Going out to eat takes gluten-free eating to a whole new level because you are trusting someone (lots of someones) with your food. First, you are trusting the waiter to get your order correct and to be thorough in their directions to the kitchen. Second, you are trusting the Chef or Kitchen manager to have standard recipes which will make it easy to know the ingredients in each dish. Third, you are trusting the kitchen staff to use proper food safety procedures to prevent cross-contamination. As such, let’s think through the ordering process.
- As you are seated by a hostess, ask right away for a gluten-free menu.
- When the wait staff introduces themselves and before they go into the “special of the day,” let them know you REQUIRE a gluten-free diet due to a medical condition. I always say I have Celiac because it gives my situation credibility and makes everyone take my requests seriously. Though Celiac is not technically an “allergy,” in the restaurant, world allergies are handled with extreme caution, and patrons who have allergies are often handled with special care.
- If there is a Gluten-Free menu, I usually stick to what is offered knowing someone has taken the time to evaluate these items and ingredients.
- If there is not a Gluten-Free menu, I talk through the menu with the waiter or manager discussing what my diet restrictions are; NO Wheat, Barley, Rye or Oats (but remember NO Soy sauce, which leaves out a lot of marinating type sauces). In these cases, it is usually better to order something plain like a salad with a grilled or broiled meat. I also ask for them to use only salt and pepper to avoid any gluten in the seasoning.
- You will get a feel from the wait staff as to whether or not they understand your request. Ask “Do you know what Gluten is?” and never ridicule or shame people for not knowing, but take the opportunity to explain it to them. Once, I had a waiter say they can just leave off the cheese. My response was “Gluten is not in most cheese products, ONLY products which have ingredients from wheat, barley, rye, and oats.”
- When the food is delivered to the table, always confirm again that the plate being sat in front of you is gluten-free.
A few more tips:
- Call the restaurant in advance to ask if they can accommodated the requirements of a gluten free diet and preventing cross contamination.
- Try to visit at slightly off hours. The wait staff and the kitchen staff will be able to take extra time addressing the diet concerns.
- Visit the same restaurants often to develop a relationship with the wait staff and the restaurant manager / owners.
- Be sure to tip well, because let’s admit it, it is more trouble to serve a gluten-free diet. I always want to show my appreciation for good / safe food and service.
- When possible, I also like to briefly thank the manager and the kitchen manager for working to provide gluten-free options. Gratitude goes along way.
- In general, I avoid buffets, fried foods, soups and casserole dishes like pot pie or something similar that you know would usually need flour as a thickener.
- I highly recommend the “Find Me Gluten Free” app. It allows you to find restaurants near by that offer gluten-free items.
The most important tip of all is to only eat if you feel comfortable with your dining situation. Ask as many questions as you need. Check, check and double check, each step of the way; it is the key to food safety. If you don’t feel comfortable with the food offerings or the ability of the kitchen to handle the food properly, simply order a drink or excuse yourself and go elsewhere.