Consulting restaurant staff can take a lot of the pain out of dining out for people on a diet or with special needs, writes Jenny Tarran.
For most people ordering off a menu is not a complicated affair. You just end up choosing what you feel like eating.
Then there are other diners, the ones who tremble at the idea of ordering from a menu, be it due to a strict weight-loss diet, a medically imposed diet or an allergy.
Dining out doesn't have to be a scary affair and the first secret to a good meal out that doesn't tip the scales or include ingredients that could give you an allergic reaction is to ask before you order.
This may mean contacting the restaurant in advance if you suffer from a severe food allergy. While it may take a bit of time, that five or 10 minutes spent on the phone talking to the chef or waitstaff may save a lot of embarrasment, both for the diner and the eatery, when it's time to order.
If there are specific food allergies, talk to the chef about substitutes, ask how the food is prepared, and if your particular requirements can be catered for.
If your needs aren't too extreme then good waitstaff are your best friend when dining out. They should not only know the menu backwards, they should also have an idea of what ingredients go into the dishes and how they're cooked. If they don't know the details, the waitstaff should be able to approach the chef for you and find out.
Ocassionally a restaurant or cafe will have a menu so well set out that you don't have to send a list of questions to the kitchen.
Some menus describe the dish so well that it's easy to know if the food is baked, fried or grilled and what the sauce or dressing is made from. These menus are more likely to have symbols denoting vegetarian and vegan food, dairy-free and wheat-free options as well as healthy choice meals...