Dining out safely when gluten-free can be tricky and especially daunting when you have other food allergies beyond gluten. While it seems like it should be easier to eat out these days since so many restaurants are offering gluten-free menus, just because a menu has gluten-free options on it, does not always mean the kitchen staff knows what they’re doing. Mistakes can be made. Still, if you’re lucky, you can find a good restaurant that will treat you well, give you great-tasting food and not make you sick. To help you find such a place, here are seven tips for dining out safely when gluten-free.
1. Call ahead. Ask to speak to a manager or chef, and ask them if they will be able to accommodate your need for a special diet. Tell them you have a food allergy, and they’ll take it more seriously. If the restaurant doesn’t have a dedicated gluten-free menu, ask them what you would be able to eat there. You should be able to tell from your conversation if you’ll feel comfortable in their establishment.
2. Don’t show up hungry! If you’re so hungry that you can’t think straight, chances are greater that you’ll make a mistake. Always carry your favorite gluten-free snack with you in case of emergency.
3. Become informed about safe kitchen practices, yourself. Just because a restaurant has a gluten-free menu, doesn’t always mean that they practice safety in the kitchen. Learn which ingredients & preparations contain gluten. Learn the other names for wheat (faro, semolina, e.g.) Common items containing gluten include sauces, gravies, & coatings. Also know that gluten-free foods can become contaminated with gluten if they are prepared on shared working surfaces, fried in the same frier, etc., as foods containing gluten. Read New to Gluten-Free? for more guidance.
4. Inform your server & manager of your dietary needs again when you arrive. Take the time to ask them about how they prepare your food and what ingredients are in the menu items you’re considering. You may want to order last in your party, so that you aren’t pressured to choose quickly, & others don’t become impatient.
5. Choose restaurants with menu items that are made fresh on the spot. Menu items that are freshly made are more easily adaptable to be gluten-free (or allergen-free). Also, chefs and servers are more aware of the ingredients if their dishes are made in-house. Pre-made sauces, condiments, etc. are more likely to contain gluten.
6. Try to find restaurants that you know have been trained in safe kitchen practices. Eating at a restaurant that has taken the time to learn about the gluten-free diet will give you a little extra confidence and help you better enjoy your experience.
7. Be polite and thankful to your servers, managers & chefs. Its hard work catering to gluten-free (and other special) diets. Help the staff help you, and everyone will have a better experience. If you enjoyed your meal, please be sure to let the staff know. You will pave the way for future enjoyable meals the next time you visit, & for other gluten-free patrons who visit after you.