We celiacs are a simple bunch.
We don’t like to cause trouble. We hate being a burden. And man do we miss eating out and not worrying about getting sick. So when we come to your establishment and kindly inform you that we need our meal to be gluten-free, all we ask for in return is honesty and respect.
Honesty…meaning if you cannot provide a safe meal for us, that’s totally cool. It’s better to know up front. And if you can, kudos to you.
Respect…meaning if you decide you can serve us, that you do it quietly and with dignity. We don’t like being the center of attention when it comes to our meal.
This brings us to an episode a fellow gluten-free person recently had at a Chipotle in Portland, Oregon. Now, from what I’ve heard, Chipotle does gluten-free right and their food is good. I personally have never been to one; for the same reason I won’t go to almost any chain restaurant. The reward is not worth the risk.
But that’s just me. I know many celiacs have had good experiences there. So this is in NO WAY a Chipotle-bashing post. I appreciate the effort they make and also appreciate the warning they put on their website, as follows:
Most people wanting to avoid gluten can eat anything we serve except for our large and small flour tortillas. Everything else is fine to eat for most people wanting to avoid gluten. If you are highly sensitive and would like us to change our gloves, we would be happy to do that at your request. Additionally, because our folks work with wheat tortillas all day long, there may be the possibility of cross-contact in our restaurants. We encourage you to carefully consider your dining choices.
This is perfect. It says “Hey…we get it and we’ll try our hardest to accommodate you. But no promises.”
Like I said, it’s all about risk-reward and it’s a personal choice.
So taking you back to the whole “honesty and respect” issue, listen to what happened to one of our own recently.
First off, thank you for all the advocating you do, especially in light of the surge of recent gluten free bashing going around. Sadly, I wanted to reach out and share with you an unfortunate and humiliating experience I had today.
Since I am severely gluten intolerant, I am very careful about where I eat out due to medical necessity. One place that I have had good luck at is Chipotle. Their staff is usually well trained and courteous and due to their awareness, I feel fairly safe eating there. Not to mention I really like their values as a company!
I always make sure to very kindly ask them to change their gloves and to have one person take me down the line and apologize for any inconvenience I may cause them and then at the end, I make sure to thank them for their effort. I also try and make every effort to go before peak times so as not to slow the line down and also make it a bit safer for me.
Courteous, right? But even us gluten intolerant folks need to eat.
Well, today I went to the Chipotle located near the Portland, OR airport for lunch and did my usual polite routine only to be met with a confused employee (that’s ok!) who went to get the manager, who then made an over the top spectacle of stopping the entire line, and doing more than the usual change of gloves, spoons and quick wipe down.
He had every ingredient batch and every utensil changed, made every staff person on the line step away and wash their hands and change their gloves (instead of just having one person take me the whole way down per usual) and then had them scrub the entire counter length and every single little crevice in between containers. This went on a long time. Then he sent an employee out to the people in line standing behind me who loudly explained that they were sorry for the inconvenience but this person ordering is allergic to gluten so they have to change everything out and offered everyone free drinks as an apology.
If I could have crawled into a crack in the floor I would have. The conversation in the line behind me turned to customers sharing with each other all the negative stereotypes about gluten intolerance.
So while I appreciate Chipotle’s usual effort for safety against cross contamination (so important to folks like me and those with Celiac disease), turning it into such a spectacle I was left feeling utterly publicly humiliated and you can bet I will never go into another Chipotle again.
Sad to say good by to the tasty food and embarrassed to be gluten free.
Being the investigative journalist that I am, I asked her the following question: Did the manager do it with a smile? I mean…did you get the sense that he went overboard in order to make a spectacle out of the ordeal, or was he doing it simply to keep you safe?
This experience felt like a circus act though; exaggerated, prolonged and then sending the staff member out to each of the people in the line behind us to explain I had a “gluten allergy” and offering free drinks to all to make up for up it made me feel like a spectacle.
Neither myself or my boyfriend noticed anyone in the line grumbling, complaining or acting impatient before then. It was only after that, the line behind us turned pretty hostile with anti gluten free comments and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The whole episode seems kind of surreal to me. While there is a part of me that appreciates the effort, something just doesn’t sit right about how they handled it. And the bottom line is they made a customer feel so uncomfortable that she’ll never eat at a Chipotle again.
So to all restaurants I say this again: We hate this more than you do. YOU think this is a pain in the ass?? Try living with it every single day. If you cannot accommodate us, no hard feelings. If you can, I beg of you to do it with some grace and dignity.
Honesty and respect…not too much to ask for.