What Recourse Do We Have When a Restaurant Lies to Us?

restaurant lies about gluten free meal

Maybe it’s just me…or perhaps it’s today’s political culture…but I just don’t find it difficult to tell the truth. More than that, I find it almost impossible to lie. Here’s an example:

Dude, how old are you?
I’m 43.

I’m 53. See? That first answer felt awful.

Dude, are you happily married?

Dude, is the Starbucks you’re sitting in ungodly loud?

Easy peezy.

When a person lies easily…it’s an ugly personality flaw?

When a business lies? Disgusting, deranged, dreadful, deplorable and yeah let’s throw one more D in there: Dangerous. We see it all the time with large corporations. Lying for profit seems to be in their DNA. And when they get caught, they get fined pennies, if anything.

What about when a restaurant lies about their food being safe for those MUST eat gluten free? Not only is our health affected, but our trust is also shuttered. And here is the million dollar question. Do we have any recourse? Please read the following email conversation I had yesterday and share your advice.

Her: My daughter has been going through hell for the past 15 months due to gut and intestine issues, that involved candida/yeast as well as other stuff. She is 24, has autism and has to be gluten free. She has food limits, and can only have fries about 2 times per month. We go to a specific restaurant at which 1) the owner told me numerous times the her fries are gluten free; and 2) Her website, Facebook and inside the restaurant all claim the fries are gluten free.

My daughter got progressively worse and I have exhausted tons of funds and was getting suspicious. I had someone call the restaurant when a staff answered and said “the fries are definitely NOT gluten free” because they go into the same fryer. The owner then yelled from the background “they are not gluten free and that they are dusted with flour.”

I am so pissed at this point as I have spent 15 months, traveling from CA (Hoag Ctr) to the Mayo clinic to figure out why her gut issues etc. are not getting better and she has been in excruciating pain. I want to 1) report them to the state for false advertising and 2) sue them.

Any idea? Trust me, if you knew the savings that I have cleared out for my poor girl and would see the videos in which she is screaming in pain you would understand.

Me: Unreal. So sorry for what you and your daughter have been through. I’d like to see some kind of recourse taken against the restaurant. To confirm…the owner said the fries were GF but then said (in the background on the phone) that they were NOT GF. Is that correct? Also, did you ask about a separate fryer earlier on? Just want to make sure I have my facts clear.

Her: Hi, yes I have been taken my daughter there for 15 months at least. I know the owner a bit and what’s more disturbing is that she knows about my daughter’s horrific health story that took us to numerous docs including the mayo clinic.

She told me on the first day that the fries were gluten free and several times after. Her menu at this moment still states that the fries and other stuff is gluten free; so does her info on her Facebook. I work with kids with autism and am fully versed in gluten, diary, and other reactive issues. My daughter has severe gut issues and we are very strict on what she can and can not eat. Her doc is wondering why her extreme gut reset (2 of them) did not take and she still has an extreme high permeable gut etc.

Well, now I know! And here I was thinking I am treating her to her special fries twice per month to make her happy and keep her safe. smh

So there we have it. And we all know this is NOT an isolated incident. Our community, especially those who are newly diagnosed and may not yet feel the “confidence” to really ask the necessary questions, is getting sick. And nothing is being done.

So the question again is…do we have any legal recourse? I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV nor have I stayed at a Howard Johnson’s so I can’t even pretend to know the answer.

And to finish on a lighter note, here’s a funny video of Kevin Hart taking a lie detector test. Laughter is always the best medicine.

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11 thoughts on “What Recourse Do We Have When a Restaurant Lies to Us?”

  1. Been there! I had a restaurant poison me on valentines day this year. Their “lovely” new menu had vegetarian dumplings and it stated they were gluten free. I tasted them… oh yummm! The look of them was not like a rice paper, it looked like a regular wonton wrapper, I was in disbelief that it was GF, but thought I had to be wrong because I dined at this place many times before with no issues. I really nicely said to the waitress “These dumplings are so good, but don’t look gluten free. Could you just let me know what the ingredients are?” The dear girl, she was so sweet and checked for me. She came out with a look of horror on her face! She said “I’m so sorry, they are not gluten free!” The manager rushed us and I immediately started to cry because this is 5 years of healing my life, down the drain in my opinion. My husband verbally ripped them a new one. They comped our meal and we said to them that’s good because we aren’t paying!

    According to the FDA gluten free labeling laws, restaurants are required to adhere to the same standards as packaged foods when it comes to gluten. It discusses this towards the end of this link https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/questions-and-answers-gluten-free-food-labeling-final-rule

    The thing is…. when you think about it… there is no repercussions to mislabeling things gluten free and poisoning those who have Celiac or have gut issues and also benefit from a GF diet. What was the end result of the cheerios debacle? No seriously, I have no idea how them knowingly poisoning thousands of people turned out.. please let me know. I have never heard of fines or legal battles in regard to mislabeling of packaged products and/or restaurant foods.

    I was going to call the FDA, but honestly in my brain fogged, nauseous state, I felt like it didn’t matter! No one does anything about it, so why bother? I could sue for pain and suffering of course, but im tough as nails. If I sued for pain and suffering for this, then I’d have to sue for pain and suffering for all those doctors that misdiagnosed me for 15 years of my life then too? In my celiac sick state, none of it seemed worth it, because no one cares except us.

    So what do I do? What do WE do? We let our money speak, we don’t dine at these establishments. We put them on blast any chance we get. We tell other people who need to follow a strictly gluten free diet that this place is NOT SAFE and share our stories. We leave honest reviews whenever possible and I feel that it is fair to go back and delete our previous good reviews since they were based on lies we were told. If they will not make TRULY gluten free food, they shouldn’t be in the business of doing so.

    I wish there was more we could do, but unfortunately I’m just tired and the majority of the time I don’t feel like organizations like the FDA offer us any recourse for this mistakes that WE pay for with our health.

    1. Letting our money speak is a fantastic course of action. Sadly…too many in our community still support companies who don’t have our best interest at heart. Worst are the “influencers” who promote unsafe establishments. Special place below for them.

    2. As the manager of a celiac support group in southern CT I take my role very seriously we publish a quarterly newsletter that contains 20 ads from local restaurants as well as national and regional products but I will not accept any ad from a restaurant where I have not trained staff and personally checked out. At one point last year I was hearing complaints about one place placing rolls on top of take out meals, and other problems. I contacted the owner, discussed the problem. dropped the ad from that one issue and gave them a week to clean up and get back to me. Since then, no problems. I do not carry ads from any of the dozen pizza places as not one is preparing pizza according to established protocols so I recommend those w CD not eat there and others “dine at your own risk.” I re- commend not going anywhere when it is very busy, calling first to speak to the manager or chef, asking the right questions and speak to the manager upon arriving . Even then, stuff happens. I do not know what more we can do other than bringing our own food (cold or hot) in an insulated bag and ordering a cup of coffee- Going out this way with family or friends is the best way to avoid getting sick and sitting home feeling sorry for ourselves and pouting like a 3 year old .

      1. I love the bring your own food and buy a coffee method. I think the schtick of “no outside food or beverages” is extremely dangerous and opens the eatery to all sorts of liabilities they wouldn’t have if they allowed people to do what they need to do.

  2. The right answer probably varies state to state, but I would say contact both the local health department and the state attorney general’s office. And document everything!

  3. If it’s written that the fries are GF then they have to be. You can sue for false advertising at the very least recoup some medical costs. Even though the 20ppm standard is far too high imo, it’s still a legally required testing standard in order for something to be labeled gluten free. This is why so many places have switched to “gluten friendly” or “gluten sensitive ” or or labeled “no gluten ingredients.”

  4. I have 16 years experience with legal issues due to being an underwriter and claim adjuster for insurance companies, one of which dealt strictly with food borne illness, product recall and food safety. An individual can sue for any reason in any state as long as they have been damaged by the person or entity being sued. Generally, damages are monetary and physical damage on top of that increases the potential for causes of action. There is so much more here than false advertising. You have disability discrimination (celiac as well as autism and other issues in this instance), harassment, assault (knowingly and intentionally serving gluten containing food to a person who can not consume it). Knowing and intention lead to punitive and exemplary damages. You need to find the right attorney, and although we spent 16 years defending our clients against him, the absolute biggest threat the the food industry regarding harm to people is this guy: https://marlerclark.com
    Get him on the celiac side, and he can be a force to be reckoned with.

  5. WOW and good to know.. I cannot help wondering if many people do not complain or make a fuss fearing it could lead to restaurants posting disclaimers or stopping their efforts to meet this demand if they end up losing a case? How about other food allergies like peanuts, eggs, dairy?

  6. Holy crap! As a person with severe sensitivity to gluten that my doctor has diagnosed as Celiac based on genetics and my reaction, plus has advised against gluten challenge, I hear you. I’m unable to eat in ANY restaurant with gluten present in the kitchen, with the exception of one sushi bar that has a ServSafe certification showing training with allergens in food. I can’t even go to the local fully GF bakery for a sweet treat because her kitchen is shared and I always react. So I have two restaurants to choose from, that’s all. I buy GF sourdough from a woman whose kitchen I trust and there are a few items that enter my house in a cooked/prepared state. Everything else I cook myself. I decided that this summer I’m making my own spaghetti sauce since GF ones are tending toward the $10 price point and I’m sick of shelling out. I’m working on my own sourdough starter (quinoa based). Bread and spaghetti sauce are two of the most expensive items I buy.

    Sorry I should connect this to your story. What I mean to say is, take heart. People everywhere are living their lives in their own way. You don’t need a restaurant for your daughter’s happiness. It’s not bad or wrong to decide that outside food is not appropriate for your child. My mom cooked everything from scratch for me. But not because it was some sort of “morally righteous” thing, instead it was because I had gone through a period of literal starvation, not self inflicted, and she was worried. She never made me feel different about it and it’s only in the perspective of the grief of losing her that I realize how much she protected me and helped me heal. In the end, the most important thing you’re doing for you daughter is empowering her, and if possible, teaching her to help herself.

    I don’t know your daughter’s situation, but if possible, find a recipe for steak fries that she likes (they’re easier to make than deep fried), and teach her to do it for herself, or together with you. The fries issue will be lifelong for her and I think the most urgent issue isn’t finding another restaurant, it’s having the safety of knowing you can make it yourself if you need to.

    Everything in our world pushes us toward gluten. Even our search engines. We have such a conformist society in the US, even though we tell ourselves we’re free. We are criticized for every non standard decision we make. It’s like the Internet and the Public Policy makers are the helicopter parents of our society. Do what’s right for you and ignore it. You’re not socially isolating your daughter if that’s what she needs. If that were true, then group homes for the mentally ill would be “isolating.” Ditto nursing homes. People sometimes have needs others don’t.

    As for whether or not to sue, I would definitely ask a lawyer to send a letter stating your concern and asking for clarification about whether or not they use flour on the fries, whether or not they use the same fryer, and whether or not they have cross contact procedures in place for people with gluten problems. As far as the friendship, that’s already over. You can mourn it, that’s just human, but it’s not a “friend” who would contaminate your daughter’s food. So there is no hope of salvaging the friendship. I would not let this issue pass by without a letter and the advice of a lawyer about whether they think it would be worth it to sue. I can’t advise you on that. Each state is different, but I’m guessing it’s an advantage that you’re in CA.

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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.

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