Eating in a restaurant can be fun, but if you suffer from allergies or follow a special diet, it can be difficult to know what items on a menu you can trust. MomsGetReal™ has discovered an amazing site, AllergyEats, designed to help parents and allergy sufferers with finding restaurants that can accommodate special diets. We sat down with owner Paul Antico to learn more. You can follow his blog for useful information about food allergies and restaurants that can accommodate your needs.

MomsGetReal™ (MGR): What is AllergyEats?

Paul Antico (Paul): AllergyEats is a peer-based, online guide to allergy-friendly restaurants. Individuals with food allergies rate their dining experiences for the benefit of others (and themselves) who subsequently search for allergy-friendly restaurants. AllergyEats also includes links to restaurant web sites, menus, allergen lists, certifications, gluten-free menus, phone #’s, directions, and more. AllergyEats also includes Dining Tips from the experts and the AllergyEats Blog, devoted exclusively to dining out with food allergies. Basically, AllergyEats is the one-stop source for all information related to food-allergic dining away from the home.

MGR: Why is this site relevant to moms (and dads, and other caregivers?)

Paul: Parents and other caregivers have to be vigilant 24 hours a day regarding what a child ingests. Therefore, dining out can be particularly stressful (and yes, dangerous). The level of knowledge about food allergies and ability to handle food-allergic customers varies tremendously restaurant by restaurant. Some establishments put a lot of time and training into being as safe as possible when serving food-allergic diners. AllergyEats wants to help parents and caregivers find these restaurants (and avoid their opposites) to make their family’s dining experience as safe and comfortable as possible. This is especially true when traveling, where a family may not have their “go to” restaurant that they dine at regularly. AllergyEats is not only the best starting point for finding food allergy-friendly restaurants, but also an all-in-one resource for so much more information related to hundreds of thousands of US restaurants.

MGR: What was your inspiration for starting AllergyEats?

Paul: I was inspired to start AllergyEats based on my own experiences dining out with my two food-allergic boys.  We are a family of 7, so dining out isn’t easy. We’ve often had trouble dining out while traveling, be it in a large city such as New York or a smaller town such as Lake Placid. One night, I was driving around on a Saturday night with just my two food-allergic boys trying to find a comfortable place to eat. I was not as knowledgeable as I am now about how to have a safe dining experience, so I needed to be extra cautious. That translated into us driving for over two hours, searching for just the right restaurant. The kids were complaining with hunger in the back of the car when I said to myself, “I wish there was a guide.”  And so was AllergyEats born!

MGR: Can you talk a bit about users’ reactions?

Paul: User reaction has been great – very supportive. I get so many “Thank You’s” and a lot of comments such as “This is just what we’ve been looking for” or “I wanted to start something like this – it’s such a great idea.” It’s always nice to get those emails or hear those comments. That said, I enjoy the criticisms equally as much, given that they help me improve the site and create a better user experience. There are certainly those who have suggested that the guide is not useful or it’s flawed, but there will always be comments like that, especially during the ramp-up phase.  More important are criticisms like “You don’t list what allergies the commenter has” or “Your database is missing restaurants.” When I hear certain comments like these often enough, I make sure they get rectified to make the site better for everyone. It really is a community effort, both in rating restaurants for the good of all, and in helping improve the site and its features.  (By the way, both those two criticisms listed above were often voiced early on and have been successfully addressed.)

MGR: How is AllergyEats different than other restaurant review sites?

Paul: AllergyEats is different than other review sites in a few ways. Most importantly, reviews are strictly related to a restaurant’s ability to cater to those with food allergies – there are processes in place to keep this from being a “general” restaurant review site. Further, the review process is made very simple for the rater. With a commitment of less than a minute, a user can rate a restaurant by answering 3 simple questions – that’s it! Most users will still add a comment about their experience, but it’s not necessary. In addition, unlike other review sites, AllergyEats includes a lot of factual information about the restaurant, such as menus, certifications, allergen and nutrition lists, gluten-free info, and more. Lastly, AllergyEats has the simplest and most intuitive user-interface of any restaurant review site anywhere. Some people without food allergies are even using the site to see which restaurants are closest to them, check the menu, and call for a reservation!

MGR: How can our readers benefit from AllergyEats?

Paul: Readers caring for children with food allergies can clearly benefit from AllergyEats by giving themselves a head start in finding a safer, more comfortable dining experience (please note that there is no such thing as a guaranteed safe experience). In addition, by adding their own ratings, they are increasing the value of AllergyEats for the entire community, including themselves. Further, parents can share AllergyEats with their periodic caregivers (e.g. grandparents, babysitters, etc.) who may be responsible for taking food-allergic children out to eat. Most importantly, however, AllergyEats can open up new dining-out possibilities for those families who dine at the same one or two restaurants every time out, for fear of trying someplace new. That is my goal for AllergyEats. Dining out is a wonderful experience, especially for children. Why should those with food allergies have to miss out when there are so many careful and caring restaurants out there?