Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tips For Eating Gluten Free in Restaurants

Eating out when one is gluten free can be like navigating a field of hidden landmines.  Even restaurants that have a dedicated gluten free menu might not be safe.  Unless you're eating at a restaurant that is completely gluten free, the chance for cross-contamination is always there.  That doesn't mean never eating out again, but it does mean taking extra precautions.  Here are some tips for eating out that I use with my family.

1- Do your homework:  Whenever possible, scope out the restaurant before heading out for a meal.  While this isn't always possible and doesn't always guarantee that what is advertised is what you get, it does help narrow down choices.  Take a look at the online menu, note if they have any information posted about allergies, or substitutions.  More and more restaurants are adding gluten free selections these days.  Some are completely gluten free.  I had a negative experience this summer with a chain restaurant that advertises a separate gluten free menu on the website, but staff were clueless when we arrived.  Click HERE for that post.  

2- Make contact with the restaurant before you go:  Once you've narrowed down a location or two, give them a call and ask to speak with a manager.  Having a gluten free pasta on the menu doesn't mean that preparation procedures are safe.  Ask questions.  Is there a separate prep area for gluten free dishes?  Are separate cooking surfaces/utensils used?  How aware is the wait staff of your particular food restriction?  What are the ingredients of that menu selection that you think is gluten free but that isn't explicitly listed as being GF?  I experienced this at a fast food restaurant that listed everything as being gluten free, but their fries were not being fried separately.  Click HERE for that post. 

3- Fill in the wait staff when you sit down and ask to speak with the chef:  The more people who are aware of your food issues, the better.  It's important that it be taken seriously.  I know people who tell servers that it's an allergy, because allergies they are aware of and careful about.  Whatever works.  It's important to spell out specifics: You can't have the basket of bread, don't include crackers with your soup, please put the dressing on the side, the pasta must be cooked in a different pot, etc.  If they seem annoyed, speak with a manager.  If the attitude persist, don't go back.  We have a few restaurants we return to regularly because they know my son and never act like it's a hassle to serve him.  This isn't about picky eaters, it's about his health and safety.  I don't want to give my money to a restaurant that doesn't get that.

4- Don't accidentally cross-contaminate yourself:  Just because you can't have the bread doesn't mean that others won't order it.  Be aware of crumbs.  Just because the salad bar is gluten free, doesn't mean that no croutons have fallen into the lettuce.  The ice cream may be GF as well, but the toppings at the sundae bar may not all be.  A little vigilance goes a long way.

5- Show your appreciation:  When a restaurant gets it right, let them know.  Thank everyone who made your visit safe and enjoyable, from the chef to the wait staff and all the way up to the manager.  If it's a chain restaurant, write an email to head office.  Don't forget to name names.  Tip generously.  Tweet about it, write a good review, and send others there.  Although it is a medical necessity for my son to eat gluten free, that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to the fact that it does involve more work on the part of the restaurant.  Some people say So what? I'm paying.  I guess that's one attitude to have, but I would rather say Hey, thanks for going above and beyond.  I appreciate it.  Let me help send you some business.  Win-win. 

If your experience wasn't all you had hoped, there are ways to give that feedback too.  When I went to the fast  food restaurant with my son and found out the fries were being cooked in the same fryer as other foods, I wrote that in my review.  Turns out it was specific to that location, and someone at head office wrote me back to say that the issue had been corrected and staff had been trained on proper procedure.  This is new for a lot of restaurants.  Good, constructive feedback helps them improve their service.  That's a good thing. 

Finding a safe restaurant when you're gluten free can be a lot of work, but over time you will have a network of safe places to eat and enjoy your meal.  Sometimes smaller, local restaurants are willing to go the extra mile.  There's a local Vietnamese restaurant that always takes special care when we bring our son in, and as a result, we give them a lot of business. 

I know that it's always a risk when we try a new place, but I don't want to shelter my son from the pleasures of eating out, nor do I want him to be afraid to try new things.  Most importantly, I want to give him the skills to speak up about his food restrictions, to be able to read a menu and question ingredients, and to be an advocate for himself.  That begins with providing him with a good example to follow, and plenty of real life experiences to learn from. 

Gluten Free at Frankie's Ristorante

1 comment :

  1. Superb tips are shared on this article. I personally like to read such kind of tips. Thanks to share this.

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