Ready to venture out of the comfort zone of your own dining room! Due to the ever-increasing demographic of people with food allergies/intolerances, many restaurants in the U.S. and world-wide are now recognizing the need to accommodate this community (certainly makes good business sense!). A wide variety of restaurants, ranging from fast-food, multi-locational, and privately-owned now offer either a separate gluten-free menu, or are able to accommodate gluten-free requests. However, not all restaurants offer a gluten-free menu, so 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!
Important to note. Many restaurants now offering gluten-free menus will have received proper training in how to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, but many will not. Do not assume because you are ordering from a gluten-free menu, the items you ordered will not contain gluten … gluten can sneak in due to cross-contamination, or even lack of knowledge about safe gluten-free products. So unless you are in a 100% gluten-free restaurant, you need to continue to ask the all important questions to keep yourself safe. (*See the FDA’s ruling on GF labeling for restaurants below, which hopefully will keep restaurants on top of providing safe options for the gluten-intolerant community. The rule goes into effect August 2014)
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
Some chefs prefer to know beforehand if they will be preparing a meal free of gluten, so if the restaurant does not offer a gluten-free menu, it is best to contact the chef directly, via phone or email, to ask about gluten-free choices. This would be a good time to also inquire about cross-contamination issues. If you don’t feel confident that the chef/kitchen staff have been trained to handle gluten-free dishes, then choose another restaurant. If the restaurant offers a gluten-free menu, at time of ordering inquire further about cross-contamination issues just to be safe.
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. [Read our Q&A with a Restaurateur/Chef of three New York City restaurants … to see what he suggests a gluten-free patron ask the server/manager/chef, open here)
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. While it is important to spread awareness of Celiac, sometimes you just need to say whatever will keep you safe at the moment! It is your choice.
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 (see important note in red above)! The chef will be accustomed to preparing gluten-free food, and will be experienced in avoiding cross-contamination (if trained well). 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.