Since I have become Gluten-Free dining out in any establishment has been a challenge.
Each experience is unique and must be treated as such. Consider that every time you visit a dining venue you are encountering a new staff and you have no idea the level of training or the communication that is actually occurring between the server, management and kitchen staff.
Having worked in the restaurant business for many years, I personally know that each server is unique and has their own relationship with the kitchen and that CAN effect your experience. When I was working in restaurants as a server, there were servers that the kitchen would not cooperate with based solely on their relationship. In a large number of restaurants there is also a position held in a kitchen called an expeditor, who handles each and every plate that comes out of a kitchen. This person literally touches every single plate. Depending on your level of sensitivity this can be a huge problem for you. Therefore, you MUST keep all of this in mind when you go out to eat.
All that being said, there are things to keep in mind to can help keep you or your family member safe. The first rule is, “When in doubt, WALK OUT!” It is always better safe then sorry. As time goes on you will be able to better discern the safety of each dining experience. This was probably the biggest obstacle in my quest for safe eating. I have on numerous occasions stayed in an establishment for a variety of reasons, mainly because it can be exhausting, particularly if you have children (I have five children, so I do understand.) I can tell you it is not worth it. I have also chosen just not to eat, many times, lack of understanding and options have left me close to or in tears. With that in mind, if you are going out with other people ALWAYS try to pick the restaurant. People just do not ask the right questions, if any at all. There are questions that you should keep in your GF toolbox, each and every one of these has happened to me personally and I was contaminated. Hopefully this can help you.
If you can try calling ahead, try to speak to a manager or chef and let them know you are coming. I have had a plate of vegetables brought to my table in lieu of bread just from a simple phone call.
Here are some questions you can ask when you call:
- Is there a gluten-free menu? – Ask what is on the menu, some restaurants just omit half the ingredients and call it gluten-free; you wind up with a plate of lettuce.
- Can items be made gluten-free? – If so, which ones and how?
- Has there been training for gluten free in this restaurant?
When you get to the restaurant make sure you tell the hostess that you’re gluten free and ask for a gluten-free menu.
Tell your server immediately that you do have an allergy. With so many people deciding to become gluten free, (which I whole-heartedly endorse), it important that you specify allergy.
THE DEEP FRYER:
I have been contaminated countless times by ingredients that have been tossed into a deep fryer even if I told them I had an allergy. Cross contamination occurs if there is not a dedicated fryer for gluten-free foods.
- Hash browns
- Home Fries
- Roasted Potatoes
*Even if these are originally cooked on a grill or oven many restaurants will toss them in the deep fryer to warm them up.
*Some packaged products that restaurants use contain gluten, ask if they are made in house or if they are pre-packaged. Stick to house made with no seasoning.
While more and more places carry gluten free pasta the water in which they are cooked can be contaminated, ask for fresh water. Most sauces contain gluten. Ask about the sauces that they use and what is in them. If in doubt, olive oil and garlic is my go to and it is yummy.
SAUCES, GRAVY and DRESSINGS:
Most sauces, gravies and dressings contain gluten. I usually carry a small Tupperware container with my own salad dressing when I am dining out. It is a headache to remember but saves me in the long run. Order your food as plain as possible.
Even the best intended staff could make mistakes; therefore it is important that you educate yourself on hidden sources of gluten.
- Soy Sauce
- Natural and/or artificial Flavors
- Bacon Bits and bacon
It is best to plan ahead, bring your own bread, seasoning, dressing and a snack just in case.
Depending on your level of sensitivity, cross-contamination could be a very big issue for you.
Some questions you might want to ask are:
- Is there a separate area for gluten free food prep?
- Do you wash the pots and pans before cooking gluten-free food?
- Is there a separate dedicated gluten-free fryer?
- Call ahead
- Speak to a manager or chef
- Ask questions
- When in doubt, Walk Out!
- Bring snacks
- Bring your own bread or buns
- Bring your own dressing
- Eat as plain and clean as possible
- Better to be safe then sorry.
With more and more people becoming gluten free dining out is becoming easier than it ever has before.
In recent months, I have seen a trend towards managers or chefs coming to the table. This way, restaurants can assure gluten-free diners a safer experience. I hope to see this much more often.
There is no guarantee that when you eat out at a restaurant you will not be contaminated, that is just a sad fact of our lives.