Living in a society in which people tote a gluten or lactose ‘intolerance’ as a dietary choice makes it frustrating for people like me who live with a chronic condition and cannot voluntarily amend our diets. Eliminating entire food groups and modifying for a Crohns diet challenged my taste buds and patience, but the real pain in the butt began when I started dancing the Menu Waltz.
The Menu Waltz occurs when I walk into a restaurant. I look at a menu and make a mental list of what I’d like to eat. Once the waiter or waitress arrives, we dance around the menu, the ingredients I can and cannot eat. It’s as if we’re speed dating through the menu.
Sometimes I scout out ‘safe’ foods by looking at a menu online before dining out, but that’s not always possible. The feelings of embarrassment coupled with servers’ disdain ofbeing dealt ‘the difficult customer’ made me dread eating out for about 9 months. The Menu Waltz made me want to run like Cinderella from the Ball.
I first learned to embrace the Menu Waltz during ‘family dinner’ with my 2013 summer roommates at an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh. My friend’s mother lives with a severe dairy allergy, so Danielle was accustomed to dealing with potentially risky and embarrassing situations.
We ordered greens ’n beans for the table. Salty, sautéed leafy greens are a popular Pittsburgh menu item. I’d been dying to try them! However, the menu said they were topped with parmesan cheese. “Is there any way to have the greens without the cheese on top?” I asked, fully anticipating a ’no’ and an eye roll from our waitress. “Actually, we need you to make the greens ’n beans without the cheese on top. She has a dietary restriction.” Danielle plunked down her menu, looked at me and said, “You do, but don’t let it affect your ability to eat, Shayna. The cheese is just a garnish they can leave in the kitchen.”
Thus began the Menu Waltz’s rags to ball gown transformation a la Cinderella. During a trip to Disney World in October 2013, I ate breakfast at the Fort Wilderness Lodge. Noticing several red flags on the menu, I asked the waitress if any dishes might be modifiable due to a dietary restriction. She asked me to wait a moment, and disappeared into the kitchen.
When I looked up, I saw a new face. The Assistant Manager wanted me to educate her about dairy free variations of their dishes based on ingredients she had in the kitchen. I enjoyed reviewing the menu with her and explaining the differences between intolerances, allergies and my tips for eliminating dairy ingredients. Like the Fairy Godmother’s wand, Disney World’s magic completed the Menu Waltz’s transformation.
She made me a smoothie without yogurt, something she’d never done at the Lodge before. The kitchen also prepared some delicious Mickey Mouse waffles with toasted nuts, fruit, and a heaping dollop of maple syrup. Instead of cinnamon butter, they found Smart Balance and whipped in their sugary cinnamon powder. Being a pain in their butt finally made me feel better about eliminating the pain in mine!
Over the past few years I’ve grown comfortable asking for a waiter or waitress’s hand in our little dance. When I explain my chronic condition I see staff members grow more understanding. We laugh instead of dreading the meal-ordering ordeal ahead.
The Menu Waltz has transformed my experience from being a pain in everyone’s butt to a delightful dance of delicious dining out.