I am not a fan of grump posts but if I don't share this info about eating at Universal Studios, well other folk with Gluten sensitivities will be as clueless as I when they visit the park.
To preface this post, two years ago we went to three of the many Disney parks, we purchased the meal plan and loved it! When you purchase a Disney meal plan they ask you about food allergies. While at the park you carry a magnetic card with all of your info, at each restaurant they swipe your card and THEN the chef comes out to talk to you about what is Gluten Free and (in our case) Dairy Free and what can be prepared GF DF. AMAZING! They even had GF brownies for dessert and soy ice cream. At the pop stands they were aware of your allergies and at one stand they ran out of GF brownies and an employee went to another location to get one for my daughter. So WOW and way to go to Disney Parks' customer service for folks with food allergies.
Back to this weekends trip to Islands of Adventure at Universal.
We purchased the Express Meal Plan. I looked at the menus and thought HMMM looks like I will be eating a lot of plain hamburger patties and grilled chicken. With Universal's plan, you receive a wrist band that you flash at the employee taking the orders and they don't charge you. Each individual can go through the line as many times as they want, which might seem easy if you don't think about how long those lines often are. There is an option on their register for no bun, but good luck having the servers remember no bun. There are only three restaurants in the park you can use the Express Meal Pass. Our group consist of two folks with food allergies, one picky eater (who we borrowed for the big weekend) and two folks who love bread and never get it at home.
First food stop was in Jurassic Park, for the kids menu there is Fried Mac & Cheese, Cheeseburger, and two other options, for the adults Grilled Chicken, Chicken Strips, Cheeseburger. So we ordered 3 Cheeseburger (one with no cheese and no bun), one Chicken Strips and a Grilled Chicken with no bun. We ended up with 4 hamburger cause the first go they forgot to remove the bun, hubby ate the a hamburger cause our picky eater does not eat beef, only chicken, Little bit and I had bunless chicken and hamburger. No amazing food but food. We did not have to go through the line multiple times just to feed all of us.
Next meal, Circus McGurkus, this place is a Gluten Free nightmare. The kids menu is Pizza, Fried Chicken , Spaghetti, no GF options at all on the kids menu. The adult menu is Friend Chicken Caesar Salad, Cheeseburger, Spaghetti and Fried Chicken. The picky eater and my oldest were thrilled with the pizza, my husband ate a child Spaghetti, Little Bit and I had plain burger patties. The following day we came back to Circus McGurkus for a character event and the woman in line in front of me told the chef she had a food allergy and some how they were able to produce a grilled chicken patty for her salad. When I asked they said no. I looked right at the "chef" who made hers and he said it could not be done. I was fairly angry but we were on holiday and I had children with me, so I had a plain Caesar Salad, which they made with out croutons and the girls gorged on pizza and Little Bit said, "I am sick of hamburgers."
Last meal stop, the third and final restaurant you are allowed to eat at with the Express Meal Pass, Comic Strip Cafe. Their menu is a bit more varies, child menu included Sweet & Sour Chicken, Chicken Strips, Pizza, Cheeseburger, the adult menu included Beef & Broccoli, Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, Fried Fish & Chips and some other stuff I was not paying attention to. Little bit had the Beef & Broccoli off the adult menu, which had soy sauce in it, so some Gluten, but this meal came with rice and steamed veggies which is what she ate. When I asked them to just serve it with the steamed veggie and rice I received odd looks. Picky eater had Chicken Strips, every one else ate what ever. I went back through the line to get a Grilled Caesar salad, which they could not seem to serve without croutons.
The dessert options at all three restaurants were cookies for the kids and Red/Blue Jello, Chocolate Mousse Stuff and Lemon Cake that looked like a frosted donuts. No one could tell me any of the ingredients in anything.
Some of you might think, "You are the ones with food allergies, bring your own *(^%*&^ food." I did. I carried Veggie Booty, apples and snack bars, which makes for a heavy bag. Our allergies are not anaphylactic, I will feel crappy, I might have lovely mood swings, headache or I might throw up. Little Bit's allergies are more severe, she will turn bright red and break out in a rash that looks like heat rash across her back and legs. Her allergies scare me, luckily she does not have any shortness of breath and Benadryl usually does the trick.
So why write this grump post?
I would like to see Universal address the issue of food allergies, if Disney can do it and do it well, than so can Universal.
Folks with allergies should get an extra wrist band so that the chef does not roll his eyes when you ask for a grilled chicken patty and no croutons on your salad.
Be consistent with your children and adult menu, if a cheeseburger and chicken stripes are available to child at some of the restaurants and those are adult only options at other restaurants then they should be available as a child option too. I think my hubby ate off the child menu the entire time to accommodate either the food allergy or the picky eater.
Make sure there are GF options on the adult and the child menu.
Educate your staff about food allergies and dietary restriction. They should know what is in the food they are serving or at least know where the ingredient book is keep.
Add some fresh fruit or veggies somewhere.
A GF/DF dessert option would be nice.
FYI If you are a vegetarian your only option will be a Garden Burger.
Food Allergies and dietary restrictions are a part of many lives. I am certain my family will visit Disney Parks again, I doubt Harry Potter will be enough to bring me back to Universal again.