A nut allergy suffer has expressed shock after being asked to sign a disclaimer before eating in a London bar and restaurant.
Thomas De Ville, 28, from London, planned to celebrate his and his best friend’s birthday with a meal at the West End branch of The Piano Works. When booking the table for around 15 friends, De Ville informed the venue of his allergy and was told he’d need to sign a disclaimer before eating at the venue – or pay £16.50 corkage fee to bring his own food to be warmed up.
The incident made him feel so uncomfortable he decided to eat at a branch of Byron burger with his girlfriend before and join the party at the table just for drinks.
“I have been living with a nut allergy my whole life and have never been asked to sign anything before eating at a restaurant, I hope this is not a new trend,” he told HuffPost UK.
“It put a somber note on the evening and was very surprising”
De Ville’s sister, Hannah de Ville, shared his story on Twitter. She told HuffPost UK: “My brother already feels uncomfortable constantly having to check in restaurants about food and having to sometimes flick through a massive confusing folder at the table, with stuff he can have in it and then to to try and make someone feel even more uncomfortable by signing a disclaimer before they eat is just disgusting.”
The siblings say The Piano Works also told them waivers such as this are commonplace in other restaurants – something they were surprised and disappointed to hear.
In response to Hannah De Ville’s tweet, The Piano Works said: “We’re passionate about food, our meals are made with high quality ingredients and we do our best to cater for people with food allergies. However, we cannot guarantee an environment completely free from allergens so traces of some ingredients may still be present in our meals.”
In a further tweet, the restaurant added that Easyjet has banned the sale of nuts on flights to help protect passengers with allergies. “We are not prepared to abandon the use of nuts in our menu as we would have to include the other thirteen allergens,” it said. “But if you can suggest an alternative to our policy we’d be very happy to consider it.”
Following Thomas De Ville’s experience, other allergy sufferers have said they do not want to see the introduction of waivers normalised.
Gemma Evans, 34, from Surrey, was asked to sign a disclaimer before her main course was served when on a birthday weekend away at a UK spa hotel.
“I was stunned,” she told HuffPost UK. “I felt like I was being asked to sign a license to kill. I handed it back to the waiter without signing but it’s all I could think about throughout the rest of the dinner. What a birthday treat!”
The charity Action Against Allergy told HuffPost UK waivers like this reflect how the food service industry has been alarmed by the recent allergy deaths in the news.
“Not all of these documents may be liability disclaimers,” a spokesperson explained. “Some may constitute just a signed acknowledgment that a conversation about allergy has taken place and that the diner has been told allergens are handled in the kitchen.”
The charity added that it’s currently unclear whether such documents carry “any legal weight” and urged the Food Standards Agency to investigate the issue.
“Either way, asking diners to sign documents in restaurant situations is not acceptable,” the charity said. “People with allergy or parents of children with allergy do not expect peanut and nut bans nor do they expect 100% guarantees. They expect proper, factual communication on food provenance and how it is handled and prepared.”
Shafali Talisa Arya, 26, from London, has severe allergies to nuts and some fruits. She’s never been asked to sign a disclaimer and is against restaurants introducing them.
“It’s bad enough and embarrassing enough to have to constantly inform people about allergies and I fear this can make it worse,” she said.
Edel Mairs, who lives near Belfast, has a seven-year-old son who’s allergic to nuts, eggs and kiwi. She’s never been asked to sign a waiver, but says the family have been refused service and “have noticed attitudes change in some previously safe and proactive restaurants”.
“Waivers like this make me feel disappointed and frustrated,” she said. “The food industry is better than this. There is no need for waivers and they set a dangerous precedent that could further isolate allergy customers.”
She argues that catering for people with allergies should be no different to following the food preparation measures needed to prevent food poisoning.
“Chefs and professional kitchens are meant to be trained and able to cater for a range of dietary requirements. They are trained to prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked meat for example,” she said.
“A waiver says to me that the chef and the restaurant don’t care about food quality and don’t care about their customers and that would make me question eating there, allergy or not.”
HuffPost UK has contacted The Piano Works for further comment and will update this piece if we receive a response.