Uproar in a village when a ‘no gluten’ customer complained

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“AFTER A HARD DAY’S WORK I sat down, looked at Facebook and then read this review. . . it makes me wonder ‘Is it worth it?,” wrote an upset Richard Baker on his Lavender Tearoom’s website.

What followed provoked a storm of protest from outraged supporters in the village where he lives.

This is what he read:

Please be careful eating here if you have a serious food intolerance.

I made staff aware when ordering that myself and two family members suffer with coeliac disease and ordered food accordingly. Unfortunately we all became very ill with symptoms within ten minutes of eating.

I was so looking forward to spending part of my day at this idyllic tearoom. I’d seriously rather they had told me honestly that they weren’t able to cater to us. Very disappointed. And unwell! 

The one-star review left by mother-of-three Hannah Denton, apparently a visitor from the Nottingham area, did more than leave Richard and his wife Victoria distressed and dumbfounded; it had a village up in arms at the ‘slur’ cast at itsfavourite village Post Office, shop and tearoom.

And it raised the thorny issue of food allergies and whose responsibility it is to ensure that no harm befalls people who exhibit known intolerances  towards everyday ingredients such as nuts, gluten or dairy.

Food which contains gluten-bearing cereals such as wheat, rye, barley or oats are strictly forbidden to diagnosed coeliacs. But many other healthy foods (rice, potato, maize corn, plain meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, most yoghurts, fruits, vegetables and pulses like peas, beans and lentils) are naturally gluten free and are suitable for the diet.

Richard and his Australian-born wife Victoria, who run the Lavender Tearooms at picturesque Etal in Northumberland, were simply downcast at the criticism.

Picturesque Lavender Tearooms in Etal, Northumberland

“Why can people not say things like this face to face?” he wrote, while democratically allowing the critical post to remain undeleted.

His regular customers erupted, however, springing to the defence of the postmaster-shopkeeper who is also a stalwart of the village hall and chairman of  the local Ford Parish Council.

“If they have such serious food intolerance issues they shouldn’t eat out, as they will be aware of [the danger of] cross-contamination regardless of whether items are gluten-free or not,” wrote Michelle O’Hara.

“How mean to put the blame on a tearoom which everyone loves!”

Frequent customer Zoe Rawlings added: “I agree. Plus I’m sure any establishment would allow those with really serious food intolerance issues to bring their own food to combine with what they know to be safe so they can eat out with family and friends.

“I’m also sure that ‘within ten minutes of eating’ they were still on the premises! And made no report to you? Rubbish, I say. You do a great job.”

Others pointed out the alternatives available in the ‘chocolate box’ tourist village with its popular steam light railway, thatched pub and beautiful riverside walks.

“If you have a serious food intolerance bring a picnic, eat it down by the river, then visit for a tea or coffee, which allows you to enjoy the tearooms you were so looking forward to. Take responsibility for your own actions, the tearoom will only have supplied what you ordered.”

Ben Merritt recalled the days when his parents owned the Lavender Tearooms: “We remember (and still laugh about) complaints such as “the omelette was too eggy”, and “the vanilla ice cream had tiny black bits in it”, and “there was too much food on offer”.

Other angry local people let off steam on the Lavender Tearooms’ Facebook page.

If you were so unwell within 10 mins of eating then why not go to the staff and say something rather than put a comment on their Facebook page? Seems to me you left it a while before making a comment. The Lavender Tearooms are fantastic with a high standard.Lucy Howard

It IS worth it Richard. For every one crazy person there will be 1,000 decent people. Focus on them!David Corbett

What a shame . I know how hard you try with every customer to give the best … perhaps they became ill after leaving you ? People do find it hard to be honest face to face ( me included ) but posting it is not the way to help. You do a brilliant job – Cheryl Stewart

JThis is one of the nicest, most considerate places we have ever had the pleasure of eating in. Perhaps they would be better bringing their own food wherever they go. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Keep up the good work, Richard, Victoria’ and staff – Jean Harvey

Please try not to dwell on that ridiculous review, you get fantastic reviews on a daily basis and,what’s more, you guys are AMAZING! – Carol Moore

I know how hard you try to cater for everyone and their needs. The chances of having not one, but THREE people with SERIOUS food allergies all reacting to your food at the same time seems a little unlikely, especially as you do offer gluten-free and and have regular gluten-free customers who come every week without incident. I smell an over-dramatisation! – Kim Schmid

Advice for suspected and diagnosed coeliacs can be obtained online for Coeliac UK at <www.coeliac.org.uk>

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