Before we were diagnosed with Celiac disease, we loved eating out – nearly every Friday you would find us at one of our favorite local restaurants letting someone else cook the meal and serve us. The pleasure of eating out was something that I initially mourned when we went gluten free.
Today there are a lot more restaurants that will accommodate a gluten free diet, but we did not eat out for the first six months we were gluten free. I just was not prepared enough to handle it.
Our First time Eating Out Gluten Free was a Disaster!
The first time we did go out, it was a disaster! We went to a hamburger restaurant during the busy lunch hour at a very busy mall. We were not sure what we were doing and our waiter was even worse. When the food finally did arrive, the GF burger was on a bun. We sent it back. Our daughter who was too self-conscious about the diet at that time was in tears by now. Of course, while we were waiting for the new burger, our other kids gobbled their lunch and were more than ready to leave by the time the Gluten Free Kid's burger arrived. Then she did not like the bunless burger. This was before the gluten free bun, and the hunk of hamburger meat was not appealing to her. So we went home and cooked lunch.
It was months before we went out again but the second time we were armed with information, called before we went to confirm they could prepare a GF meal, picked a gluten free friendly restaurant and went before the dinner rush. Success! We went to Outback Steakhouse and had a great time; they were so nice that they even gave us complimentary Thunder Down Under desserts.
Seven years into this gluten free diet and we do not eat out as much as we used to. Even though it is much easier to get a gluten free meal, there is still always the chance of cross-contamination.
Few restaurants have gluten free kitchens and we have had a number of bad experiences eating at restaurants that even had gluten free menus. We have been served GF pasta that contained a wheat noodle in it, only to find out the GF pasta was cooked in the same water as the wheat pasta.
Once we were in Washington DC on vacation and called the restaurant to see if they could accommodate our diet. The hostess assured us everything would be fine. When we ordered, the waiter assured us he had accommodated the gluten free diet many times. A few minutes later he came back and asked if butter had gluten in it because he could not get an answer out of the kitchen because no one spoke English!
At the same time, we have traveled the world gluten free and had many, many great dining experiences.
Where to Eat Gluten Free:
Busy Risotteria in NYC
When we dine out as a family, we usually visit restaurants that have a gluten free menu or at least gluten free options. This list is ever expanding and there are numerous Internet resources to track these types of restaurants down. Some to try are:
- Celiac Restaurant Guide Includes a list of restaurants that are 100% gluten free.
- Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) State by state listing of restaurants that welcome gluten free diners and have been trained to avoid cross-contamination.
- Gluten Free Travel Site State by state restaurant reviews.
- Triumph Dining The Essential Gluten Free Restaurant Guide
- Gluten Free Registry A list of gluten free restaurants across the United States.
- Check out the pages listed on my website when eating out in:
How to Dine Out Gluten Free: Over the years we have learned a few things about successfully dining out GF.
- Unless you have eaten at the restaurant before, call ahead and make sure they can accommodate your diet and find out exactly what they can make for you. Do not rely on the hostess – ask to speak directly to the Chef. If not available, then ask for the kitchen manager. Insist on knowing what they can prepare safely – don’t stop at a “rest assured we can cook for you.”
When you are seated, ask for the Chef or the kitchen manager. Don’t rely on the waiter. It is not the waiter who is making your food. It is the kitchen staff that will be preparing your food.
Be as polite and congenial as possible. You will be surprised how well they react to a customer who is happy and actually appreciates good service.
Hand them a copy of the Gluten Free Dining Card which sets forth explicit steps to be followed in preparing your food. Don’t be intimidated, this is your good health you are protecting. Most Chefs are actually very happy to help you out.
When in doubt, go without. If you are not getting a good feeling and are unsure about something, just leave.
If the Chef goes out of his way to make you a safe and good meal, send your compliments. Thank them profusely for the service and help. You will be doing the next gluten free customer a favor by leaving a good impression.
Gluten Free Dining Card
Print the following dining card on card stock. Try a 4 x 6 note card with the beginning instructions on the front of the card and the numbered directions on the back. Then laminate it and carry it with you. Use this card whenever you eat out. Don’t assume that because a restaurant has gluten free food, they will necessarily follow all of the precautions listed below.
The following directions also come in handy for friends and family who want to cook for you. Send these directions with your gluten free kid on sleep overs, to summer camp, and to other parents in the class who may be preparing snacks.
Gluten Free Dining Card
I have an illness called Celiac Disease and have to follow a strict Gluten Free Diet. I will become very ill if I eat even a crumb of gluten, so please read the following carefully.
Gluten is found in many food items, but most commonly in flours and grains of wheat (durum, semolina, kamut, spelt), rye, barley and some oats.
Foods that may contain gluten include soy sauce, blue cheese, breading, imitation bacon, marinades, processed meats, soup bases, thickeners, broth, croutons, gravies, imitation seafood, pastas, stuffing's, salad preservatives etc.
Foods that are safe include unseasoned and marinated meats, fruit, veggies, eggs, cheese, milk, rice, corn, soy, potato, bean, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff and nut flours,
In addition to being aware of the above ingredients, please take care to make sure my food is not contaminated by other food containing gluten by doing the following:
Prepare my food in a clean area on a clean surface.
Wash your hands and wear clean gloves while preparing my food.
Use only clean utensils including strainers, tongs, knifes, spoons.
Use only clean water and oil in clean dishes when preparing my food – do not use water that has cooked wheat pasta and do not use oil that has had wheat food fried in it such as breaded chicken fingers.
Do not cut my food on a cutting board that has had bread on it.
Do not wash my fruit or drain my pasta in a strainer that has been used to drain pasta.
If grilling food, thoroughly clean the grill with a metal brush before placing my food on the grill. Marinades often contain gluten.
If you accidentally add croutons to my salad, please do not just remove them from the salad. I can still get sick from the contamination of the salad by the croutons. Please prepare me a new salad.
Only use new clean tubs of condiments such as butter, mayo, mustard and ice cream. Previously used tubs may have been contaminated by a utensil that had gluten on it – such as a butter knife or ice cream scooper that was used for a flavor containing a gluten ingredient.
Do not season my food unless we have discussed the seasonings – use only salt and pepper and no garnish on my plate unless it is fresh and has no sauce.
Most importantly, when in doubt go without!! If you are unsure about something, please do not serve it to me without asking.
What have been some of your Good and Bad Dining experiences?