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Can You Bring Your Own Food to a Restaurant?




Often, we get invited to join our friends to eat out at places that do not have allergy-friendly options. Do we tell them we can't make it or do we consider bringing our own food so that we can take part in the get-together? And if we do bring our own food, will the restaurant allow it?


I recently learned about the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in 2019 that sheds some light on whether food warriors have the right to bring their own food to restaurants. In this case, a 12-year-old boy was not allowed to eat a gluten-free sandwich he packed at the Shields Tavern (a Colonial Williamsburg restaurant). The restaurant said it had a gluten-free option available, but the boy's father refused to let him eat it to avoid any reaction. The boy and his father ended up eating outside in the rain. Feeling humiliated and excluded, the family sued the restaurant. The lower court dismissed the case after finding there was no violation of the child's rights under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). The family appealed to the Court of Appeals.


The Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's dismissal of the case after finding that permitting outside food was a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The case was returned to the lower court, and the parties eventually settled.


I believe the Court of Appeals made the right decision. The case underscores the importance of inclusive dining experiences. We have allergies that make it challenging to find safe options at restaurants. Allowing us to bring our own food fosters inclusivity and ensures that we can enjoy the social aspects of dining out without compromising our health.

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