It’s been several weeks since I got some very unfortunate news from a reader about an upsetting situation her family encountered at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, FL. Her young son cannot eat gluten and is a huge Harry Potter fan. He wanted to order some Butterbeer just as any other fan would. Obviously, the gluten-free status of the drink had to be checked before anything was ordered.
Before the family headed to Universal, the mother checked online to see if Butterbeer is gluten-free and it appeared that it was. Someone who worked in guest services at the park also confirmed this and mentioned how accommodating their restaurants are to people with special dietary needs. Once in the park, the family ordered the Butterbeer and once more are told it’s gluten-free. The order is served and the child starts to drink it just as the manager comes running out and tells him to stop because it’s not safe. At least, it seems that the topping is not safe. Below is the rest of the story, posted with the reader’s permission.
She [the manager] says the drink topping is prepared in an area that there is a very high risk of cross contamination and it is not celiac safe–after she discussed it with her colleagues. So, she kindly offered him one without the topping, he was still delighted and furthermore–told my husband just to remember to ask for it that way whenever he returns.
The following day at the park, the following happened:
The staff tells us Butterbeer is a trademark item and can’t be prepared without the topping, sorry about your luck. We [the parents] spoke with management, went to guest services, and spoke with someone who said she was the head of food services. No change. They told us the manager on Monday was wrong to do what she did.
The family has since reached out to everyone in management at the theme park they could think of contacting and the answer is the same from everyone they’ve encountered. Butterbeer cannot be prepared gluten-free because it can’t be made without the topping due to the contract the park has with J.K. Rowling. My attempts to get a statement from Universal Studios have been unsuccessful. At first, I assumed the customer service representatives were just slow responding to e-mail requests, but it appears that no one at the park has plans to reply to my question. As always, I let them know up front I’d be writing about the situation.
Contracts are legal agreements so if Universal Studios has one that states they can’t alter Butterbeer in any way, disappointing countless kids visiting the park, they have to abide by it. However, this seems like a very strange agreement to me, and one that limits the sales of Butterbeer which there is likely a huge profit on. How in the world does that make good business sense? In my opinion, it simply doesn’t.
*Jules from Jules Gluten Free also had a bit of a disappointing experience at Universal in Orlando as well. Several years ago I enjoyed a wonderful meal at Margaritaville at the park, but there should be other safe options than sit down meals that come with long lines just to be seated.