Dining out safely, whether you are a celiac or gluten intolerant, can be a frightening and uncomfortable ordeal. But in the 8 years since my diagnosis, I’ve learned that there are certain questions you can ask to ease your stress and increase the likelihood that you will enjoy your meal without getting sick.
Here are my Top Ten Questions to Ask When Dining Out Gluten Free:
10. Do you have a gluten-free menu?
If the restaurant has a gluten-free menu, chances are that your dining experience will be safe and stressfree. But be aware. Just because the ingredients in the meal are gluten-free doesn’t mean that your meal will make it to the table gluten free. Those who prepare and serve your meal need to understand how to take steps to ensure your safety.
9. I have a gluten allergy. Do you know what gluten is?
Make your waiter understand that you have an allergy, and that you will be very sick if you ingest any gluten at all. Being gluten-free has suddenly become the “cool thing”. That’s great for increasing options for gf diners, but it’s scary, because it can be seen as a fad diet and therefore not taken seriously.
Also, if your server has no idea what gluten is, it’s time to politely ask for a new server.
8. May I speak to the chef?
If the chef is too busy to answer questions for you, it’s possible that he’s too busy to take precautions that would prevent cross contamination. You may need to choose another restaurant.
7. Could you show me the ingredients in the dressing or sauce?
There are ingredients in dressings and sauces that contain gluten. When you have a food allergy, you are an avid label reader, and you know the buzz words to look for. A waiter may be looking for the word “gluten” on a label and come back to claim that the dressing is gluten-free, not understanding that there are hidden glutens. Many restaurants will bring out a book of ingredients to show you. If they aren’t able to show you the ingredients, order a dry salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side. Order your meats prepared with olive oil, salt, and pepper instead of the sauce. Request steamed vegetables.
6. Do bread or croutons come with that?
If so, remind them not to include it. More often than not, I will get satisfactory answers to enough of my questions to be comfortable enough to order, and then I am served a side salad with a breadstick lying on top of the lettuce! You won’t think you need to ask if bread comes with the meal, but you do.
5. How do you avoid cross-contamination from wheat products in the kitchen?
My favorite restaurants have a dedicated area in the kitchen without gluten-containing products. If you’re ordering gluten-free pasta, made sure that a separate pot of water is used to boil it. If you’re ordering a grilled item, ask if they can put foil on the grill or use a separate fry pan.
4. Could you check my order with the chef or kitchen manager to make sure that I ordered a gluten-free meal?
This question lets the waitstaff know that you are serious. It also serves as a final check to make sure there aren’t other ingredients in your meal that weren’t listed on the menu.
3. Could you please change your gloves?
When ordering from a restaurant like Chipotle, where multiple workers assemble your food on a food line, it is important to have the workers change their gloves. They may have just made a flour tortilla quesadilla before your gluten-free corn tortilla taco, which means that you’ll be eating gluten. Either have every person on the serving line change their gloves or have one person make your entire meal.
2. Are you sure?
Do not stop asking questions until you are comfortable with the answers. If you’re not comfortable, you always have the option to choose another restaurant. Your health is worth it.
1. Do you have a comment card?
Let the server and the manager know that you appreciate how hard they work to provide safe meals for those who are gluten intolerant. When restaurants hear that their efforts are appreciated and much needed, they will be far more likely to expand their efforts.
Dining out gluten-free may take a little more time and effort, but if you ask the right questions you can have a delightful experience while staying healthy.
What questions would you add to my top 10?
What are your favorite gluten-friendly restaurants?
About the Contributor:
Heather is a gluten-free blogger by night and a Kindergarten teacher and fitness instructor by day. She writes about healthy, gluten-free living and shares gluten-free recipes, product reviews, and restaurant reviews on her blog. Learn more about Heather at http://www.glutenfreecat.com/
Thoughts from Nancy Olson:
Love all the gluten free dining tips! I have never thought of asking them for a comment card but if we all did that the restaurants may take notice of how important this is for people with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. We could really make a big change by just implementing this one tip with the comment card and always ask questions it is for your health but it also makes them aware of the needs of others.