All of us have food preferences, and we can agree that eating something that we’re paying for at a restaurant is nothing but disappointing if we don’t like the food.
For people on the spectrum or with a disability, this is especially true, agreed the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.
Redditor BackpackingPizza for her cousin and two children to come to visit her in the next month, and she was planning how to accommodate them all, since she and her “nephew” were both Autistic.
When her cousin wanted to eat at a restaurant that she knew couldn’t accommodate her cousin’s son, the Original Poster (OP) knew her cousin wouldn’t love hearing that news.
She asked the sub:
“AITA for refusing to go out to dinner with my Autistic nephew because of ranch dressing?”
The OP was excited to see her cousins in the next month.
“Sidenote: I refer to my cousin’s son in this post as my nephew, because my cousin is more of a sister to me than a cousin, and calling him a second cousin feels wrong.”
“I (27 Female) have my cousin (34 Female), my nephew (10 Male), and my niece (6 Female) coming to stay with me for four days next month.”
The OP’s nephew had a very specific sensory need when eating his food.
“My nephew is Autistic and has some food troubles. In some ways, he’s not a picky eater; he eats a very balanced diet and is willing to try most things if he’s given ample time to mentally prepare.”
“That being said, he won’t eat ANYTHING without Ranch Dressing. He puts it on everything, including sushi and in soups.”
“If it does not have Ranch Dressing, he won’t touch it and has a full-blown meltdown if you try to force him. He keeps a little thermos with ranch on him anywhere he goes just in case.”
The OP wasn’t sure how to accommodate her cousin’s wants with her nephew’s needs.
“My cousin really wants to go and have some foods she has been missing, such as Thai and Indian.”
“I think that’s great, but I know these restaurants don’t serve Ranch Dressing.”
“I even called around to the restaurants to see if they would allow me to bring outside Ranch Dressing into the restaurant due to my nephew’s disability, but they said they can’t make any exceptions for outside food.”
The OP’s cousin took the news very personally.
“I told my cousin, and she insisted we could just sneak some Ranch Dressing into the restaurants.”
“She said it would be fine since she apparently does it all the time at home.”
“I refused. I feel really uncomfortable with the idea, and I like these restaurants and don’t want to risk getting banned.”
“I know we can just order take out and both the kids would prefer to stay at my place anyway.”
“I told my cousin that if she was that insistent on going OUT to eat, I could watch the kids while she went out (or stay home with just my nephew) and she could enjoy the meal herself.”
“My cousin was horribly offended by this suggestion and has been blowing up my phone, saying I’m an a**hole, trying to prevent her from having a nice vacation with her kids, and that I’m ableist (despite being Autistic myself).
The OP felt incredibly conflicted.
“I feel terrible for her because she is quite burned out. Her husband works abroad and has been gone for almost the last four months. Part of the reason for this trip was so she could get a bit of a break. I work in childcare specifically with children with disabilities so giving her time to relax was sort of my plan.”
“My aunt, however, is absolutely mental (part of the reason my cousin moved away), and while my cousin is normally level-headed, I worry that with the stress of essentially being a single parent, my aunt has been influencing her in the wrong way.”
“But I really don’t think I’m being an a**hole. I’m really bad at understanding social norms, though, and now her husband and my aunt are texting me, saying I’m horrible for suggesting she can’t have dinner out with her children.”
“She’s been threatening not to come visit me and to just go stay with her parents who live two hours away in the opposite direction.”
Fellow Redditors weighed in:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some thought the OP was being over-the-top and reassured her the Ranch would be fine.
“YTA. No server is going to notice or care about some Ranch Dressing packets. I waited tables for years and would see people with their own seasoning bottles or whatever and didn’t give a crap.”
“You’re making this a much bigger deal than it is. When restaurants say no outside food they mean don’t bring your own meal, not a random condiment for an Autistic child.” – yeahipostedthat
“I owned a restaurant and spent my life working in them. There is zero issue with this kid’s Ranch Dressing. H**l, my bestie is getting travel-sized Ranch Dress for Christmas from me this year.”
“This is seriously a YTA situation. Why call ahead and make a misunderstood fuss about something that’s not going to hurt you… for attention or because the kid embarrasses you… it’s the only reason.”
“And people going on about food allergies need to stop. I have a life-threatening allergy and it’s my responsibility to police it, not the rest of the world’s.” – Delicious-Penalty72
“YTA. Of course, you can take your own sauces into a restaurant. Lots of people who like spicy food do it with hot sauce! You can even get little bottles of hot sauce that attach to your keychain so you can carry it around and add to your meals.” – smalltreesdreams
“YTA. No one will care that the mom is bringing in Ranch Dressing. You won’t get kicked out or banned from a restaurant for it. Do you think people bringing baby formula get banned from restaurants, or people bringing goldfish crackers or carrot sticks or whatever for their young kids?”
“I bring in outside coffee and drinks all the time. Do you think anyone freaks out or says anything? No. I feel like this is your own issue. You don’t like your nephew’s choice to eat with ranch dressing and you are creating issues for no reason whatsoever.” – DaxxyDreams
“YTA. Bringing a condiment is not bringing in outside food. You’re not asking them to cook with it, to make their food with it. You’re not going to be contaminating other customer’s food unless the Ranch Dressing needs to be shot up 10 feet into the air and rained down on your nephew’s food.”
“I’ve worked food service as well, and when a group comes in and someone has a serious dietary or religious restriction, we allow them to bring in their own food so as not to exclude them from spending time with others. Mainly, places don’t want people bringing in McDonald’s to their fancy restaurants, ordering tap water, and taking up space.”
“Maybe when you call, it’s policy to say one thing, but when you get down to it face-to-face places don’t have a problem with it, it’s the hospitality industry after all.” – LittleLemonSqueezer
“If your cousin brought a huge thermos full of Ranch Dressing and made a big spectacle about putting it on his food and caused embarrassment, I would agree with you (by the way, I’m Autistic, too, and so is my kid, who is also a very picky eater).”
“But your cousin can take some little packets in her purse and quietly put it on her son’s plate. It’s not going to take anything away from you, the restaurant, or anyone else, and I highly doubt you will get banned.”
“I understand about following the rules. We as Autistic people feel the need to do this because we like the safety in the order it creates. But you need to bend a little here. Being Autistic isn’t easy. Having a child who is Autistic, for me, has been even more challenging, so I tend to emphasize with this mom, at least in this particular situation.” – FabulousPossession73
But others thought that the OP was NTA and was being more than accommodating already.
“I’ve worked in restaurants on and off for years and it’s all about cross-contamination, the fact that you offered to babysit as well so she could enjoy the food without stress was kind of you.”
“Yeah, it sucks that the world doesn’t cater to us ND, but you did your research, gave alternatives, and attempted to find a way to suit everyone. Sounds like she is throwing a tantrum from not getting her own way, but is there also a chance this is a burned-out mum projecting her frustrations due to being desperate for a bit of ‘normality’?”
“Also, the word ableist is getting excessively thrown around nowadays. Try not to let this wear you down.” – spookobsessedscot
“NTA. Oh my god, just get takeout!”
“Enjoy a lovely RANCHED-OUT restaurant meal with the family at HOME.” – StAlvis
“NTA. Stick to your guns with this one.”
“I know it’s hard when someone is throwing a tantrum, it’s hard to judge if you’ve been harsh or not, especially with some people commenting on you being the AH.”
“There are rules put in place for a reason, just because it doesn’t suit a person doesn’t mean that it’s alright to break them. It would be an even worse scenario if wait staff caught sight of the outside dressing being brought in and people being asked to leave, especially if it would cause her son to have a meltdown in the process.”
“Try and talk to her, from all the information you’ve provided it’s understandable that she is burnt out. Being a parent to an autistic child who is prone to meltdowns is challenging enough, I don’t doubt she feels a lot of frustration between that and her husband living away for so long.” – neinneinballoons
“NTA. I think you’re allowed to be uncomfortable with them bringing ranch dressing into a restaurant you frequent when you know it would not be permitted.”
“How about she goes with the kids and you don’t accompany them? She can try bringing the ranch with her if she pleases, but you don’t have to be there to face the management/staff and have them recognize you and associate you with their behavior.” – fallingintopolkdadots
“NTA. I’m also autistic and had huge issues with food growing up. Restaurants in general were not an environment suitable for me until I found ones that had: A suitable menu and an environment that didn’t set off my sensory issues.”
“I simply did not go to restaurants or cafes until I was about 15 and after exposure therapy. If the specific restaurant has rules about outside food, then your party needs to be respectful of that.”
“There’s a certain level of accommodation that can be made, but not for every single issue that comes up. You’ve given your cousin alternatives that will work better for your nephew and she’s being entitled.” – hydrangeafrog
“Your suggestions were a great one. Forget your cousin rambling on about utter nonsense. This will give your sister a break and she can enjoy her meal without worrying about her son. And your nephew can drizzle his meal in as much ranch as he wants at home with you.”
“Screw your cousin and just because she does bring outside food in doesn’t mean you have to. NTA, but your cousin should let the adults make the decisions.” – PlantainVisible3444
After receiving feedback, the OP shared an update.
“Wow, I did not expect so many people to have an opinion on this. Thank you for all the comments (even the people saying I’m an a**hole). I am slowly getting through all the comments. To answer a couple of things that keep coming up.”
“I wanted to be accurate for the story so I called her my cousin (she is my cousin technically) But she’s basically my sister and I call her as such (what we call each other) and my tired brain didn’t filter that properly.”
“My nephew is working with a professional to help expand his food preferences and ability to eat food without ranch. There’s been a small amount of success, but the main way there’s been any success is by planning with him what he wants to try weeks in advance (he now eats rice and white bread occasionally without it) and basically putting the food on the table and giving him AS LONG AS HE NEEDS to try it, this includes letting him leave the table to heavily stim (he likes running around in circles) before he tries it and it does not always work.”
“In regards to why my nephew eats everything with ranch, it is a flavor thing. He’s managed to express this to us. We have been experimenting to try and figure out why that flavour is ok but most other flavours aren’t, but there hasn’t been a lot of success yet.”
The OP also had some thoughts after reading the YTA comments.
“A lot of people who are saying I’m an a**hole are saying that I’m being irrational about getting in trouble with these restaurants and maybe that’s fair.”
“Part of MY Autism is that I’m extremely rule-breaking avoidant. Like obviously, some rules have to be broken in life-or-death situations, but something like bringing Ranch Dressing into a restaurant when I’ve been told no does not feel like life or death, and I’m at risk of struggling and having a meltdown myself if I sneak Ranch into the restaurant after explicitly being told no (one of the few things I still really struggle with).”
“Not to mention some of these restaurants, for me personally, are safe spaces where I know I can eat most of the menu, and it doesn’t trigger me in any way, so I feel like I’d be putting that at risk.”
“I am going to talk with my cousin and my nephew on the phone and see if we can all come up with something together. The suggestion about letting him eat before and then just get a drink at the restaurant might work, and one of the restaurants is next to a gelato place that I know he can poor ranch over without them caring.”
“Also, this isn’t some discrete amount of ranch. If he can see the food, it’s not enough ranch. If it was a discrete amount, I might be more comfortable.”
The subReddit was divided on this one, regarding whether the OP was overcomplicating this situation or not, but at the end of the day, she knew her limitations and her nephew’s limitations much better than any of her fellow Redditors.
If she knew that her nephew couldn’t eat at the restaurant and would melt down if he didn’t have Ranch Dressing, and if she knew she’d also reach her breaking point by sneaking it in, then obviously, the group needed to come up with a new solution that made everyone happy and comfortable.