I find it almost impossible to ask for special treatment at a restaurant. I know many people ask for special diets because they need them and have real allergies. I also know that many people want attention, control or simply want to be on a popular bandwagon and demand gluten-free, dairy-free, or meat-free dishes in public, while scarfing down bread, milkshakes and wings at home.
No one pretends to be diabetic. Diabetes, popular culture informs us, is a disease of weak, fat people. It is our fault we are diabetic, never mind genetics or that every food company within reach adds sugar, artificial sugar or “natural” sugars to keep consumers addicted to the sweet taste of. . . mustard, pickles, and bacon. All of which have added sugars.
I cringe at asking serving staff if there is honey in salad dressing, red wine or sugar in the sauce, or what is used to thicken the sauce. Often the server doesn’t know, and assures me that the dish is glueten-free. Great, but I don’t have a problem with gluten. When I tell the server I’m diabetic, I get shrugs or, “Can’t you just take something for that?” In short, no. And I no longer explain why.
Last night, I decided that unless wait staff and servers are mind-readers, I have
to ask for what I need. Because it’s my health and my body.
We (two couples) were eating at The Local in Phoenix. The staff knew it was my birthday, and brought me a glass of champagne, which I accepted and passed to my right, to someone who would enjoy it.
When the menus were passed and the server asked if we had questions, I asked if I could have my dish served without potatoes. I took a deep breath and said I was diabetic and could not eat potatoes. The waiter summoned the chef out of the kitchen. I’m married to a chef, and asking for the chef’s presence at a table is a serious occasion. Still, Chef Chris McKinley appeared, smiling. I wanted to know if I could substitute something for the potatoes. After all, striking an item from the dish unbalances the flavors of the entire course.
The chef said he could substitute farro, a low-glycemic-index wheat, for the potatoes. And he could make a vinaigrette without honey for the salad. I was amazed at how generously he made the substitutions. The server placed the meal in front of me, assuring me of the substitutions, as there was another order for the original dish. Both the salad and the main course were delicious.
In fact, the entire meal was delicious. I did not feel deprived, I felt heard and valued. It may not sound like much, but I had asked for what I needed and someone listened.
Keeping quiet out of fear makes no more sense than speaking up out of privilege. Health issues are not easy to discuss, but taking a calm stand makes it possible for others to know what you want and to help if they can. Asking for what you need is a step in the direction of self-care. And not expecting others to care for you more than you do for yourself.
—Quinn McDonald will be back at The Local, because the food is excellent and the service attentive. The sticky toffee pudding, shared by the others at the table, comes highly recommended. The Local was named the best new restaurant in Phoenix by New Times magazine.