The weekend before Christmas, our family spent two nights in Zurich. We took in the typical holiday sights, like the crystal-covered Christmas tree at the Zurich main station. We strolled along decorated downtown streets filled with music and holiday shoppers, while keeping warm with our steaming cups of glühwein (or vin chaud in French). It really felt like the holidays. And it was extra special because for the first time in over a year, we ate out as a family at two restaurants.
At these Zurich restaurants—when my 2-year old wasn’t running away from the table to find some toys or another new adventure—we had a hot meal together with my in-laws, who were visiting from the United States. The food was safe, and it tasted good. My son didn’t get hives or have any other signs of an allergic reaction. The servers were very helpful, allowed me to read labels and responded fully to my questions.
As the oldest continuously operating vegetarian restaurant in the world, Hiltl goes out of its way to make sure you know what you’re getting. Check out the “Declaration” section of their website, which has a glossary of acronyms used to identify ingredients on their menus (e.g., “Mi” = milk ingredients and “Ei” = egg ingredients). Recommend to us via Switzerland’s English Forum, Hiltl did not disappoint. We ate there for lunch on Saturday.
Once our food arrived, my son happily tucked into his plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce sans dairy, eggs and almonds. This was a special treat because we didn’t have to cook it ourselves or clean up afterwards. I will never forget this meal. It was so incredibly nice.
Hotel Novotel – Zurich City West
We stayed for two nights at the Hotel Novotel. Our family ate breakfast at the restaurant twice, but we packed along food for my son. There’s a Migros close to the hotel, so we could pick up some things like fruit, salami and soy yogurt for him. I also packed along some of my crescent rolls, this time filled with Enjoy Life chocolate.
On Saturday night, we made a reservation at the Novotelcafé Restaurant for 6:00 PM—right when it opened for dinner. As the only ones there, we had the full attention of our server, who was very helpful. She knew all about our son’s allergies in advance of ordering. Our little guy loves fish, and we were happy to find steamed a steamed version on the kids’ menu. He ended up with a very healthy meal of steamed salmon and vegetables. We were very happy with the restaurant and hotel, so we’ll likely stay here again. While not right in the center of Zurich, public transit makes it easily accessible.
Dining Out with Food Allergies: Our Approach
Based on these most recent restaurant experiences, here’s my latest 3-pronged approach to dining out with food allergies in Switzerland:
- Contact the restaurant in advance: For me, since I’m still working on my French (and I don’t speak any German or Italian), this means sending an email in advance to the restaurant about my son’s allergies and finding out what meal options they may have.
- Make a reservation for when the restaurant isn’t very busy: A busy kitchen could be less likely to accommodate my son. We want to make it as easy as possible for the restaurant to prepare a safe meal.
- When you arrive, give a paper copy with notes about your allergies to your server: In Switzerland, I recommend that information about your food allergies be written in the language of the region you’re in (French, German or Italian) and/or English, depending on the restaurant.
How do you manage food allergies at restaurants? I’m always looking for new and better advice, so if you have some to share, please leave a comment below. Also, there are some great tools and resources from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
Finally, if you have any allergy-friendly restaurant recommendations for Switzerland, we want to know! Thanks, and Happy New Year to you all.