For many Canadians, dining out is an enjoyable experience. But for more than 2.5 million people who have food allergies and their families, it’s a challenge that comes with its share of worries. That doesn’t always need to be the case, thanks to protocols adopted by some leading restaurant chains and greater public awareness around allergies and food safety.

It comes down to shared responsibility, according to Beatrice Povolo, Director of Advocacy & Media Relations at Food Allergy Canada, a not-for-profit organization working on behalf of those with food allergies since 2001. “What that means is individuals and parents of children with food allergies are responsible for managing their food allergies when they’re dining out,” she says. “However, they also need the support and information from restaurants in order to make an informed choice.”

To minimize risk for those with food allergies, there are some key steps that they can take. “First and foremost, you need to do your homework,” explains Povolo. “Call the restaurant directly or check its website to see if they have an allergy policy and how they manage food allergy requests. Speak to the chef or restaurant manager to discuss your specific food allergies to determine what appropriate options may be available. And, always be prepared for an emergency by carrying your epinephrine auto-injector.”

Once you arrive, speak with the manager or chef on site and inform your server, who can flag your order for the kitchen staff. You’ll want to ensure all are aware of your food allergies and that they are taken seriously.

An open dialogue is key. Today, some restaurants make a point of including an invitation on their menus for those with food allergies to talk to the restaurant staff. There’s also been increased awareness among serving staff, who may proactively ask at the table, does anyone have food allergies?

Some dining establishments have made a concerted effort to address the concerns of patrons by instituting allergy protocols and a transparency around the ingredients in their dishes and food preparation.

It’s important for parents like Povolo, who has a child with food allergies. “Personally speaking, I find restaurants that have consistent allergy policies and procedures in place and have an effective communication process for providing need-to-have allergy information, helps to minimize the risk when dining out.”

As an example, The Keg has implemented policies and procedures that are consistent regardless of which restaurant you go into. Their servers inform the manager, who can talk to diners about safe options and communicate directly with the kitchen, both politely and efficiently.

“Because there is no cure for food allergies, being vigilant is the best form of protection,” Povolo points out. “When you’re dining out, it’s about knowing what’s in your food, how it’s being prepared, and being able to discuss options with individuals that have complete and accurate information.”