I have worked in restaurants, hotels, banquet facilities, and culinary schools. And I can tell you that you can never feel safe!
Whether you have allergies or are on a diet, restaurants are dangerous. First of all, the folks that work in many restaurants (specifically low to mid end chains) are usually not trained on special diets. Many do not understand how dangerous cross contamination is. And, as much training as they have, it is almost impossible to keep allergic separate from non-allergic foods. For example, when there are any nuts on a salad line, it is almost 100% guaranteed that those nuts are getting mixed with other ingredients. Imagine taking a spoon full of nuts that are in a container at arms length and carrying it to a plate in front of you. How likely is it that you will drop a piece or two between the container and your plate. Now imagine being in a rush. Balancing those little pieces on a spoon at high speed is even harder. And, if you have little training on cross contamination, you may not realize that just avoiding that nut in the container of avocados (but serving those avocados anyway) can cause someone to stop breathing…
If you ever order chicken “dry” or without oil, it is almost impossible for the piece of chicken to have no oil. Restaurants use oil in EVERYTHING. Oil and fat is what makes food taste good and look attractive. If you have ever cooked a piece of chicken breast in a pan with just a little non-stick cooking spray, you will know that it looks dry. When you are dieting, this is fine. But no restaurant wants their food to look like that. Any food that is shiny, crispy, or creamy has A LOT of fat.
If you order a salad without lets say, olives, and it comes with olives, you send it back right? Chances are that the kitchen will just pick the olives off. It costs the kitchen time and money to remake a salad and many restaurants do not want to lose money making another salad. It really depends on the quality of the restaurant and the staff.
The higher end restaurant you visit, the better the chances are that they are sympathetic and accommodating to food allergies and diets. I have a friend who has a child with several allergies. When she does eat out, she brings food for him because she can not take the chance of him eating something that he is allergic to. However, when they went on a Disney Cruise, she told me how great the chef was and how she was able to allow him to eat food prepared in the kitchen because of the high level of sensitivity the staff had to her son’s issues.
Although I love to dine out, there is really no safer place to eat then in my home where I prepare the food and know exactly what goes into it. If you have to eat out, be as communicative as possible with the staff at the restaurant. Ask to speak to the chef, who is in charge of the kitchen and may be able to prepare food as you need to or at least tell you that they can not.
If you have any questions about this, please send me an email from my webpage.