Ready to venture out of the comfort zone of your own dining room! Due to the ever-increasing demographic of people with food intolerances, many restaurants in the U.S. and world-wide are now recognizing the need to accommodate people on special diets (which certainly makes good business sense). A wide variety of restaurants, ranging from fast-food, multi-locational, and privately-owned offer either a separate gluten-free menu, or are able to accommodate gluten-free requests. Though not all restaurants do, and you will need to do what is necessary to keep yourself safe so your dining experience will be a pleasurable one, and not one you would soon like to forget! Indeed, it can be a challenge to make the right choices, but socializing with family & friends should not be off-limits because of Celiac, a gluten-sensitivity or wheat allergy.
Venture out, enjoy life … but always remain mindful of the important task of keeping yourself healthy.
The following safeguards should be followed:
Before you can educate others (server, chef) on gluten-free eating and food prep, you need to educate yourself. Yes, the obvious bread, pasta, pizza and baked items are not allowable, but you need to be aware of the other not-so-obvious sources (salad dressings, marinades, broths, condiments – to name just a few). See “what can’t I eat & other sources of gluten”.
When Making a Reservation
If the restaurant has a gluten-free menu, it probably isn’t necessary to speak with a chef in advance, as he/she should be accustomed to preparing gluten-free meals. When booking a reservation, you may want to mention you will be eating gluten-free, so a notation of “food allergy” will be made to your reservation. If the restaurant does NOT have a gluten-free menu, then most definitely mention, at time of booking, that you will be requiring a gluten-free meal, as some chefs may prefer to know beforehand. Also, if you prefer, request to speak with the Chef in advance, to discuss possible food choices – email is a convenient way to do this, but if you ring the Chef, be sure it is during off-peak hours.
At the Restaurant (no GF menu available)
Once you are knowledgeable about everything “gluten”, you are now prepared to educate others. Communication with the server and the chef is key to a successful dining experience. Upon arrival, alert the manager of your dietary requirements – best to have the manager on board, in case the server does not communicate your preferences to the chef accurately. Occasionally the manager will come over to the table to provide reassurance that the request will be honored, but this is not always the case. While most chefs should have some knowledge of how best to prepare food without gluten, not all do. Do not assume every chef will know all gluten-containing items, especially the less obvious sources. Make polite suggestions, via server or directly to the Chef such as: please prepare requested food in separate pan, rather than on grill; exclude any marinades or sauces, unless confirmed GF; question what is in salad dressings (best to ask for plain oil & vinegar, it they cannot confirm if GF); are several items cooked in the same oil or water? Are the potatoes real or a mix? Is pancake batter used when making Omelets? Be sure no bread crumbs are added. When the food arrives, survey it carefully for any gluten-containing ingredients – is there bread on the plate? Are there croutons in the salad? It can happen.
Look for Posted Allergen Information
Some Fast Food restaurants will have allergen info posted on a wall*. Review it to see what your options are, before ordering. If you can see your item being made (similar to Subway), keep an eye on the preparer’s hands to be sure no cross-contamination is occurring. McDonald’s and Burger King do not post allergen info, so best to check their website to know what is off-limits (see Restaurants).
*I heard a story recently about a woman’s visit to Wendy’s. She asked where the allergen info was and was directed to a wall very close to the beverage machines. She could barely squeeze herself in close enough to read it. The manager was politely summoned over, and she questioned if he thought that was really the most convenient place to post allergen info — as she was demonstrating how she had to squeeze herself in and still couldn’t read it! He agreed it wasn’t the best spot, so he took the posting board off the wall, handed it to her for a better read, and promised he would find a more appropriate place to hang it! (One small voice can help others – speak up!)
Wheat-Allergy vs. Celiac
Yes, Celiacs know there is a difference between an auto-immune disease and a food allergy, and yes some servers will have knowledge of Celiac, but many will have never heard of it. Sometimes it is just easier to say you have a severe (emphasis on“severe”) food allergy and cannot eat wheat, barley & rye.
Frequent restaurants with gluten-free menus
Certainly dining at a restaurant that offers a gluten-free menu, will increase your chances of getting a gluten-free meal! The chef will be accustomed to preparing gluten-free food, and will be experienced in avoiding cross-contamination. Mistakes can still happen though, so ask questions and always inspect food when it arrives. See Restaurants for a list of multi-locational restaurants offering Gfree menus and links to other great searchable websites.
The added comfort of Dining at a GIG (or other) Approved Restaurant
Many restaurants participate in the Gluten Intolerance Group’s (GIG) “Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP)”. In order for a restaurant to display the GFRAP logo, certain criteria must be met in order to safely serve customers. See GIG’s website for more info on their certification program and for a list of GIG certified restaurants. http://www.glutenfreerestaurants.org/
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness also offers the “Great” Certification program to restaurant owners: http://www.celiaclearning.com/
(Attention Restaurant Owners: In addition to the above certifying organizations visit Kitchens With Confidence, a service company providing guidance and training on food allergens to the hospitality industry)
Visit CeliacCorner’s “Restaurants“ section for how to order a Triumph Dining’s Restaurant Guide as well as information on Websites to search for GF restaurants! Looking for a new restaurant to try, visit our Restaurant Reviews.