Restaurants: Congratulations on the mini-boom of new eateries. I hope you all enjoy a long and successful run in this city of hungry, adventurous souls.
Here's one idea that will help you become not only successful, but absolutely beloved by your clientele: make sure all your employees know what's in your food. It's both appalling and frustrating that so many restaurants won't or can't tell their customers exactly what they're eating. Something as simple as chicken strips, for instance. "Is there egg in the batter?" "Gee, I don't know. There's no ingredients on the big cardboard box they come in." That's just unacceptable.
If you're reading this, you probably know somebody with a food allergy. The trendy one at the moment is a sensitivity to gluten, which has restaurants and food manufacturers stumbling over themselves to provide "gluten-free" alternatives for a public that is convinced suffers from Celiac Disease. If only all of Missoula's restaurants were as diligent about other, potentially fatal food allergies.
Some studies say that up to five percent of the population has a severe food allergy. Peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat, strawberries ... if you can think of a food, there's probably someone deathly allergic to it.
And that's my point. The food you're serving to the public could cause a fatal reaction if you've wrongly told it that it's free of the allergen in question.
If a customer asks you, for instance, if your Italian dressing has walnuts in it, and you say something like, "I'm pretty sure it doesn't," you're screwing with someone's life. Make it your job to find out beforehand. Know it. Learn it. Live it.
Front Counter Ignorance is an ongoing problem with restaurants, the result being that there is a limited number of restaurants where we can confidently take our children who have food allergies. Servers, cooks, phone order takers, anyone involved in the food delivery chain needs to be able to confidently and truthfully answer the questions posed by a parent whose only concern is to allow his child to eat the food and not get sick or die. When you have to carry an Epi-Pen everywhere you go, you'll know what I mean.
Some restaurants get it. Mustard Seed/Noodle Express is a good example. Our kids eat there frequently, and even though their menu features peanut sauce, my peanut-allergic son has never had a reaction caused by cross-contamination in the kitchen. And the servers can all tell you if any dish contains a potential allergen.
I don't really care if you're using locally grown kumquats or what local beer is used to glaze the beef. I want to know if the dish has any allergens in it, and if the cooks in the kitchen take their jobs seriously enough to avoid cross-contamination among the foods they prepare. Do us all a favor, new (and existing) Missoula restaurants. Get your employees up to speed on what's in your food so we can enjoy your board of fare with confidence.