El Uh-Oh

A few months ago, I was catching up with a few friends on the roofdeck of El Centro on 14th Street. The margaritas were flowing, and we were happily munching on chips and guacamole to quell our post-work hunger pains. After making our dinner selections, I motioned the bartender over to our corner. I offered up the standard rigmarole: “I have a peanut allergy; do you have any peanuts in house?” After a few noncommittal, but generally negative replies, I asked again, “do you use peanut oil at all?” This time, the bartender was more convincing with his replies of “nope – not at all!” I asked him to note the allergy on the ticket, all the same, but I was satisfied that I had gotten his attention, and that I had made my needs known.

I hadn’t gotten his attention.

My first bite of a gooey, crispy pork empanada sent my whole body into full alert. I don’t know how common it is to feel an immediate sense of dread, but for me…I knew. A minute later and I was acutely aware of the scratchy sensation in my throat. Resignation set in, and I walked home…

I’ll spare you all the gory details, but after recovering from a resoundingly uncomfortable, sleepless night, I decided to call the restaurant to complain about the situation. No dice. A manager couldn’t be reached, and I never received a call back. I called another time, and was given the same response. I then found their website, and described in detail what had happened on their comments page, hoping to receive an apology by email. Again, utter silence.

This, then, is the problem. I had done everything right in this situation, and I had spoken out about my needs as a customer. Unfortunately, some breakdown in the system allowed this to happen. Perhaps the kitchen staff wasn’t careful enough, or perhaps the bartender forgot to mention the allergy. Maybe it was a weird fluke. But the silence that I faced leads me to believe in a different story—a story that can only begin with poor management. The bartender acted cavalier and falsely knowledgeable, yes, but more importantly, the other restaurant staff showed an alarming display of flippancy and apathy when asked to take responsibility for the error.

So what do I do now? The obvious first step is not to frequent this restaurant any longer. I also avoid one of its sister restaurants, Masa 14. I wish this wasn’t the case; both these restaurants are quite popular, and I’ve had to turn down more than one invitation to join a group there.

This experience was undeniably the worst that I’ve had during my time in DC and I needed an outlet for the frustration I felt. Hence, Persnickety. If you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll understand how I came to start this blog. My El Centro debacle truly was the catalyst for taking action. When I make a fuss, I want to be heard, and I want to know that others are heard as well.

In that vein, I’d love to hear from you! What would you have done in my situation? How far do you go to make a fuss?

El Centro                                                                                                                            1819 14th Street NW  Washington, DC 20009

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4 thoughts on “El Uh-Oh

  1. Thank you for sharing your post for the July Food Allergy Blog Carnival! I am so sorry about your experience but I think that getting the word out is a good outlet when you can’t get an apology or response. I’m really shocked that they wouldn’t get back to you, I know that when friends have gotten food poisoning at a given restaurant they don’t usually get a call back if they complain so maybe this place is treating food allergies the same way? It makes me think also that if a restaurant would not care about your health when you ate there then non-allergic customers should think twice about eating there too.

    We don’t eat out, it scares me to much and my children aren’t to the point where they can articulate the early stages of a reaction…they also have multiple food allergies. Even then, I would like to think that when my kids are older and are in a situation where they have to eat out the trail will have been blazed by other concerned people. I’d leave a bad review for them on Yelp and maybe Trip Advisor mentioning that you did try to contact them about what happened.

    As a food allergy mom I really appreciate the perspective of adults with food allergies – kind of a preview of the issues my kids will face. Congrats on your new blog!

  2. yikes! what a crappy experience Jillian! I too find that blatantly not caring about your situation is way worse than simple allergy mistakes which of can of course happen despite a restaurants best intentions. Stay safe!

  3. Pingback: July 2012 Living With Food Allergies Blog Carnival « Oh Mah Deehness!

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