It’s always a little bit scary dining out at a new-to-you restaurant when you have food allergies. But when you find a place that handles food allergies really well by having solid processes in place to help make sure you don’t get sick, those fears tend to dissipate quickly.
Enter Red Robin, a national hamburger chain that’s not your ordinary burger joint. From the way it handles food allergies to its fun, lively atmosphere, this restaurant is really something special. For families who want to go out for a meal together and feel confident that the food-allergic person in their party can be accommodated safely, Red Robin’s a great place to go. In fact, they were recently named one of AllergyEats’ most allergy-friendly large chain restaurants. As we’re coming up on May (which is National Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month, plus FARE’s Food Allergy Week happens May 8-14), let’s take a closer look at how Red Robin accommodates food-allergic diners and makes mealtime fun for the whole family! (Full disclosure: Red Robin generously provided me with a gift card that I could use to order a gluten-free meal so that I could provide a review of my experience there.)
From Red Robin’s bright, cheery atmosphere to its extensive menu to the electronic games on the tables, this is a restaurant people of all ages are sure to enjoy. The décor is colorful and fun, and the music is family-friendly and upbeat. You can purchase unlimited game play for $1.99, and they offer a wide variety of games, many of which are kid-friendly. My boyfriend and I enjoyed playing many rounds of trivia (and really loved beating everyone else by a landslide). Bonus: The same device you play games on can also be used to order drink refills and pay your check at the end of the meal.
Red Robin’s menu is pretty large for non-food allergic people—and surprisingly big for those with allergies, too. If you download their Customizer app before you go or visit the Customizer section of Red Robin’s website, you can get a sense of what types of meals might be available for you. You can use the “Allergen Menu” section of their Customizer to specify your allergies (choose from wheat, gluten, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy; you can specify multiple allergens) and then see what types of foods come up for each category.
When you arrive at Red Robin, be sure to tell the hostess you have a food allergy. They’ll hook you up with an iPad you can use to select your meal (very fancy, considering your non-food allergic dining companions only get traditional menus). Although you will still order your meal through a server, the iPad will essentially walk you through the “Allergen Menu” part of the Customizer so that you can input your allergies and browse your options. Then, when you place the order with your server, make sure you show them your choice on the iPad, clearly communicate your food allergies, and ask them any questions you might have. Although the server may not know the answer right away, from my experience, they seem willing to find out the answer. For instance, I asked if the fries were fried in a dedicated fryer that was not also frying gluteny things like onion rings and chicken tenders. Although my server didn’t know the answer himself, he went and asked the manager right away (and yes, at the location I visited, the fries were indeed safe for me to eat).
I was also happy to learn that all servers are trained to flag orders like mine with an allergy alert so the kitchen recognizes the need to take special precautions. Red Robin uses allergen kits to prepare all allergen orders. The kits include tools that are for use on allergen orders only and are purple to clearly distinguish them from other kitchen tools.
Options for gluten-free eaters
I found Red Robin’s list of gluten-free choices to be surprisingly large, with lots of safe options to choose from. There were quite a few Gourmet Burgers, Taverns, Finest Burgers, and Other Fun on a Bun to choose from as entrees. If you’re getting a sandwich, you can swap out the gluteny bun for a gluten-free bun or a lettuce wrap.
When you go through the Allergen Menu and click on specific items, it will show you a list of the ingredients that are safe and also which ones are not safe and that you should avoid. In some cases it may indicate that you should ask for the menu item without something (no cheesy croutons, for example) or tell you that you have an option available for swapping an ingredient out (for instance, trading a gluteny sesame bun for a gluten-free hamburger bun). If you’re not into beef or hamburgers, there are several other types of burgers or sandwiches (like turkey burgers or chicken sandwiches) that appear on the gluten-free part of the allergen menu. There’s also a blackened salmon dish available for gluten-free eaters, and a variety of salads (remember to request no croutons, and check the particular salad you are interested in to see if there’s any other ingredients that the app deems not safe for you, such as teriyaki sauce, garlic bread, or bleu cheese crumbles).
If you’re dining with kiddos who are gluten-free, there are four entrée choices—chicken stickers, a hamburger, a turkey burger, and a chicken burger—plus fruity side items like a freckled fruit salad, apple slices, and mandarin oranges, or veggie sides like baby carrots, steamed broccoli, or a side salad.
In addition to having plenty of entrees to choose from, there are also a ton of gluten-free beverages you can choose. They go far beyond the typical sodas—there are lots of flavored iced teas and lemonades available for you to enjoy. (I’m a big fan of the freckled lemonade!) If you’re looking for an alcoholic beverage, many Red Robin locations have Angry Orchard gluten-free hard cider available.
You’ll also see some safe side items listed on the allergen menu. One curious thing is that the bottomless fries don’t seem to appear anywhere on the allergen menu, no matter what allergies I specified. This is why, when I visited Red Robin, I had the server double-check that the fries were indeed gluten-free and fried in a dedicated fryer. When in doubt, always ask!
While there are a great amount of entrees, beverages, and sides available for gluten-free eaters, there are not a ton of desserts or appetizers available. There were no gluten-free desserts available at the Red Robin I went to. The gluten-free appetizer choices were scant—and would have been a little tough to eat. Each of the three safe appetizers—Chili Chili Con Queso, Heck-Yeah Hummus Plate, and Guac, Salsa and Chips—were only safe if you didn’t get them with the tortilla chips or the cheesy bread crouton. You could substitute tortilla strips instead, and although I’m glad they had this substitution available, I have to imagine that it would be tough to eat these types of dips with tortilla strips (I’m envisioning lots of guac, salsa or chili ending up all over the front of my shirt). This is the one area I’d like to see Red Robin improve a little bit—beefing up their appetizer and dessert sections so that there’s at least one reasonable option for gluten-free diners.
I was a nervous Nellie trying out a new-to-me restaurant, but Red Robin put me at ease pretty quickly. I like when I see that a restaurant chain has procedures in place to help food-allergic people eat safely, and I was impressed that Red Robin takes allergies so seriously.
I liked being able to browse my menu options on the iPad, and also liked that the server was friendly and willing to answer my many questions. I was also pleased that they got my order right—in addition to asking for a gluten-free Bacon Cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun, I also asked for certain other customizations like no mayonnaise (not because I’m allergic, just because I don’t like it!), and they got those right, too.
When the staff brought our food out, right away they told me that my burger was gluten-free. I noticed it had a little purple plastic flag stuck in the top of it, indicating that it was an allergy-friendly meal. I love seeing stuff like this—it indicates that procedures are truly in place to keep staff apprised of allergies and to help me not get ill.
My burger not only looked appetizing, but tasted delicious! And I realized that in the five years I’ve been gluten-free, this was the first time I was actually having a hamburger with a bun at a restaurant. (I’ve visited other burger restaurants, but could only get my burger wrapped in lettuce or bunless.) Not only was the burger delicious, but eating it with a bun made me feel really happy. I devoured it way too fast out of sheer excitement and the fact that it was really yummy. I also enjoyed the bottomless fries—although I could have ordered more, I stuck to just one serving, mainly because I was pretty full from that delish burger!
Additionally, my boyfriend—who is not gluten-free and ordered off the regular menu—really enjoyed his Mushroom Swiss burger and bottomless fries (he liked them so much he got a second helping!).
I was pleasantly surprised at the check total at the end of the night. Between me and my boyfriend, we had two entrees and two beverages, plus the $1.99 for unlimited games. Even with a tip that was over 20%, the total bill was just over $30. Not bad for a delicious meal and fun entertainment!
I was also very happy that I felt no ill effects from eating at Red Robin. This gives me even more confidence that they do things right there, and it makes me eager to go back for another yummy meal.
Tips for your Red Robin visit
- Before you go, download the app and join the rewards program. The app will help you browse your meal options in advance, and over time, the rewards program may help you save money.
- Tell the hostess you have food allergies. They’ll give you an iPad to browse the Allergen Menu!
- Tell your server you have food allergies. Always clearly communicate your food allergies to your server.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! When in doubt, always ask.
- Show your gratitude. Always make sure to thank your server and let them know you appreciate the care they took in making sure your meal was made just right!
Gluten-free safety tip
When ordering bottomless fries refills, make sure you ask for your own basket. If you are sensitive to cross-contamination, you do not want to be reaching into the same basket of fries that one of your dining companions is also reaching into, if they’ve just had their hands touching their gluteny burger bun.
The bottom line
If you have food allergies, Red Robin is a place that will take them seriously and do their best to help you eat safely. It’s a fun place for families to eat, and there are plenty of options for gluten-free eaters. The food is tasty, the service is excellent, and it isn’t too expensive. I highly recommend it—so much so that I’ll be going back again soon!
Disclaimer: Red Robin provided me with a gift card to use for review purposes. This did not influence the article in any way; my opinions are my own.