Eating Out Gluten Free
Eating out is something which involves a bit of planning for anyone who requires a gluten free menu. It's possible, but in some cases not always easy to find gluten free options at restaurants and delis.
I love the app, Find Me Gluten Free, you put in your location and what kind of food you're looking for, people can leaves comments and reviews on the restaurants or coffee houses so you can get a better idea if the place is "safe" for you to eat.
So now that you have the place picked out, when you arrive make sure to let your server know you have a gluten allergy. My husband calls me the question girl, but you cannot ask too many questions when it comes to your food and your health. You need to be your own advocate. While the chef probably has the best knowledge of what's in the food they prepare, your server may not. An item may say it's gluten free, but you need to take the next step and ask how is it prepared.
We were at a local restaurant a while back and I was so excited to see buffalo wings on the menu and they were listed as GF. Ok, you guessed it, I started my routine of questions and it turned our while the wings alone were gf , but they put them in the same fryer as all the breaded non gf food. I politely explained to the waitress that the wings are not safe for celiac or gluten sensitive people because of the cross contact with all the other items being fried together. To my surprise, she actually seemed interested in the small lesson I was giving her.
If you're getting a quick bite on the run and want to stop at your local deli, be careful. Many deli and sandwich places use flour or bread crumbs as fillers in their tuna and chicken salad and surprisingly even coleslaw. (I found that one out the hard way.)
So remember these things before jumping in the car and going out to eat.
You know that smart phone that's always in your hand, use it to do a search for gluten free restaurants in your target zip code. Some online tools with consumer reviews or blogs such as YELP!, Urbanspoon, and FindMeGlutenFree can be good starting points for finding restaurants that can accommodate you, but that's only the beginning of the process to determine whether you’ll have a safe dining experience. Some reviews don’t focus on safe preparation or the gluten free status of the food, so don’t base your decision solely on the reviews.
- Call ahead.
Once you’ve narrowed down your restaurant choices, pick up the phone. Call several days in advance if possible, and at a time when the restaurant won’t be busy. Tell them you want to eat there, but that you have a medically-restricted diet and need to ask them a few questions:
a) Do you have a gluten free menu?
b) Do you know what gluten is?
c) What are your gluten free options?
If you don’t hear answers that give you confidence, try a different place. Keep at it until you get confident responses that reassure you that the restaurant can meet your needs. Once you find a place that sounds promising, ask if you can be seated in the section of a particular server who better understands gluten free needs.
- Be detailed.
Once you arrive at the restaurant, let your server know that you have a medically-restricted diet and can’t eat gluten – even trace amounts – or you will get sick. Ask him or her to help you to navigate the menu to keep you safe. Ask your server:
a) Are there gluten-containing ingredients in a particular selection? How is this dish prepared? Do you use any spice blends or mixes? Flour or soy sauce in the dressing/sauce/batter/base? Are there any marinades, fillers, or seasonings added to the meat?
b) How do you avoid cross-contact with gluten-containing ingredients? Do you use a separate prep and cook space for gluten free food? Separate cookware and utensils? A separate fryer for non-gluten-containing items?
Sometimes a server may not know the answers or will not be confident. Ask if there is a manager or if you can speak to the chef, just to be sure.
- Be proactive.
When your food arrives, confirm that it is gluten free. Many establishments will mark the plate with either putting a colored tooth pick in the entree, using a different color plate or something else to show at a glance that those dishes are gluten free. Take a look at your plate, and if you are unsure that it is truly gluten free at any point during the meal, ask to speak to the manager or chef. Explain that you have to eat gluten free for medical reasons and that you can get sick from even trace amounts of gluten.
- Tip well!
If you have been treated well and your gluten free needs were nicely accommodated, be sure and show your appreciation. It will encourage your server to take good care of the next gluten free diner too!
By planning ahead, asking questions, and advocating for yourself, you will be able to maximize your chances to eat safely and with limited fears.