Gluten-Free Gluten Restaurant Tips

• Before ordering at a restaurant, always check to see if their gluten free menu has changed. Receipes change often and without warning. It’s better to take a minute to check and be safe than deal with gluten issues for days (or weeks!) to follow.

• Always let your server (or their manager) know that you have food allergy/sensitivity/intolerance issues.
As opposed to trying to explain Celiac Disease to every server I meet, I just tell them that I have an allergy to wheat. They immediately understand “allergy” and most know to take it seriously. And if they don’t…

• When in doubt, ask for a manager.
When you get the dumbfounded “deer-in-the-headlights” blank stare from a server, know this: they have no IDEA what your food issues entail, probably won’t take it seriously and your chances of getting glutened are very high. When this happens, politely ask if any other servers have any allergies or sensitivities. Perhaps then you could switch to their section of the dining room. If your server doesn’t know of any food sensitives on staff, then ask for a manager. Not to get them in trouble or anything, but to see if you have any chance of having a safe, gluten-free dining experience.
If the manager doesn’t understand what you’re asking for, don’t hesitate to politely thank them and leave. Remember: no matter how hungry you are, a temporary discomfort while you find another place to eat is NOTHING compared to the days and days of gluten effects you’ll be chancing if you stay.

• Bring your own gluten-free condiments
There are only so many times you can have a plain oil & vinegar on a salad or dry rice when out to eat before it gets very boring. So why not leave a bottle of gluten free soy in your glove compartment (La Choy Soy Sauces- both regular and Lite – are GF, inexpensive & readily available at most grocery stores or tamari is a good gluten free alternative). Then find the perfect little container and bring your favorite gluten-free salad dressings. This will spice up any modified salad (the gluten-free standby at otherwise non-gf restaurants).

UPDATE 2013: Know before you go.
Now that I’ve successfully been on a strict, completely gluten-free diet for several years, I really don’t go out to eat as much. But when I do, I ALWAYS check the gluten-free polices of restaurants BEFORE I go. I call ahead and ask for a manager and can really get a sense of where they stand on contamination awareness.

One of the best resources I’ve found for both gluten-free food products and gluten-free restaurants is Triumph Dining. Their dining guide has helped me on MANY a road trip. Between Triumph and my iPhone app, GF Overflow (which will have to be another post…), I’ve finally found a couple of resources to help make my gluten-free life a little easier. And I’ll take whatever I can get! :)

Whenever possible, go during off-peak hours.
Chances for cross-contamination will diminish greatly if you go before or after busy times. The difference in going to lunch at 12:10 vs. 11:50, or dinner at 6:00 instead of 6:30, can be the difference between a harried server forgetting your salad can’t have croutons (and remembering as soon as she sees your table and hastily picks them off! Yikes!) or having a fresh, relaxed waitress with only one or two tables personally wait and watch the cook finish your plate. It’s well worth being the early bird (or going late can work too!) so as to not catch the gluten worm.

Speak with a chef.
This is really only possible if you go off-peak, but again, very worth the extra effort. The few places to which we do actually go, we frequent because we know the chefs. At one place (Maggiano’s in Boston) one of the chefs has gotten to know us so well, that he keeps my tickets so he remembers my orders. And we always ask to be seated in the same section once we found a very caring, conscious waitress. At another place (Alice’s Diner, Fall River – the BEST gluten-free menu I’ve ever SEEN. And SO safe – Alice has Celiac), we have been so many times that we now know Alice and her niece, our favorite waitress, by name. And they in turn not only remember ours, but also our favorite orders, what we like to take away and when they’re having special events coming up. It’s awesome!

If you’re happy with the service, OVER TIP!
If you think there’s the SLIGHTEST chance that you’ll return, leave a big fat tip (25-30%). Nothing says “thanks for your extra effort” like a few extra dollars. (And hey, you probably aren’t eating out as much as you were before you were GF, so a few extra bucks to ensure your return safety is worth it.) And the next time you go in, the server is going to be psyched to see you and chances are they’ll remember you after a couple of times.

All that said, the number one thing you have to do is listen to your gut. If you have any hesitation about a place being able to safely accommodate your gluten-free needs, then just walk away. (We’ve done that SO many times. And those few times when I ignored my gut and stayed, I sure did pay the contaminated price!!!!)

Hope these ideas help you enjoy a fun, safe GF meal out.
Do you have any dining out tips to help us all stay Gluten Free?

2 Responses to “Gluten-Free Gluten Restaurant Tips”

  1. Caren Elkan 05/02/2013 at 11:27 PM #

    FYI – Just went to Cheesecake Factory in Sherman Oaks. Ca (5/2/13) and they had a really nice gluten free menu.

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    • noi 05/05/2013 at 9:03 AM #

      Oh! That’s ver interesting! This is the first gluten free menu I’ve heard of there. How was it? Did you happen to get a sense of thier knowledge about contamination?

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