Disclaimer: This list is entirely my own opinion and from personal experiences, and is meant to be a guide. When choosing a gluten free restaurant, please use caution according to your individual needs as this information is not to replace that of your healthcare professional.
Dining out with friends and family can be such an important part of our daily lives, it’s hard to think about giving it up. Depending on your health status, the challenges of living gluten free shouldn’t stop you from at least trying to enjoy a meal outside of your home. Dining gluten free with Celiac Disease may seem like an inconvenience, and the procedures you go through to ensure a gluten free meal may feel embarrassing to start. It’s important to remember that asking a million questions about the restaurant and menu is OK! It’s much better to feel confident in your dish then to not say anything and get sick. Here are some tips to help you choose where to eat and what to order:
Do your Research!
There are quite a few websites that have great gluten free restaurant information and tips, and many offer people to write reviews of the places they have eaten at.
Once you find a restaurant, here are a few things to consider:
- Does it have a gluten free menu, gluten sensitive menu, or are the items made gluten free to-order?
I always find it important to check what type of menus they have. Many restaurants will label their gluten free menus as “lifestyle menu” or “gluten sensitive” instead of gluten free. It’s possible that this means they are catering more toward the diner that choose to be gluten free, and not necessarily someone with Celiac, so it’s important to check with them.
- Do they make an allergen and/or gluten free statement on their website?
Some restaurants have gone through extensive staff training when it comes to food allergies and medical conditions, and may make a statement on their website. For example, Wildfire makes a very clear statement on their website about catering toward those with Celiac Disease and how they handle their kitchen to accommodate.
- Can you find any gluten free reviews of the restaurant?
Checking a review website, like the ones I listed above, is a great place to start. You may be able to learn how many people have ordered from the gluten free menu, if they have gotten sick or had a reaction, or if they recommend certain dishes over others.
When you find a restaurant you are interested in dining at, start by calling them during non-busy hours to discuss your accommodations. See if you can speak to a manager, let them know you or someone in your party has Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, explain what that means, and ask what safety procedures they take when preparing those specific meals. I always say it’s easier to know ahead of time and go somewhere else than to sit down at the restaurant and realize you can’t eat anything.
Ask for a Gluten Free Menu
If you find yourself at a restaurant you are willing to try, or even one you have been at successfully in the past, always ask your waiter/waitress for the gluten free menu as soon as possible to inform them. This gives you time to ask questions and/or have time to ask for the manager before everyone orders.
Politely Ask to Speak with the Manager
Unless visiting a dedicated gluten-free restaurant or one I am completely comfortable with, I almost always ask for the manager. Don’t feel uncomfortable doing so, as it’s your health that’s of concern and not theirs! If you don’t ask questions, the restaurant may just assume you are eating gluten free by choice and may not take the preparation of your meal seriously as to limit cross-contamination.
Let your waiter or waitress know you have Celiac Disease or are gluten intolerant and would like to talk to the manager so you can ask some questions… and do it with a SMILE! Be as polite as possible, and address your medical condition with concern. Remember, your waiter might not know anything about or truly understand Celiac, so it might be in your best interest to speak with someone who can help you better. Once you introduce yourself to the manager and let them know you have Celiac (and what it means), here are a list of some questions that can help you choose what to eat:
- Are there any items on the menu that need substitutions
- Do the salad dressings contain flour or wheat
- Do you use a shared fryer
- Is there a dedicated gluten free section of the kitchen.
- Do you use all separate pots, pans, dishes, and cooking utensils…or are they cleaned thoroughly between uses
- Is the gluten free pasta boiled in separate pasta water and kept away from the regular pasta
- What items are prepared on a shared surface or cooked on the same surface as gluten-containing items.
- Are the pizzas placed on the same oven surface as the regular ones, or do they use a separate oven or place on a baking sheet
- What sauces and side dishes would be best that limit cross-contamination.
- Are any sauces thickened with flour
- Do you (as the manager) bring out gluten free dishes, does the waiter/waitress, or does the bussing staff.
- (Make sure that the person who carries out your dish is aware that you have Celiac Disease. If a staff member other than the manager or waiter carries out your dish, they may not be informed of your requests and many carry it out touching the other gluten-containing dishes at your table (or maybe the french fries from another dish spill onto yours)
Request that they make sure the kitchen staff is aware you have Celiac, and also repeat this request to your waiter/waitress in case the manager forgets to inform them.
Once you speak with the manager, ask them what the best dish is for you to have based on the questions that you asked. For example, you might not find pasta to be a comfortable choice, but find that steak and chicken are all grilled on a bun-free gluten free surface. Use these questions as a guide for your choices, and be prepared to order something other than your first choice.
When in Doubt…
- Eat before you go
If you are going out with friends or even family, eat before you go and still enjoy the good company. If it works for you, consider ordering some tea, coffee, or another drink you are comfortable having so you have something to enjoy.
- Bring food with you
I’ve heard of many people who will bring their own food in a heat-proof container, and politely ask the manager if they would mind heating it up for them and bringing out a clean plate since their restaurant couldn’t provide a safe choice. You could also consider bringing some snacks with you to munch on at the table, just in case you can’t find anything to order. For kids, consider bringing some coloring tools and extra snacks so they have something to do while everyone else enjoys their meal.
Have any other tips that help you when eating out? Feel free to let me know!