Hotel Breakfasts – Allergy Friendly?

We’ve stayed at various hotels over the years, but how easy is it to get an allergy friendly breakfast? From our experience it is pretty tricky if your daughter has a fixation with toast because the biggest sticking point is BREAD.

Now bread is normally made with flour, yeast and water but 98% of the time asking for dairy, egg and nut free bread is like asking for bottled unicorn tears. Usually the response will be: “But we do have gluten free bread?”. No Thanks, it’s great you can cater for coeliacs but gluten free bread contains egg which my children are allergic to. If the words bread and allergic are in the same sentence it does not mean I want gluten free! Otherwise we are told the bread is bought in from a bakery and they have no idea what the ingredients are but cannot guarantee it would be dairy/egg/nut free so it would be best not to.

We were visiting family in Leeds and often stay at the Hilton Doubletree at least once every year when in town. A couple of years ago they had switched to a buffet breakfast service; we found that the bread contained egg and as other dairy/egg/nut free choices were limited we stopped having breakfast there. This year we had an extended stay so hoping that they would be more allergy friendly after new allergy labelling legislation came into force in 2014, I emailed the hotel with our requirements. I received a response from the manager of the Food and Beverage team:

I would like to advise you that we have the following on offer:
Fresh fruits, fruit salads, selection of cured meats and preservatives, porridge (made from water on request), bacon and cooked vegetables as well as raw vegetables. Chef advise me that we can provide gluten free, dairy free and egg free bread as well on requests.

I included my colleagues from breakfast to this email and would appreciate if you could advise one of our breakfast staff members on arrival for further assistance.

Sounds Promising.

So on our first morning we arrived for breakfast at the restaurant, at the front desk a friendly chap called Jonathan recognised our booking from the email, and advised that any of the waiting staff would help. The buffet was available and hot food items were in separate trays, but the problem with this is that you are never sure if other people have swapped the serving spoons around resulting in cross contamination, so we steered clear of these. My daughters love ham, but the platter of cured meat included mortadella – which contains pistachio, so this was also a no-no.

It was a busy breakfast service and we had a very hungry 8 year old and a hyperactive toddler, so I tried to placate them with some raisins and fruit salad. Staff were thin on the ground but I managed to order porridge for the kids to be made with soya milk. I then enquired about the bread as mentioned in the email and the waitress looked puzzled. I showed her the email and she went to the kitchen.

Well after quite a while the waitress came back and guess what she said? “The bread we have here contains  egg but we have gluten free bread?” Argh! Never mind I thought, at least we have the porridge, it’ll be along in a few minutes. We waited nearly 30 minutes for the porridge, by which time Big One had grown bored and complained that she wanted toast all along, and Little Two had made her own entertainment wearing her fruit salad while throwing it onto the table/floor, and threatening to escape her highchair. When the porridge finally came it was boiling hot, having just been cooked and took an age to cool down; Little Two had given up on food by this time but at least Big One ate hers. However it was all far too stressful.

After our disappointing breakfast, I asked to speak to the manager who had sent the original email, and she had also brought Jonathan with her. I explained that her information was incorrect and the choices available were extremely limited, along with a long wait to feed impatient children. She apologised and offered me the option of a refund for the breakfast if I wanted to go elsewhere for the rest of our stay. I thought this was a bit of a cop out and said it was inconvenient for us to do that with the children on a cold winter’s morning, what could they offer?

Thankfully they became a bit more helpful after this and asked what they could do to provide a greater choice of food for our children. I gave them the names of brands of sliced bread available in the supermarkets that were dairy, egg and nut free (e.g. Hovis, Kingsmill and supermarket own brands). This was a revelation to them and they agreed to buy a loaf in.  I quizzed them about the ham and they said they had clean down procedures in place to prevent nut contamination, or if necessary would cut by hand. They would have a plate of ham ready in the morning and make the porridge quicker.

The following morning everything went like a breeze. The staff were very attentive and we were brought a large serving of ham straight away and a pile of allergy friendly toast shortly after. There was a bit of a wait for porridge but I guess they were cooking it from scratch. Most importantly of all my children were fed and happy (still made a mess though)!

When we were checking out, the manager was good enough to check if our breakfast was satisfactory. She said the experience had helped them for future visits from guests with allergies, the information about the bread in particular was very useful and they would offer this as an alternative option. And when we stay there next time I will know exactly what to ask for! I’m glad that at least one place has been taught to  cater better for allergies.