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There are tons of people out there with food allergies and dietary restrictions that are outside of the norm, but no less serious than the more common allergies. Having these allergies can make eating out a ginormous headache, especially for kids. Mallory (not her real name), a waitress at a wings-based restaurant, was taking care of a table with a diner suffering from a debilitating food allergy.
To make things even harder, the diner was just a preteen volleyball player out with his team and, unfortunately for him, sitting next to the biggest brat Mallory had ever seen. If it weren't for her quick thinking, the whole meal could have been spoiled, but, as she shared online, it wound up being one of the most heartwarming things that have ever happened in a wings-based restaurant that wasn't heartburn related.
It was a slow night at the restaurant that night. It was a Wednesday night, and Wednesday's were always dead. Mallory had only had two tables that whole night, so that meant that she hadn't gotten a lot of tips. All her side work was done and she was bored stiff, just praying for a table to come through and finally put an end to her torment. Soon, she got her wish, but you know what they say about being careful what you wish for.
Just when Mallory was certain that she would perish from boredom, a huge group came in. It was a table of 17 people, more than Mallory really wanted. As if that wasn't overwhelming enough, it was a middle school boys volleyball team and their coaches at 11:45 pm. Mallory, who was from a small town in the middle of nowhere, hadn't even known there were boys volleyball teams, but you learn a little something new every day, and Mallory was about to get a peek into this group's dynamics that she'd never forget.
While the hostess moved a group of tables together to accommodate the group of rambunctious tweens, Mallory went into overdrive filling water glasses. One of the coaches grabbed her attention and informed her that they would be paying with separate checks, which is the last thing Mallory wanted to hear. She didn't particularly like children to begin with, much less "prepubescent brats," so she wasn't expecting all that much from this table, tip-wise.
She decided to just grit her teeth and "barrel through it." The first step would be to take their orders, which she fully expected to be chaotic. She informed the group that she would be taking their orders in a clockwise motion, starting with the coach at the end of the table. As he was giving his order, the kid to his left, who would be giving his order last, started talking over him. The coach told the kid to quiet down and he did, for the moment.
Once the coach was done giving his order, Mallory moved onto the kid to his right, but the kid who couldn't stop talking pipped up again and began shouting his order over his teammate. The coach stepped in once again and told the kid to hush, reminding him that his order was going to be taken last. Mallory, not knowing the kid's name but sensing that he was going to be a problem for the duration of his stay there, decided to mentally nickname the kid, "Brat."
Brat was a cute kid, he reminded her of Will Wheaton's character in Stand By Me. Even though Mallory wasn't all that fond of kids, she did have a soft spot for cute kids, so it annoyed her that the most obnoxious kid in the group was so cute. Yet if she wasn't irritated already by Brat, she was about to be.
The third person to order was a red-haired boy who looked to be about 13 or 14 years old. He had freckles, just like Mallory. She always like gingers best, since she was a redhead, too, and she had been bullied as a kid for her hair and complexion, so she always tried to be nice to her fellow gingers. Thinking that this kid looked like a Toby, she gave him that as a mental nickname. He started off his order with an apology, "I'm really sorry to be difficult-"
Brat cut in, "No, he's not! He does this everywhere!"
"Stop it," said the coach. "Let him order." Mallory had no idea what was going on, but she smiled at Toby and encouraged him to keep going.
Poor Toby was terribly flustered by this point, but he forged ahead anyway, "I have celiac's disease, and I can't eat a lot of things here. Can you tell me what items are safe? I want fries but if they are fried in the same oil as gluten things, I can't have them." Just when Mallory started to answer him, Brat just had to cut in again.
She was in the middle of telling him that the fries wouldn't be safe for him to eat as they were usually fried in the same oil as the onion rings and other gluten items, and was about to recommend something safer, like grilled chicken, when Brat butted in again. "He's not allergic to anything, he's just a picky eater!" Brat crowed.
Looking like he was almost ready to cry, Toby reached into his backpack and literally pulled out his medical records. Mallory, her heart breaking a bit for the kid, insisted that she didn't need to see that and continued with her recommendations. She also pulled over a manager and asked him to let the kitchen know they were about to get an order from a guest with a food allergy.
Brat tried to blurt something out again, but Mallory was ready for him this time. Before he even got two words out, she said, "Hey, I know you're hungry and would like to get your food as soon as possible, but we need to make sure he doesn't have any reactions, okay? Just bear with me here."
"But he's not allergic, he's just a picky eater!" whined Brat.
"I don't care if he is a picky eater or not," Mallory said. "If he says he can't have something, I'm going to make sure he doesn't get it."
The rest of the team pipped up and told Brat to leave Toby alone and let him finish his order in peace. Finally, Malloy was able to finish taking the table's orders, but that wouldn't be the last time she would have to stick up for Toby.
Mallory went back to the kitchen and went into full Mama Bear mode. She made sure to "double-verify that Toby's order comes out first, and separate from everything else." Feeling very protective of Toby, she vowed that, "if one crumb of a french fry touches his plate, so help me God, I will murder someone." In the meantime, she went back to the table to refill drinks since the kids proved to be thirsty little suckers.
As she moved around the table, she noticed that everyone was busily chatting away, everyone, that is, except for Toby. He was just quietly staring at the table. Mallory's heart went out to him and she had to fight back a sudden feeling of rage towards the coaches for just sitting there and letting Toby be isolated. She also wasn't feeling all that warm towards Brat, who was sitting right across from Toby. To make him feel better, Mallory couched down beside him and reassured him that she had double checked with the kitchen and that there would be no cross contamination of his food because they all knew about his situation. Toby shyly thanked her and she continued her night, hoping there would be no more issues for her new red-headed friend.
There were no complaints about the food when it came out and everyone, even Brat, seemed pleased with their service. Mallory made sure to keep a close eye on Toby, but he was doing just fine. Just about everyone's orders landed between $14 and $16, so Mallory assumed she'd be getting stiffed when it came to her tips, so she was pleasantly surprised when everyone paid with $20 bills and told her to keep the change. Well, everyone, that is, except for Brat. He wanted a dollar back.
As the group was filing out the door, Toby came over to Mallory to offer her thanks. He revealed that going out to eat with his teammates was always an ordeal because people rarely took his condition seriously. "He explains a lot of people thinks he is making up his celiac's disease, and he was very appreciative that I didn't treat him the same way." Mallory was both taken aback and angry to find out that poor Toby had to go through this every single time he went out with his team. She wondered why the coaches didn't do more to put a stop to it or, at the very least, stick up a bit more for the kid. She decided right then that she needed to do something special for this kid to make up for his previous, crappy experiences.
Since she worked at a sports-themed restaurant, there were a variety of knickknacks around, so Mallory grabbed a couple of sweatbands that had the restaurant's logo on them from the server's station and chased the group out into the parking lot. She caught up with Toby and offered them to him. She wished him good luck at his volleyball game the next day and sincerely told him she hoped he come back again. "He looked like he was about to cry, but they were happy tears this time."
Taking the time out to really listen to him and treating him seriously was the best thing Mallory could have done for Toby. It's tough to live with a disease that severely restricts your diet, and straying into the forbidden foods, even a little bit, can be catastrophic for digestion and could have landed poor Toby in a world of hurt. Good on Mallory for giving him such great service.