We all have a natural desire to be with friends and socialize – and many of those occasions we do so with our friends over dinner. Eating out is the way us gluten-free folk feel normal. While I eat 95 percent of my meals at home, I still go out to eat when I’m invited to join friends and clients. It’s just what we do.
But eating out while on a strict gluten-free diet makes me anxious. It’s always a crap shoot.
Will I get glutened? Maybe.
Do I still go out to eat anyway? Yes.
I’m not sure why I do it and take the risk time and time again, but I do.
I went out to eat twice this week. Once with a friend for an early birthday dinner. Once with a client. I have been to both of these restaurants in the past and have had great experiences at both. But after both experiences, I most definitely got glutened – all in a two-day span. I came home feeling sick. (Read: 7 Ways to Recover from an Accidental Gluten Exposure)
So if you go to a restaurant, you can take all the precautions you want, but note that you just might [and most likely will] get glutened. Gluten happens.
No restaurant can guarantee you won’t (unless it’s a dedicated GF restaurant). I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to eat out with a severe allergy. I know how horrible I feel when I get glutened, but I don’t go into anaphylactic shock.
10 Ways to Avoid Getting Glutened When Eating Out
If you do eat out, here are a few suggestions to prevent another accidental gluten exposure.
(1) Choose Wisely: Choose restaurants with dedicated gluten-free menus and ones you have heard good things about. Check the Find Me Gluten Free app or search my list of restaurants offering gluten-free or gluten-friendly menus. Remember though, while one person got glutened somewhere, doesn’t mean you will too. Staff changes daily. Restaurants evolve. If you call the restaurant and ask them about their GF options and they are positive and knowledgeable, I’m all in.
However, if you call a restaurant (like I called Zaidy’s Deli in Denver this week) to inquire about gluten-free options, and the staff is detached and rude about it, you can rest assured that I will never step foot in that establishment. (It’s my impression that Zaidy’s does not have any gluten-free options, nor do they care to cater to us gluten-free folk.)
(2) Use a Gluten-Free Safe Dining Card: I created a printable gluten-free dining out card to show restaurants staff. It is particularly helpful when there is a language barrier.
I simply keep it in my wallet at all times, and when I’m in new restaurants or in situations where I’m not certain the staff understands what I’m talking about, I hand them this card that explains what I can and can’t eat, and I ask the waiter to share it with the chef.
(3) Ask to Speak with Manager/Chef: Maggiano’s doesn’t even let you order (if you flag an allergy) without first speaking with the chef (kudos Maggiano’s!). If you’re worried you might get glutened, ask to speak with the manager and/or chef about your concerns. If they care about their customers, they will do their best to make sure you have a great experience.
(4) Use Strong Language: Tell the waiter you have a serious reaction or horrible pain when you eat gluten, and it’s important he communicates that you take your gluten-free diet seriously (or even say it’s a serious allergy if you need to and this is not a trendy diet for you. (Remember, you can’t be allergic to gluten or have a gluten allergy. That said, restaurants understand the word “allergy” and take it more seriously. Here’s how to explain your not-allergy to restaurant staff.)
(5) Ask For a Stand Alone Delivery: Waiters often pile everyone’s dish on one platter, but ask them to deliver your dish completely separate to avoid gluteny bits from spilling over onto your plate during the delivery process.
(6) Use a Straw: As clean as we wish our glasses were, just use a straw. Trust me on this one.
(7) Avoid the Bar (except wine): The bartender isn’t really up on the latest gluten-free trends, so instead of asking for a mixed drink that will most definitely go through a mixing and cross contamination process with non-gluten-free liquors (like whisky), just stick with a glass of wine. Save the fun drinks for home parties. (Read my Gluten-Free Alcohol Guide.)
(8) Ask the Right Questions: Don’t just take their word for it. Ask the right questions and be smarter than the staff. It is your job, not their job, to know and understand what you can and can’t eat.
For example, if you want to eat French fries, you need to ask if they cook their fries in a dedicated gluten-free fryer or if it’s a shared fryer with foods that contain gluten. Most restaurants have one fryer and they cook fried chicken and your precious fries in the same oil.
You’ll also want to ask if there is a separate prep area for things like your pizza. A gluten-free pizza is no longer gluten-free if touching the same surfaces as wheat pizza and if it’s cut with the same pizza cutters. These detailed questions will give you insight into whether this restaurant is really gluten-free, or just full of gluten.
(9) Test Your Food: If you own a Nima Sensor (and you should if you’re serious about being gluten-free), test your food for gluten. The Nima Sensor is a portable gluten detecting device that empowers you to test your food for gluten right at the table. I carry my Nima with me wherever I go. Learn everything you need to know about the Nima Sensor (and get a $25 off coupon) in my article, 13 Things You Need to Know about the Nima Sensor.
(10) Be Nice: Above all else, be nice to your servers, even if they mess something up. The only thing you can control at a restaurant is your approach. If your approach is rude or demanding, the servers won’t go out of your way to give you (and future gluten-free diners) a safe experience.
And, for goodness sake, leave a good tip if you’re happy with the service and even mention to the manager that your waiter took extra care of you and your special dietary needs. A little kindness will ensure that waiter is positively rewarded for being kind to you – and he or she will be kind to the next person with special dietary needs.
I hope your next dining out experience is a success… but if you need help, read: Eating Out Gluten-Free: The Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Safe Dining at Restaurants and On-the-Go
Got accidentally glutened? Read: 7 Ways to Recover from an Accidental Gluten Exposure
PS: You can help your gluten-free friends know if a restaurant is or isn’t safe (and why… don’t be mean, give concrete reasons and constructive feedback) on Yelp, OpenTable, FindMeGlutenFree or the Gluten Free Registry.