Ordering Gluten-Free at a Restaurant? Listen Up.

Gluten free at a restaurant

Back in the day, I worked in the restaurant industry for many years; mostly behind the bar but sometimes waiting tables as well. In all the years I worked, I cannot remember one time where someone had a food allergy and certainly nobody ever mentioned celiac.

Why this is, is a post for another time (but lord knows I have my unproven theories).

What matters is that if somebody mentioned any kind of food allergy, you bet I would have gone out of my way to keep them safe. But what if I went above and beyond and then I saw them eating a food that they claimed they were allergic too? I’d pretty much have the same reaction as a server with celiac who recently spoke about this. She is spot on in every way. Here’s what she had to say:

I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for the better part of the last decade and was diagnosed with celiac about 3 years ago. I gotta say, I freaking love your blog. You get it.

I have seen the best and the worst in human behavior around gluten…from both sides of service (yes, some servers are a**holes; most of us are not). But you’d better believe that if you make me painstakingly go through the menu with you (I’m the gluten go-to in my restaurant and am happy to be so) and tell you what’s non-gluten containing, what’s cross contaminated (sorry, no french fries for you) and are so dramatic about your gluten issues (once again, I get it. Getting glutened sucks. I’m on your team.) but then order the soup WITH the flour tortilla strips or the french fries or the chocolate cake because “well, that’ll be OK”, you’d better believe I’m charging you $4 for your GF bun. If you’re not a d***head, I’ll ring in your GF bun for free.

Before I get hate mail, this isn’t about not saying anything when you dine out. You SHOULD notify your server that you have celiac (I like a comment that said “I’m not a fad dieter, I have celiac”. Your server will appreciate it and probably get a chuckle out of it.) And we will respond accordingly. We even have special !!!ALLERGY!!! buttons in our systems to help guide the kitchen on your order after we talk to them about your dish.

Just be nice about it. And tip well because you’re slowing down service, the kitchen flow stops for an allergy ticket (as it should) and they’re going EXTRA steps above and beyond for you AND it’s just good karma over all. Just above all, BE NICE. HAVE PATIENCE. Did I say BE NICE yet? And understand that unless it’s an allergy-certified kitchen (it prob isn’t) you are living on the edge at least a little bit.

Yes. Yes. And yes. Anybody who orders gluten-free at a restaurant has a responsibility to the celiac community. Sorry folks…it may seem like we’re being difficult. But it’s you that is making life difficult for us (and for those at the restaurant trying to keep you safe.) And yeah…if you can’t be nice about it, you’re best bet is to just stay home.

Back when my blog was still in diapers, I wrote a post called How to Go Gluten-Free: In the Restaurant. It’s gotten million of views over the years. Just kidding, not sure if anyone has read it. But to recap, if you are eating out as a celiac, here are the 5 steps you take:

  1. Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask to speak with a manager. Get a feel if they can keep you safe.
  2. At the restaurant, ask to speak with the manager. Yes…again.
  3. Study the menu. Find the safest dish. Can’t find one? Close the menu and begin crying. Or forget the menu and just order something plain.
  4. When the server comes over, quietly explain your situation.
  5. Go with the safest choice possible.
  6. And now I’ll add a sixth one.

  7. DON’T EAT ANY GLUTEN!!

This has been a public service announcement. Now back to your regular programming.

The Gluten Dude App: For a Better Gluten-free Life

Eating out with celiac disease is stressful. The Gluten Dude app lists only restaurants that have been personally vetted, so you can spend less time worrying and more time enjoying yourself.

Subscribe to the Blog

Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Let's Get Social

Other Posts You May Dig

Topics of Conversation

Categories

17 thoughts on “Ordering Gluten-Free at a Restaurant? Listen Up.”

  1. I have noticed in restaurants that most places cannot do enough for you as long as you are not a dilettante about it – and have been told by various servers that the people who make them jump through hoops and then order a beer, or eat the bread “because it is OK just this once” drive them crazy – I recall an experience where I really really wanted a burger and fries which I told the server and he checked with the chef who told him the burger was ok, but the fries were iffy. As soon as I told him it is salad with the burger for me, bummer I can’t have the fries everything kicked into high gear and they could not do enough to keep me safe. Even made up a bit of dressing for my salad from scratch to make sure it was safe for me. The server actually apologized to me about his attitude prior to me turning down the fries and explained that so many people make them jump through the hoops and then order a beer or something that it is very frustrating for them.

  2. Thank you so much for this and referencing your old post. Both are extremely helpful to us still trying to figure it all out. You’re such a great assist to our community 🙂

  3. I just had a discussion with two people, representing two organizations providing food to my daughter’s student group at a weekend school conference of 700+ high schoolers. This, to me, represents the spectrum that we face when dining out (which is sometimes required):

    1) Conference manager at a hotel who told me that it is impossible to serve her something without cross-contamination given how many people were being served from a salad bar and a taco bar.
    “May I speak to the chef?”
    “No, tell me what you want to know. But just know that feeding her something safe is literally impossible.”
    “1. Can he just wrap a salad for her separately from the bar which will have croutons? 2. Are they corn tortillas? Is the taco seasoning gluten free?”
    “What can’t she eat, ma’am?”
    “Gluten. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, malt, brewer’s yeast. Can I speak to the chef?”
    “No, but we aren’t serving any of that.”
    “It may be in the spices, marinades, etc. It’s definitely in the croutons, which, if accidentally dropped in the salad bar, makes it unsafe for her to eat. May I speak to the chef?”
    “No, I will check with him, but this probably isn’t possible. How am I supposed to guarantee that no one will drop a crouton.”
    “You aren’t, but feeding her safely is definitely possible and really not that challenging given your menu.”
    “I’m not sure how.”
    “Can I speak to the chef?”
    “No”.
    Conclusion: Manager finally called me back. Chef will wrap a separate salad without croutons, and will make plain ground beef for her and plate her the taco stuff separately. The continental breakfast, which apparently had only consisted of coffee and danishes, will now include fruit if she is quick enough to grab some.
    Mom conclusion: a) Some people suck. b) Pack her separate food.

    2) Catering manager, in charge of boxed lunch only (but who serves 2000+ meals/day):
    “Hey, I was told that your daughter needs gluten-free, but when you mentioned celiac disease in your email message, I kick my preparation up another gear and want to talk with you directly. My boss wants to check if you would be more comfortable bringing your own food, but I’m confident that we can accommodate her.”
    “Great. Given that you know the difference between gluten-free and celiac-safe, I’m confident that you can too.”
    “So we are making boxed sandwiches. I have gluten-free bread, and keep the meats and cheeses separate in prepping for her.”
    “What about condiments?”
    “Oh geez, I didn’t check the packets.”
    “Packets are fine; I was asking about commonly-shared jars, etc.”
    “Nope. And we will substitute fruit for oreos if that’s okay.”
    “That’s fine.”
    “Actually, I have a friend that makes gluten-free cookies out here. She’s about 20 miles away, and am not sure she will be baking for this event, but I can check.”
    “That is totally unnecessary, but would be greatly appreciated. BTW, you may want to look at getting your kitchen certified, since you’re doing most of the stuff anyway.”
    Mom conclusion: a) Some people are awesome. b) She will be fine, though I may pack her snacks anyway. c) I will be emailing the CEO again to tell him that his catering manager rocks.

  4. “And understand that unless it’s an allergy-certified kitchen (it prob isn’t) you are living on the edge at least a little bit”

    And, right there, that tells me everything I need to know. I won’t live on the edge. Not just so I can eat at a restaurant. No way. I’m not gambling my money on a meal that *might* leave me more or less incapacitated for days, and sick for weeks. No thanks. Especially when every single time it has happened before, the restaurant has refused to even apologise (I live in Canada where an apology is not going to mess you up legally – it’s not an admission of guilt), never mind offer me my money back.

    1. Absolutely agree with you Luna. It is a risk, no matter how small, with any kitchen, and given the consequences to my health it is a risk I am not willing to take. Eating out at a restaurant is not (under most circumstances) a necessity to survival. For people like me (and perhaps you?) with coeliac, avoiding gluten is such a necessity.

  5. I ran into one of my dd’s friends and her mother at a fast-food play place the other day and we chatted while our little ones enjoyed all the germy slides. We happened to know some common doctors, which turned our conversation to health and food. This is how it went:

    Her: Oh, yes I’m gluten, dairy, and sugar free, for inflammation. *Noshes salad I’d overheard her order without cheese but with fried chicken that she was picking the breading off of (?!?)*
    Me: Um hmm, that’s why I’m drinking water. *chuckle chuckle*
    Her: Can’t you even have the fries? I read somewhere they have a dedicated fryer.
    Me: Well, I’d love to but I’ve seen fries tossed in with onion rings too many times, so… Not worth it.
    Her: Really, that much will make a difference?
    Me: …
    Her: Wow, you must be really sensitive to gluten.
    Me: …

    I was a “fad diet” agnostic until that moment. I mean, why WHY would anyone do something as inconvenient and frustrating as eliminating gluten unless it was an absolute necessity? My eyes were opened.

    1. Years before I was diagnosed, I went “gluten free” to try and help with endometriosis pain. I had heard from others that simply stopping gluten foods was enough to help them a lot, and I was desperate, so…there was a sense that cross-contamination was only a serious concern for celiac, not inflammation or endo or Hashimoto’s, etc. So for a long time I was that person asking for gluten-free but specifying it didn’t have to be as strict as for celiacs. So it wasn’t exactly a fad diet, as it was for a medical reason, but there wasn’t much clarity. I didn’t get better, turns out it was celiac all along.

      Now I try to be patient with my friends who are sorta gf for things like inflammation, but I feel like they want to talk about it all the time.

  6. Instead of in a restaurant, I get this at my workplace. The people at my workplace in charge of ordering food for events are great. They go above and beyond to accommodate me, wonderful people. However, there is another gluten intolerant person at my workplace who ignores her intolerance and says she’ll “pay for it later”. Ugh! So then I get questioned by coworkers why she still eats gluten foods and I say I can’t. “She eats it, so why can’t you?” is what I hear. Again, thankfully this isn’t from the people in charge of ordering food, this just comes from other colleagues. It gets on my nerves as I feel some people think my gluten intolerance is not real. Difference between her and I, I truly care for my health so I won’t jeopardize it by “paying for it later”. Also, I have 3 kids at home (she’s single, no kids) and I can’t tolerate caring from them if I’m sick from intentionally (or unintentionally) digesting gluten. It sucks when it happens unintentionally, why would I do it on purpose? And this coworker, I went to lunch with her once or twice when we first started working together and she was the one questioning the GF offerings on the menu, but then would eat the bread or other gluten foods. So then I questioned how careful the restaurant staff was with my food when they’d see her be that way. Definitely frustrating!

  7. I recently attempted to eat at a restaurant on vacation out of state. I normally only eat at one of my four safe places. My husband and I kindly and nicely explained to the restaurant host (who barely spoke English) and our waiter about my celiac disease and diet restrictions (above and beyond gluten free) and that I would like to order a burger with a lettuce wrap. And the grill will be cleaned, etc… Really simple, very basic. The waiter wrote down my requests and verbalized understanding of my needs. My burger arrived on a bun delivered by the restaurant host. He didn’t appear to understand why he needed to take the burger back to the kitchen and have a new one made, that the bun couldn’t just be removed. He walked away and I changed my mind and canceled the burger and didn’t eat. I could have requested to speak to the waiter, but all trust was lost. I was livid, but did not throw a fit. We remained calm and polite. No one came to apologize for the mistake or attempt to rectify the error. We did not tip well and left. I went back to the hotel room and cried. I will never recommend this restaurant to anyone, a restaurant in a resort town with 2 national parks and hundreds of miles of bike trails. It shouldn’t have been that difficult. Sometimes you just want to be a “normal” person on vacation. Anyway, I was thankful to return home and go to my reliable and safe burger joint for a delicious meal without worry. Some of the wait staff even know me and my preferences.

    1. I use an app that lists restaurants with reviews from others who have celiac or gluten sensitivity. I use it especially when I’m not near my usually “safe” places to eat. The app is called “Find Me Gluten free”. It will also let me know how many of the reviews found the place safe to eat at (100% of 40 votes or 55% of 10 votes, etc). In some cases, it will say whether they have a dedicated fryer. I found one on there that was a dedicated gf restaurant. Oh how much safer I felt to eat there. BTW…It’s a FREE app

  8. Catherine Kennelly

    I am celiac. I have travelled to a number of countries and every time I go I pack half a suitcase of snack foods, but I have rarely ever eaten them all. There are a half dozen or so of us who are seriously gluten free or food intolerant and we look out for each other – make sure that we each have the right food allergy cards in the right languages. If we are on a tour we inform our tour guide in advance so that he chooses restaurants that can accommodate us. It’s often more expensive to eat safely but it’s worth it. At work I keep a list of my team-mates allergies and intolerances so that when we have a treat day or potluck we can do our best to accommodate one another. Not to say that I have never been accidentally glutened – I have (usually in restaurants that I considered safe). Overall I find people try to be helpful but I always make sure they know that my ‘gluten allergy’ is not a fad diet request. And no – I never order the french fries.

  9. Perhaps my celiac circle is unique, but we infrequently try new restaurants. When one of us does recommend a new place, the conversation always starts with “I’ve been there several times, and they haven’t made me sick even once…” and from there the conversation goes to how they keep the food GF, the ambiance, and the food texture, taste, and presentation. I’m curious, how many people with Celiac do not try a new place unless it is recommended by another person with Celiac?

    (Of course, a recommendation does not obviate the need to follow the standard restaurant protocols before visiting and when at the restaurant.)

  10. The fad dieters who avoid gluten are one of my biggest frustrations. The trend de-legitimatizes the very real medical need to avoid gluten for coeliacs and certain other serious conditions. The same frustration goes for those who need to avoid gluten for medical reasons but decide they can “cheat” once in a while or that trace amounts of gluten won’t matter. While they may be willing to go through the consequences, their choice impacts the rest of us because people at restaurants, friends, etc. may likely not be as strict or careful when dealing with those of us who take the need to avoid gluten seriously. Laxity among some does not just impact the “cheater” – it impacts the perception of GF people in the wider world and harms our ability to get our needs taken seriously and implemented properly.

  11. This article is very true. When I was diagnosed with celiac I felt it wasn’t a big deal and I got everything wrong for the first few weeks. Why? Because I had a roommate in college with celiac and she just decided that it was ok to cheat, so we never had separate toasters or so on, and I often saw her eating stuff like spelt bread or couscous claiming that it was gluten free. Therefore, I was convinced I could do the same. What’s worse, all our friends did not believe me when I said that I had to be very strict with gluten, because they knew her and they believed what she said about celiac.

    Eventually, this girl got very sick because of all the gluten she was eating and now she had to give up a lot of food. Therefore, for yourself and for other fellow celiacs, don’t be stupid with your diet.

  12. This reminds me of the time I knew about a work function at some bowling alley that had decent food but wasn’t clear on their menu. I knew about where we were going before hand and asked the chef what my options were (sent an email). They were clear and it was fair. I think I just had something to drink (luckily it was like a snacks and stuff, not just meal only). I think asking in advance is the best option. I like emailing (I hate the phone haha).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

Follow me on this journey

I hate to drive alone

Download my app

And live a better gluten-free life

Send me a message

I'm all ears

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Please type your message.

© 2021 Gluten Dude: The Naked Truth About Living Gluten Free | Legal Stuff

Scroll to Top