We know that when you are gluten free because of a gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, going out to eat can be rough. But it shouldn’t have to be. (That’s the main reason we created Alex’s Gluten Free Spots—to make going out to eat hassle free, so you can be aware of Celiac-friendly restaurants as rated by others.) Here is a round-up of tips for how to enjoy dining out gluten free. Bon appetit!
1. Have a take-charge attitude. You shouldn’t ever be embarrassed to speak up when your health and safety is at stake. Speak up, ask questions, and assume responsibility for getting uncontaminated gluten free food from the kitchen to your table. When you aren’t the one preparing the food, your best tool is your voice. Use it.
2. Educate yourself about cooking. You know grains to avoid, and when you cook for yourself, you avoid them. But since you don’t observe the chef making the meal or preparing the food, you don’t know where gluten items may be hiding. Reading cookbooks and watching the Food Network can do wonders to teach you where chefs may add gluten in unexpected places (like pancake batter in omelets, or flour brushed on something to make it crispier). Understanding different cuisines will help you understand items you can order and questions worth asking.
3. Plan ahead. When you pick a restaurant, check out their menu online. Then call ahead during off hours (typically for a lunch/dinner restaurant, this would be from open to 11am, and from 2-4:30). Speak to the chef or manager about what you would like to order, and ask questions to confirm they understand cross contamination in food prep. If they aren’t familiar, offer them these basic tips:
• Food needs to be made on a clean surface, with clean utensils.
• Wash hands or change gloves before meal prep.
• Use new bowls to mix any food.
• Grill surfaces where gluten items are prepared cannot be used.
• Use fresh water to boil pasta or steam vegetables.
• Fried items cannot be fried in the same oil as items with gluten.
• Oven items should be baked on a clean pan, covered with foil.
• Servers should carry the food out separately from other plates.
4. Bring your own gluten free items. Bring gluten free crackers for while your fellow diners are enjoying bread. Bring your own gluten free soy sauce, burger bun, or pasta.
5. Manage the staff. Tell the server you have Celiac Disease, which is a serious as food allergies, and you have a severe reaction to gluten or wheat. You can also just say you have severe food allergies. Although it’s not technically an allergy, that language will get the server’s attention. Because of this, you need to speak to the manager or chef. The chef is likely busy, so telling the manager and server together of your needs will give you a small team of people who know what you need and can help communicate with the kitchen. Some people bring a dining card, which can be brought directly to the chef to eliminate the game of telephone. You can also cover the above points of cross contamination with them.
6. Examine your food before eating. Ask the person who brings your food if it is gluten free. (This will often not be your server.) This person was likely told when they picked it up to bring it to the table if it was the gluten free dish. If this person doesn’t know, ask your server when they return to the table. Check the dish for any bread items (crust, buns, croutons, crumbs). Check for sauces you didn’t expect. If anything looks suspect, ask the manager about it.
7. Follow the Celiac motto: when in doubt, do without. If you don’t trust the menu, the staff’s knowledge, or the food brought to your table, eat some of those gluten free snacks you brought instead. Or ask if the cook can saute plain meat or fish in olive oil or butter and steam some vegetables.
And remember, rate all restaurants on Alex’s Gluten Free Spots to help others enjoy (or avoid) certain restaurants!