So, you’ve tackled some of the most difficult transitions to gluten-free living such as keeping a well stocked pantry, navigating dinner parties and throwing your child’s birthday party. However, are you still weary about dining out and feeling 100% confident that the meal you are ordering is gluten-free and cross-contamination free? Rest assured, you are not alone in your quest to be a savvy gluten-free foodie when dining outside of your own kitchen.
Having worked in restaurants for 10 years, in everything from diner style barbecue to ultra-fine dining, I not only sympathize with the kitchen and waitstaff when dealing with a gluten-free customer, but I also empathize with the diner. Having been diagnosed a decade ago, I have been duped into countless meals that I was told were being prepared gluten-free. For a year I convinced myself that it was easier to just dine-in than dine-out. Unfortunately that paradigm doesn’t work for me, and others just like me that love the experience of restaurant dining. Just like every other step in the gluten-free transition, restaurant dining is most definitely a game of trial and error. However, we should not only keep in mind our needs as a Celiac diner, but also be respectful of our fellow diners and the restaurant we are patronizing to ensure everyone is happy at the end of the meal. Follow these easy steps for happy dining:
Tips for Finding New Hot Spots and Dining in Your Favorite Local Spots
- Call ahead: Call ahead to some of your favorite spots to find out if they have a gluten-free menu. Ask if their menu is ‘certified’ gluten-free or if it has been prepared by someone in house. There is a big difference here!! Your ingredients may be gluten free, but the kitchen space may not be.
- Plan ahead: Even if your favorite spots do not have a gluten free menu, chances are they will accommodate if you give them a heads up when making a reservation. If your favorite spot does not take reservations, call before coming in to see if the hostess thinks the kitchen staff will be able to meet your needs that evening. If the kitchen is understaffed, or the head chef is out for the evening, you may want to consider another option(for your sake at the kitchen’s).
- Go out of YOUR way: If your favorite spot is happy to accommodate you in every way then spread the word, spread the wealth and patronize their establishment often. Thank them and tell them you’ll be passing the word on to your local friends. Tip your wait person generously for helping you. And most of all, return to the restaurant often to let them know that you appreciate their food.
Tips for Dining in Restaurants without a GF Protocol
- Go Online: Most restaurants have their menus posted online, so be prepared before you dine with a few choices from their menu.
- Keep the allergy food cards at bay: I know these cards are popular among many Celiac diners, but they are also a slap in the face to many chefs and waitstaff people if they are used as inopportune times. If the chef asks for a list of foods to avoid in your meal, then by all means pull it out. However, ordering a meal then immediately submitting your card with your order could be seen as rude to the group preparing your meal.
- Do not bring your own pasta to a restaurant unless you have called first: Crackers are okay. Dinner rolls are semi-okay. But, to bring your own bag of pasta unannounced and expect the establishment to double wash a pasta pot to accommodate your needs is silly. Unless the establishment you are dining in is a ‘certified’ gluten free restaurant, you will most likely NOT get fresh pasta water, even if they offer GF pasta on the menu.
- Crackers and Dinner Rolls: These items should not disrupt anyone involved, but please be sure to tell your server that you would “love to order _____ appetizer, but you can save your crackers. I brought my own gluten-free one’s and would be happy to use them instead.” Won’t mortify your spouse–check! Ease the cross-contamination issue on the plate–check! Won’t red flag you for bringing in your own food–check! Be up front, but also be respectful.
- Approach your server early on in the meal: When your server comes to the table to take your drink order, pull them aside and explain kindly, “I have a severe gluten allergy and am really good at finding items on your menus that are safe, but just so you know, I’ll still have a few questions for you when I order.” Most times, the server will let you know that they are happy to accommodate your needs, and will! It’s all in the delivery.
- To be a meal creator, you’ll have to pay extra: With all this being said, try to not be a meal creator unless you’re willing to pay a little extra. Try to pick dishes that you won’t need to morph drastically. The more morphing you do, the more likely you’ll have cross contamination.
- Go our of YOUR way: If you’ve been well accommodated, then spread the word, spread the wealth and patronize their establishment often. Thank them and tell them you’ll be passing the word on to your local friends. Tip your wait person generously for helping you. And most of all, return to the restaurant often to let them know that you appreciate their food.
Beware of These Items When Ordering!!! There’s the obvious items such as bread, pasta, couscous and desserts. Check this list for the ‘not so obvious-stay clear foods!’
- Soups: Most soups, cream based or not, have used a glutenous thickener, especially if the soup is NOT made in house.
- Smoked meats and fish: Most times, these are soaked in a soy sauce containing brine before smoking.
- Demi-glaces: Either thickened with gluten, or containing soy sauce, just ask for them to be omitted.
- Picatta Sauce: Thickened with gluten!
- Rice Pilaf: Could be safe, most likely not! Go for the mashers, or jasmine rice.
- Herb-encrusted: Most times will have some flour or panko to give it more of a crusty texture.
- Fried Foods: Unless the establishment has a designated GF fryer, anything coming from the multi-use fryer will be gluten containing.
- Diner omelets: Make sure your favorite breakfast spot uses 100% eggs in your omelet. Otherwise, most diners add pancake batter to make their egg dishes light and fluffy.
- Salad dressing: Ranch, other creamy dressings and ginger/soy dressings are usually a red flag to avoid. If in doubt, ask for oil and vinegar on the side.
GoGlutenFreeGracefully.com Restaurant Certification Program is a business dedicated to creating restaurant menus that are safe for the gluten free diner. Through a process of development, educating and training, we proceed with a 5-step protocol geared towards establishing a cross-contamination free kitchen. GoGlutenFreeGracefully only certifies once the establishment has gone through the entire protocol. Contact Jill at GoGlutenFreeGracefully@gmail.com or 435-962-3010 for more information on how your restaurant can get involved.