Worst case scenario: Told to tell staff at restaurant I have an allergy, then grilled on it by the manager!

I get regular work from a mystery shopping company to do a chain of upscale burger joints centered in NYC, visiting a couple of the locations every month, sometimes visiting certain ones once a month. They have "knowledge questions" every month that I'd say, 50% of the time, have me pretending to have a certain allergy and see how they react or what items they tell me I can't eat. I've been told to claim I have an egg allergy, dairy allergy and this time, a gluten allergy. I should preface this by saying I do not have any of these allergies, or any kinds of dietary restrictions, in real life.

I have also been explicitly told that I can't downplay these as just claiming I have an "intolerance" or some other reason for avoiding the ingredient (like it being against my religion or my doctor telling me to shy away from the items- both of which I tried to use, and both of which I got reamed for).

Today I went in and claimed I had a gluten allergy and needed a gluten-free bun, which I had done twice at two other locations this month. They were cautious, warning me what might be cross contaminated, advising me not to order certain items (that I was nevertheless required to order; oy vey!). The managers at the chain are expected to be social and hands-on, so while eating my burger, she stops at my table.

First she asks if I'm enjoying the food. I was. So far, so good, thought she'd go on to ask the next group of diners.

Then she asked if the gluten-free bun I had was the "best I've ever tried." Now, I'm not gluten-intolerant. I love me a nice piece of bread. And I love the potato buns they normally serve with their burgers. Gluten-free buns are disgusting. They have the consistency and taste of tightly packed, wet sand. I also haven't had "gluten-free bread" anywhere else other than this place, so I didn't really have a barometer for whether or not it's good, but I do hate it. I try to be diplomatic by saying something like "Oh, I was just diagnosed recently, I'm still getting used to the taste" and hoping she'd move along; simply because I was worried if I complained I'd either stick out as a shopper or it might look like I was faking my allergy because going "gluten-free" is also a food trend.

Well that was a bad decision. Turns out the manager's sister had celiac disease (the disease that makes people have to abstain from gluten). She started talking about her sister's symptoms, asking if mine were as bad as hers, asking how I coped with the issues... thank god I had read a little bit about the disease on my own, long before doing the mystery shop, because I would've looked like an idiot if I couldn't fake it. I was told what other products at the store contained gluten- products I was required to order in other months. And after finally leaving after talking to me for fifteen minutes, she came BACK to tell me that there was another gluten-intolerant person in the restaurant who LOVED the buns- and continued to talk to me about being gluten free for another ten minutes.

She was a wonderful, sympathetic, gregarious manager.... and I am so glad I'm a natural liar because I can never set foot in that restaurant again. I really resent this mystery shopping company, and their client, for making us lie about our allergies, often changing our story month to month, not allowing us to modify our stories to make them more believable, and I know I will not be able to do this location through no fault of my own (especially because this manager mentioned she's been at that location for years and would probably be present and remember me if I showed up again.) And what if I knew little about the disease that makes people gluten-free? At best I'd basically be insulting her sister, at worst I'd be outed as a shopper, and it's not like the MSC or client provides us with any information about the disease.

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PLEAAASE tell me this shop came with a decent fee!

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Seriously, nobody cares that you're offended.
You would think they would have a longer rotation, if they want you to have a different food allergy each month. How strange.

I hate it when a manager or employee talks your ear off. Once I had to go to a store and ask about a Fitbit, pretending I didn't know what one was (I've had one for years). The employee quickly answered my questions, but a nearby customer decided to educate me on Fitbits for about 10 minutes. I finally made some excuse saying I was in a hurry. Was not worth the $10 fee.
I too can't stand gluten free breads. To begin with, they are mostly based on high glycemic starchy flours, very unhealthy just like most of the gluten free snacks are. I prefer to have my burgers served on lettuce, some call it a lettuce wrap. If ordering the bun is required, I would use a knife and fork to eat everything and avoid then bun. I do this already when required to include any bun.

As for the staff asking questions, the key one is asking if the request is because of allergies. Other than that, I would not be prone to further discuss my health concerns and respond accordingly. I would look around as if concerned about publicly discussing it, thank them for asking and say something like "it is what it is" and go back to waiting for or eating my meal.

Another good response is that I find a lettuce base too messy. Since all buns are bad carbs, I order the gluten free bun to be safe.

My posts are solely based on my opinions and for my entertainment, contact a professional if you need real advice.

When you get in debt you become a slave. - Andrew Jackson
Painful as that sounds, I'm glad the client cares enough about the issue to have shoppers role-play it. My wife has some very extreme food allergies and restaurants can be extremely dangerous for her. She's not going to live the life of a shut-in, but simply leaving the house presents dangers. (She once had anaphylaxis by simply standing next to a garbage can into which somebody had thrown a half-eaten peanut-butter sandwich. Last week I had to take her to the ER because a restaurant was not careful enough and a little bit of carrot slipped into her Caesar Salad.) I'd much rather a restaurant that's not following proper protocols catch the issue on a shopper than on a customer with very real allergies.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
I have the service of a "Service Dog, " and that is one of the issues we deal with all the time. The Staff cannot ask about our disability, or to prove why we require the service animal. In cases where the general public wants to talk about my need or disability, I usually just tell them that I'm not comfortable talking about my physical needs. If that doesn't back them down I calmly say that they are starting to stress me out and Please leave me, I'm NOT comfortable with this discussion and that they are crossing a boundary.
That usually does the trick. Our Physical Illness is our problem and many times I do not want to discuss this with others, as it is a PRIVATE matter, between my doctor and me.

Shopping Southern Georgia, Valdosta, Waycross, Quitman, Thomasville and North Central Florida I-10 & I-75.
I would think that it is totally out-of-bounds for a stranger to ask about your disability. Allergies at restaurants are a little different, though. When I take my wife out to eat, we are literally putting her life in the hands of the kitchen staff and servers. If we want them to protect her, that have to understand exactly what her allergens are and exactly how serious they are. When the management asks about symptoms, it's usually because they are watching our table a little more closely - just in case. That's fine. The more they understand the various ways anaphylactic shock can present itself, the more safe they will be able to keep all their customers with food allergies.

@KanusWeb wrote:

I have the service of a "Service Dog, " and that is one of the issues we deal with all the time. The Staff cannot ask about our disability, or to prove why we require the service animal. In cases where the general public wants to talk about my need or disability, I usually just tell them that I'm not comfortable talking about my physical needs. If that doesn't back them down I calmly say that they are starting to stress me out and Please leave me, I'm NOT comfortable with this discussion and that they are crossing a boundary.
That usually does the trick. Our Physical Illness is our problem and many times I do not want to discuss this with others, as it is a PRIVATE matter, between my doctor and me.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
I had a manager of a steakhouse start to grill me a few years back over my gluten allergy. I think it was because my name and info is in the system and it never had a notification before. I told him it was because I was breastfeeding and my doctor thought that it may be causing issues for my baby. That seemed to make him uncomfortable so he left me alone. It was alarming to be put on the spot like that!

Doing what I can to enhance the life of my family! I LOVE what I do smiling smiley


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/25/2017 03:23PM by ShopSouthTexas.
It's awesome that the manger cared enough to check on you but she was sure a Chatty Patty!

I don't particularly care for small talk, especially when I am trying to enjoy my meal. I'm okay if someone inquires once or maybe twice but don't keep interrupting my meal. If I get annoyed, I'll usually say something like,

"Thanks so much for your concern. I have an engagement in xx minutes, let me finish up my food so I won't be late." I smile then hold eye contact until they blink or turn away. I've never had anyone continue conversation. They usually apologize and realize they are intruding on my time.
One may have felt "grilled" by the manager because the scenario was uncomfortable. Todays society, people post more personal information on Social media. One may chose to not shop this location for awhile but where does that lead one? The manager could very well shop at the same grocery store. What will happen when she looks into a grocery cart and notices all "non-gluten" free products? It sounds as though one is making a mountain out of a molehill.

When one have been mystery shopping for a few years and, now, have problem with lying confused smileyconfused smiley

The Client has an responsibility to its customers, that all food served is healthy and edible based on their health issues. Based on uncomfortably, of the scenario, no matter how prepared one is, the manager was only doing her job (inquiring about your meal and any issues with it) adding with some personal insight. Maybe the Client and the Manager had a meeting earlier in the month about "are we serving our gluten-free customers?" Allergies can be in born or developed thru life. Or thru self preservation.

BTW, it was not as if you had to portray a different sex or ethnic group.

Based on your preference, "I should preface this by saying I do not have any of these allergies, or any kinds of dietary restrictions, in real life." One can be born with allergies or develop allergies thru life, or simply prefer self preservation.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/25/2017 05:07PM by sojo917.
@eyelove2shop wrote:

It's awesome that the manger cared enough to check on you but she was sure a Chatty Patty!

I don't particularly care for small talk, especially when I am trying to enjoy my meal. I'm okay if someone inquires once or maybe twice but don't keep interrupting my meal. If I get annoyed, I'll usually say something like,

"Thanks so much for your concern. I have an engagement in xx minutes, let me finish up my food so I won't be late." I smile then hold eye contact until they blink or turn away. I've never had anyone continue conversation. They usually apologize and realize they are intruding on my time.
Unfortunately the instructions for the shop require me to spend a specific amount of time in the restaurant so I couldn't just scarf down my food and leave; theoretically those rules are there in part to see if a manager has adequate time to come visit your table!
The instructions also says that you do not have to "scarf down my food" and leave. Observation and taste are the requirements. The minimum amount of time in a causal food shop is 20 minutes. If @eyelove2shop is in her 16th minute, then she has every right to make her statement to the manager that approaches her table. PLUS the manager had adequate time to come visit the table. smiling smiley smiling smiley
How annoying. Those food allergy claims are most annoying. I too, research the allergy a bit so I am familiar with it before I perform the job. Doesn't mean I like them but tolerate them as I wouldn't accept the job otherwise. Another thing I have learned from here today. Whenever grilled or questioned, I shall tell them I'm not comfortable speaking about my allergies/health, release eye contact and cease attentive body language.
@sojo917 wrote:

The instructions also says that you do not have to "scarf down my food" and leave. Observation and taste are the requirements. The minimum amount of time in a causal food shop is 20 minutes. If @eyelove2shop is in her 16th minute, then she has every right to make her statement to the manager that approaches her table. PLUS the manager had adequate time to come visit the table. smiling smiley smiling smiley

I agree, although the minimum time in the restaurant for the casual food shop the OP is talking about is 30 minutes. A photo of the food as served is also required, so it sounds as though the OP was already eating and had already photographed his food before the manager descended wanting to discuss allergies.

I did this shop 2 weeks ago and had the gluten free bun. It was a first for me. It wasn't bad. I'd eat it again, although I wouldn't pay an extra dollar for it, I'd get the regular bun at the regular price.

As for the manager, once she came to the table and asked if the shopper was enjoying the food, she had met the standard. When she asked if the gluten free bun was "the best," I would said "delicious" and then cut off the interaction. I would simply have acted startled, taken my cell phone out of my pocket, and answered a phone call. I would have said "one moment" into the phone and turned to the manager and said "so sorry, I have to cut this short. I need to take this."

The OP has posted before that he has difficulty with the KQs that require him to say he has an allergy. The required KQ is revealed in the email that tells shoppers what their assignments are. Shoppers are not required to accept the assignments. My suggestion would be for shoppers to decline shops if they are uncomfortable with the KQ. I have declined twice within the last year (I didn't care for the required food purchase, not the KQ) and there is no punishment for declining a shop. This scenario was not a big deal for me, but if anyone is uncomfortable with it before doing the shop, the best plan is to not do the shop.

edited because spell checker is not my friend.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/25/2017 10:54PM by roflwofl.
You can shop there again. Just say you were misdiagnosed!

"There's so much trouble in this world; surrounded by miracles" - Citizen Cope
You could say (next time you get a gregarious manager) "I'm sorry. I am feeling a little dizzy from your perfume. I am highly allergic to it. Can you please not stand near me, within 10 feet, as per my doctors orders.tongue sticking out smiley "
I can totally understand the OP's discomfort. I would have felt more and more uncomfortable the longer the conversation went...I would have been concerned about being outed, since I was role-playing in a subject area I was not that familiar with.
I really didn't mind the GF bun at all. I was surprised how decent it was. I do agree that this particular client's rules about asking a question exactly the way they word it is extra annoying, but they do pay well, even if they dictate what we order (which I know Misanthrope hates too).
@ShopSouthTexas wrote:

I had a manager of a steakhouse start to grill me a few years back over my gluten allergy. I think it was because my name and info is in the system and it never had a notification before. I told him it was because I was breastfeeding and my doctor thought that it may be causing issues for my baby. That seemed to make him uncomfortable so he left me alone. It was alarming to be put on the spot like that!

That was quick thinking!

Shopper in California's Bay Area
@CaliGirl925 wrote:

@ShopSouthTexas wrote:

I had a manager of a steakhouse start to grill me a few years back over my gluten allergy. I think it was because my name and info is in the system and it never had a notification before. I told him it was because I was breastfeeding and my doctor thought that it may be causing issues for my baby. That seemed to make him uncomfortable so he left me alone. It was alarming to be put on the spot like that!

That was quick thinking!
Yep, next time a manager comes and asks me about my allergies I'll just lift up my shirt and tell 'em I'm lactating out of my hairy mantits.
@Misanthrope wrote:

I get regular work from a mystery shopping company to do a chain of upscale burger joints centered in NYC, visiting a couple of the locations every month, sometimes visiting certain ones once a month. They have "knowledge questions" every month that I'd say, 50% of the time, have me pretending to have a certain allergy and see how they react or what items they tell me I can't eat. I've been told to claim I have an egg allergy, dairy allergy and this time, a gluten allergy. I should preface this by saying I do not have any of these allergies, or any kinds of dietary restrictions, in real life.

I have also been explicitly told that I can't downplay these as just claiming I have an "intolerance" or some other reason for avoiding the ingredient (like it being against my religion or my doctor telling me to shy away from the items- both of which I tried to use, and both of which I got reamed for).

Today I went in and claimed I had a gluten allergy and needed a gluten-free bun, which I had done twice at two other locations this month. They were cautious, warning me what might be cross contaminated, advising me not to order certain items (that I was nevertheless required to order; oy vey!). The managers at the chain are expected to be social and hands-on, so while eating my burger, she stops at my table.

First she asks if I'm enjoying the food. I was. So far, so good, thought she'd go on to ask the next group of diners.

Then she asked if the gluten-free bun I had was the "best I've ever tried." Now, I'm not gluten-intolerant. I love me a nice piece of bread. And I love the potato buns they normally serve with their burgers. Gluten-free buns are disgusting. They have the consistency and taste of tightly packed, wet sand. I also haven't had "gluten-free bread" anywhere else other than this place, so I didn't really have a barometer for whether or not it's good, but I do hate it. I try to be diplomatic by saying something like "Oh, I was just diagnosed recently, I'm still getting used to the taste" and hoping she'd move along; simply because I was worried if I complained I'd either stick out as a shopper or it might look like I was faking my allergy because going "gluten-free" is also a food trend.

Well that was a bad decision. Turns out the manager's sister had celiac disease (the disease that makes people have to abstain from gluten). She started talking about her sister's symptoms, asking if mine were as bad as hers, asking how I coped with the issues... thank god I had read a little bit about the disease on my own, long before doing the mystery shop, because I would've looked like an idiot if I couldn't fake it. I was told what other products at the store contained gluten- products I was required to order in other months. And after finally leaving after talking to me for fifteen minutes, she came BACK to tell me that there was another gluten-intolerant person in the restaurant who LOVED the buns- and continued to talk to me about being gluten free for another ten minutes.

She was a wonderful, sympathetic, gregarious manager.... and I am so glad I'm a natural liar because I can never set foot in that restaurant again. I really resent this mystery shopping company, and their client, for making us lie about our allergies, often changing our story month to month, not allowing us to modify our stories to make them more believable, and I know I will not be able to do this location through no fault of my own (especially because this manager mentioned she's been at that location for years and would probably be present and remember me if I showed up again.) And what if I knew little about the disease that makes people gluten-free? At best I'd basically be insulting her sister, at worst I'd be outed as a shopper, and it's not like the MSC or client provides us with any information about the disease.

kudos for a truly excellent, well-written posting. if this is indicative of your reporting style you must be a valuable resource for many mscs.
I am actually allergic to dust.....however, many are allergic to peanuts and get deathly ill when the plant makes food that has peanuts made there. Allergie's are rising and these newer healthy food places are being considerate. I have never done one of these shops, but if I do will say i'm allergic to peanuts just for their reaction. They are basically catering to the gluten-free group...i wouldn't be put out if asked a couple questions.
My dust allergy is relatively new and now that i'm going to an Allergist, learning about it. Gluten free is made with a different flour, and has a different taste.

Live consciously....
@Irene_L.A. wrote:

I am actually allergic to dust.....however, many are allergic to peanuts and get deathly ill when the plant makes food that has peanuts made there. Allergie's are rising and these newer healthy food places are being considerate. I have never done one of these shops, but if I do will say i'm allergic to peanuts just for their reaction. They are basically catering to the gluten-free group...i wouldn't be put out if asked a couple questions.
My dust allergy is relatively new and now that i'm going to an Allergist, learning about it. Gluten free is made with a different flour, and has a different taste.

don't think i'm going to invite you for a visit cuz i have dust bunnies bigger than the bunny that just died on the united airlines plane and having a guest that goes into cardiac arrest isn't my way of a fun time.

but, with that being said, one of the upsides of having a gf is that she does the dusting, etc. for me.

i'll show myself out now.
To shed some light on part of the motivation for this question needing to be exact....I did two of these this month. I mentioned my allergy to the cashier on the first one who then asked me if it was an allergy or a preference. I answered that it was an allergy but thought it strange to be asked that after stating I had an allergy. When I picked up my order it was on 2 trays...the small burger alone on one and the other small items on the other tray. There was plenty of extra room on either tray for much more than my order. Of course my photo showed both trays but I also mentioned in my report that my order was on 2 trays.
I went ahead and did my second job last week not even seeing anything out of the ordinary to get one tray with my food. A few days after doing my second gluten allergy job I got an email from the editor of my first job telling me that my order was done 100% correct that first time. They are supposed to serve the gluten free item on it's own tray so as not to possibly contaminate it with whatever else you ordered. So I am thinking if I had said gluten free was a preference and not an allergy they would not have given me two trays. The second place I went to served incorrectly on one tray.
Hi Brian...long time no hear from....no, i won't sleep over, not to worry...and keep your girlfriend, you can stay, just show the dust mites out..smiling smiley

Live consciously....
@Irene_L.A. wrote:

Hi Brian...long time no hear from....no, i won't sleep over, not to worry...and keep your girlfriend, you can stay, just show the dust mites out..smiling smiley

hey irene,

good to hear from you and, yep, it has been a while and, irene, it was somewhat presumptuous on your part to equate my "visit" scenario to your "sleepover" scenario. there does happen to be a difference. but...maybe something to merit further discussion?

and (cuz i'm very rarely finished)... if there are any "not-at-all intelligent" personnel monitoring (i'm on their radar) feel free to deduct as many lame points you want for: lack of capitalization + run on sentence(s) + anything else you people continue to pick on and then don't give explanations and the word douchebaggerry somehow jumps into my snarky mind.
Misanthrope, I'm sorry that you had to deal with that situation. This is not a typical interaction, and I hope you won't have to face this issue again. Hopefully, you aren't completely outed! I also would have been very uncomfortable with the manager, especially when you are trying to enjoy a meal. I don't feel there was a need for the manager to delve into that much detail, especially when it's personal and not related to a potential risk of a reaction. I hope you were able to include that in the narrative, as that may potentially scare off gluten-intolerant customers.

I am a parent of two (now-adult) children with life-threatening food allergies, and I have minor food allergies and a gluten intolerance myself. I have spent a lot of time asking about food allergies, discussing cross-contamination, and dealing with more than one serious allergic reaction. As MFJohnston says, I too, assume that the staff is watching our table more closely to ensure that there are no symptoms or reactions. I find it reassuring when the staff checks the ingredients, warns us of potential cross-contamination issues, and checks to make sure there is no reaction. However, this manager was more than "helpful."

As a parent, I am happy to know that you are checking to see what servers say when presented with a food allergic client. It must be uncomfortable saying that you have an allergy that you don't have, but you are doing a great service to people who are at risk. Since you are not at risk of anaphylaxis, you can seriously help protect people who are at risk.

If it helps for future shops, it is possible for certain allergies to be misdiagnosed or for people to outgrow allergies. A person who is highly allergic to grass may test positive for a wheat allergy and display no symptoms. Perhaps this may help if you find yourself in a jam -- you can say you were misdiagnosed.

Also, if it helps, a wheat allergy and celiac disease are different. So, if the manager comes up to you again, you can always say that you only know about food allergies and not about celiac.

As an aside, I can't eat wheat, and I hate gluten-free buns!

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 04/29/2017 01:52AM by PersonC.
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