Gluten free diet at restaurants can be stressful and risky. Here are some ideas to reduce the stress and risk of eating out, without gluten poisoning.
In another article, we discussed why eating at restaurants is risky. By knowing not only the risks, but what might cause gluten contamination, we can take steps to avoid gluten poisoning.
I’ve made many mistakes and slip-ups, and have learned the hard way. I hope you find that by following the information in this article, you will learn the easy way and avoid the pain of eating gluten and triggering celiac disease symptoms or gluten allergy problems.
The main problems you have to overcome are:
- Restaurants that can’t serve uncontaminated gluten free food
- Cooks that don’t really understand what is in the food
- Miscommunication with your server and the cook/chef
- Your own assertiveness
Gluten Free Diet and Your Assertiveness
Not everyone has this problem, but lets start here, because it all starts and ends with you.
As much as it is up to the cook or chef to make food you can eat, ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure they understand your needs, to make sure the message is getting through, and to leave if you suspect a problem.
This isn’t easy, especially if you are with friends. Who wants to tell their friends “I don’t trust that these people can feel me without poisoning me so we have to go somewhere else.” But you have to be prepared to do that if necessary.
Hopefully this is won’t come to that, but believe me, sometimes it does.
First though, you must not be shy about explaining your dietary needs to the server, and talking with the cook.
The Gluten Free Conversation
Many people make the mistake of asking the wrong questions, or asking them in the wrong way.
For example, if you ask “is the food here gluten-free” you may get “yes” as the answer because a question, phrased like that, most likely has “yes” as the right answer, and the server knows what you want to hear.
But you don’t want to hear the right answer, you want to hear the correct answer, for example “no” if they really can’t serve you gluten-free food.
First of all, explain that you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten. Both work well, regardless of your actual condition. Restaurants know about allergies, and are scared there will be an “incident”, and will do everything possible to accommodate you in most cases. They may make mistakes, but most will try.
Celiac disease is gaining public attention, so many restaurants will have come across the term and be aware of the implications, as in “celiac disease” translates to “gluten free food”.
Listen for that response. If you tell them you have celiac disease and they say “oh, so you need a gluten free diet”, then you’re off to a great start.
Often you can ask what items you can eat on the menu. This has two advantages. It saves you going through the whole menu trying to figure out what is safe. It also gives you a chance to see how they answer it. If they suggest the soup for example, tell them that most soup is thickened with flour, and think to yourself – does this person really get it? Some soup is safe, but often it isn’t.
The main thing to look out for is that they get it.
Can They Do Gluten-Free?
It may take a while for some servers or cooks to admit it, but some simply can’t do gluten-free food, or can’t be sure what’s in the food they are serving.
Often, the cook is a technician who assembles food from pre-prepared ingredient combinations, with no way of knowing what’s in them. Some of them don’t care, and really don’t know much about food.
More and more restaurants have a policy of providing complete list of ingredients. That’s what you need. The cook may be a high-school student with a part-time job, but if you know what’s in the food, you have a fighting chance.
A Chef Is What You Want
A chef is different from a cook. A chef is trained to know what’s in the food, and to be able to make a dish from scratch.
You may be giving them an opportunity do do something more interesting than their day-to-day job requirements. That’s good for them and great for you.
Of course a chef comes with a price tag, because you’ll mostly find them at more expensive restaurants. Of course gluten-contaminated food also comes with a big price tag.
What is your experience with avoiding gluten in restaurants? I know this article doesn’t cover everything so feel free to ask questions!