showing ingredients so that guests can check and be reassured that their burger will be OK and not make them ill.

We got there in the end but it was a painful and time consuming process for us all.

Partly my fault for arriving unannounced – which I never normally do. But sometimes you can’t plan. Sometimes you find yourself somewhere, hungry with a short window to grab a meal. It should be possible to be flexible with restaurants, order something really simple and be able to get a safe meal but it has put me off being so blase in the future.

Did I enjoy the burger?

I did indeed. I loved it. It was a long time coming due to the cleaning of the grill and care taken by staff. I didn’t mind this at all because I was just grateful they were keeping me safe but we were both starving when our food finally arrived.

The burger was cooked perfectly and was juicy and tasty. The bun was pretty good for a gluten free bun and they didn’t put in any tomato or cheese due to me being allergic to them.

If you do visit GBK try the Brewdog Vagabond gluten free pale ale. It went very well with my burger and was not bad at all for a real ale. Not perhaps my favourite but I enjoyed it.

So top marks for the actual food when it came but not so good on the trauma stakes. I wonder how many people with multiple allergies do eat there, what they order and what experiences they have. I might try going again but would definitely phone ahead, check which seasoning they were using and warn them I was on my way! I don’t like being such pain in the allergic backside. I wonder if they’ll all be dreading that visit?

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.

Comments

  1. Not sure why I laughed so hard at the Gonzo line, but I did!
    Glad you got there in the end – safe and sound …

    • Not sure I included that but it does look like Gonzo! It was interesting to see how a chain restaurant would cope with a sudden unexpected allergy guest. If the manager hadn’t been there we would either have left and gone somewhere else, which I was tempted to do when it appeared nothing was suitable, or I might have risked eating something potentially harmful. So yes, all in all it was successful but it so might not have been. Going out tonight ‘with’ military planning all in hand. See you soon. When are we meeting up? We are both in Croxley some days so no excuses!

  2. it was chaos

  3. It just shows how service can vary so drastically between restaurants in the same chain.

    I found myself out at lunch today with nothing to eat. Having read this blog post last week, I passed a GBK in Angel and thought I would give them a try as your service was so impressive.

    Unfortunately, the person I spoke to clearly couldn’t be bothered because apparently everything they serve contains dairy. “Oh yeah, of course it does” was the response I received to almost every question I asked.

    • It really is the member of staff. The girl I originally spoke to was definitely as clued up. But their allergen menu doesn’t help them at all. They just seem to be going ‘gluten free’ with ease but have marked up the whole menu as containing dairy which is nonsense. The staff, if they are not educated, have no way of knowing which elements of the meal might contain dairy and so just say what they’ve been told to day. It’s very sad really, because leaving out an ingredient might make it OK. Not sure I’ll be trying another GBK for a while. There are far more accommodating and welcoming places to give your custom to. Sorry you had a bad experience but GBK need to get with the menu a bit more. Very disappointing for you.

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