One of the hardest parts about having celiac disease is eating out. I never realized how much eating out was a part of my life until I became gluten free. Eating out makes you feel normal. It’s how friends get together. It’s something my husband and family do to be social and enjoy life.
It can be so hard today to know what restaurants you can trust, and who is just saying they are gluten free to make a quick buck (you restaurants know who you are!). There is so much confusion in terminology too – some call their menus, “Gluten Free” while others call them “Gluten Sensitive.” There are other names as well – all which make my eyes roll.
I recently learned about gluten free certification for products, which I blogged about here. Many of these third-party organizations also certify restaurants, including the Gluten Intolerance Group. I was really excited to see that.
On the GIG site, it says, “GIG’s Gluten-Free Food Service Certification Program (GFFS) is designed to help food service establishments of all types (restaurants, cafeterias, hospitals) to provide safe options for gluten-free consumers. GFFS is not only establishing a set of standards and procedures for these food service locations to follow; we are raising consumer confidence in the establishment’s knowledge and handling of their food. Restaurants and food service locations found in this database have made a commitment to our gluten-free community by meeting the highest standards and being proactive in providing safe food choices for you, the consumer. Facilities that carry the GFFS certification logo have met and adhere to our Best Practices standards and are continuously monitored to assure that these strategies are maintained. As an organization, GIG understands the importance that our certification labels have to gluten-free consumers. These listed, GFFS certified establishments understand this as well and invite you to give them a try and gain your confidence in eating out again.”
This sounds too good to be true! However, my excitement fell flat when I saw how sparsely populated the list of actual certified gluten free restaurants there are. Why are restaurants so reluctant to learn about how to safely prepare GF items?
If you are going to eat out and are following a strict gluten free diet like me, consider the following tips:
Support Restaurants GIG Certified: While the list of certified gluten free restaurant is sparse, it is worth looking at. There are two national restaurant chains with certified gluten free menus: California Pizza Kitchen (all locations) and Pizza Hut (participating locations only). YOU MUST SUPPORT THESE RESTAURANTS and show them how much their certification makes you feel safe eating there. This list includes other restaurants too. Sadly, though, there was only one certified gluten free restaurant in the Denver metro area, Village Tavern (I will give this restaurant a try soon – promise!).
Eat at GF Only Restaurants: I found this listing of 100% Gluten Free Restaurants. Feel free to look over this list to find a restaurant you feel confident you can trust to feed you a 100% GF meal. (Unfortunately the list is pretty sparse.) If a gluten free only restaurant or bakery pops up in your neighbor, support it regularly to keep it in business!
Research, Try, and Weed Out: I recommend trying a few restaurants and having conversations with the servers, managers and chefs who will be preparing your food. I do feel like you can trust many restaurants to get it right… and when you find one that truly takes care of you with thought and sensitivity, frequent it often, bring your GF and non-GF friends to try it, and tell everyone you know about it so it gets lots of support and business from the community. In Denver, I feel Rice Bistro and Sushi takes great care of me, so I go there almost weekly. I also like Max’s Wine Dive for date night (founder has Celiac), CPK for pizza, and Five Guys for burgers – the server there is so considerate to me!
As always, when visiting a restaurant that is gluten free certified or not, have a conversation with your server, manager and/or chef. Ask the right questions about ingredients, preparation and cross contamination. The ones who treat you right, and who you feel great after eating there, are the ones that should get your “going out dollars” often! The GF community must speak with our wallets AND words!