What do I say?
I’ve had a request to go through what exactly I say to restaurants when trying to explain my gluten-free needs. It can be scary, awkward and intimidating, but this is for our health, comfort and it will ultimately make the next celiac’s visit to that restaurant a little easier so it’s worth it…I promise! The hope is that you’ll find places that you really feel comfortable and they can become places you frequent. They’ll appreciate your business and work hard to meet your needs. Remember, your requests are not silly. This is not a fad diet or even a chosen lifestyle…it’s your health.
1: Always be polite and appreciative, BUT never apologetic. Not apologizing is tough, and I have trouble following my own rule here, but you should never apologize for a disease over which you have no control.
2: I ask, “Have you heard of gluten?” I can immediately gauge whether I’m going to attempt to eat anything here based on the confident “yes, we train all of our employees in food allergies” or the puzzled expression on the manager’s face.
3. If they know about gluten, but don’t have a special menu, I remind them where gluten can be found (wheat, rye and barley) and that I have a disease that requires me to abide by a strictly gluten free diet.
4. If they assure me that I can eat here, I then select a few dishes in my mind that I would be interested in eating and that possibly don’t contain gluten. I ask the manager about these specific dishes. (It can be overwhelming to both the manager and the celiac customer to ask about the entire menu).
5. If the waiter tells me those dishes are fine, I proceed to ask them about the less well known things gluten is found in: soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings, fryers that could be contaminated.
6. I also ask about how they prepare their food and what their kitchen is like. If they prepare everything on the same griddle, it’s likely to be contaminated. I’ve found that people are very honest about this. I’ve had waiters tell me that I probably shouldn’t eat at the restaurant because of the way they cook their food and that it’s a busy day for them in the kitchen so they don’t have the time to clean as well as the should. (This is why I tend to avoid Sunday brunch at restaurants and diners.)
7. Continue thanking them throughout the meal. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. If the meal went particularly well. I’ll even contact the restaurant the next day to thank them for accommodating me. Tell your celiac friends about the restaurant as well. We want to give these thoughtful establishments business and encourage them to continue being conscious chefs.
8. A word of warning: this can be a lengthy process, but it’s so worth it! None of us want to be a burden to the restaurant or the people we’re with, but the pain and damage it will do to our bodies if we don’t, is more important.
A final note: Never feel like you HAVE to eat something. Go with your gut…literally and figuratively. You can politely leave the restaurant at any time. If the meal arrives and you don’t feel comfortable, double check with them and if you still don’t feel safe, don’t eat it! I was at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon this summer and I had a bad feeling about the meal when it arrived, but I ate it anyways, and I regretted my decision to not double check for the next 3 days (including a cross country flight)!
So don’t avoid restaurants and dining experiences because you’re scared! There’s so much yummy food out there and just because you have celiacs, doesn’t mean you should miss out!