How many times have you been concerned when you dine out gluten-free? Is it safe? Is there contamination? Will the waiter take me seriously? Should I speak to the manager too? What if I sense that the dish has gluten in it, can I send it back? Can I order substitutes? Will my friends laugh at me? Do the chips on the table have gluten in them even though the waiter says they are gluten-free? Are the chips cross-contaminated? Does cross-contamination even matter? Etc, etc, etc…These are all valid questions. And the more you know, the more you rely on yourself, the better off you will be. Below are a few tips I learned along the way, that I find necessary to be aware of when dining out.
How To Dine Out Gluten-Free Restaurant Etiquette
Introduce yourself and be vocal: Speak to the manager and the server. Now is not the time to be shy, even if you are on a date. This is your health! Let the staff know that you are Celiac or gluten-sensitive and that your meals need to be prepared a specific way. Explain to the staff that you can get very ill if your meal is not prepared 100% gluten-free while using gluten-free non-contaminated cookware. The lingo around gluten-free at most restaurants is also known as a "gluten allergy". And yes, we all know Celiac Disease is not an allergy, but I have found when I try to explain this, my meal comes back not gluten-free. They key is to get your special needs conveyed to the chef and the waitstaff. If you feel your server does not understand, immediately speak with the Manager so that your needs are properly met. YES. This IS necessary.
Ask if the restaurant has a gluten-free menu-These day's many restaurants are starting to have their own gluten-free menu's, or icons on the menu that indicate what is and what isn't gluten-free. It is completely okay to ask your server to advise their protocol for gluten-free dining.
Ordering: Order plain, less saucy dishes when dining out. The simpler the dish, the better off you will be. Ask for your meal to be prepared separately in a separate working space using separate utensils and cookware. Example: Your pasta needs to be cooked in pots that did not originally have gluten in them because the water is contaminated. As for your potatoes or sweet potato to be un-cut and you will cut it yourself. Why? They could be using a knife that was used for gluten, and since it's back in the kitchen where you can't see, best to have it uncut. Most waiters will tell you that your meal will take longer to prepare. That is totally ok.
Ask about flour dusting: Many restaurants use flour to coat their poultry, beef, chicken, fish, fries, chips and even sometimes eggs. Always ask if there is flour dusted on your dish during or after prep. You can also ask the waiter to confirm with the chef if unsure.
Below is a detailed list of questions to ask your server:
- Is the dish marinated? What is it marinated with? Is there any form of gluten in the marinade as a thickener, additive, coloring or as wheat/rye/barley/spelt etc
- Are the fries fried in the same oil as other breaded options? (This is cross-contamination. Most waiters will tell you this is gluten-free and that it's heated so high it doesn't matter. It matters. Don't get the fries if this is their process. If the fries are fried separately, ask what oil its fried in (for other allergy purposes)
- Are the tortilla chips fried in the same oil as other breaded options? (This is cross-contamination. Most waiters will tell you this is gluten-free and that it's heated so high it doesn't matter. It matters. Don't get the tortilla chips if this is their process. If the chips are fried separately, ask what oil its fried in (for other allergy purposes). Also, note that the chips may be bought from another supplier and not made in-house. If this is the case, skip them or bring your own. (I have brought my own chips)
- Are the Tortillas (soft or hard) 100% corn or rice? Is there any flour or gluten mixed with this tortillas?
- Is the soy sauce, Tamari, Teriyaki sauce, BBQ sauce, Asian sauce, Steak sauce gluten-free?
- Is the truffle butter gluten-free? Is there any added flour in the flavored butter?
- Are the noodles made from gluten? What are the noodles made from? Even if the menu states buckwheat noodles, some buckwheat noodles like Soba, often contain wheat in the mix. Always ask.
- Is there any flour, breadcrumbs, batter, crust, croutons in the dish?
- Are the wontons and dumplings made with wheat or gluten? What are they made of?
- Does your sticky sushi rice have gluten? Does the rice have any sticky wheat spray that is used or applied to the sushi? (**Sushi rice is NOT gluten-free, opt for sashimi. Sometimes you can get brown rice sushi, as long as the coating is not made with wheat. This may be a shock to you, and it's not rice that is the issue, it's the wheat spray coating that makes the rice sticky that is the problem.
- Does your Spicy tuna sauce, or spicy sauce contain soy sauce? Is the sauce gluten-free? Many times sushi restaurants add soy sauce to their special sauces and are therefore not gluten-free.
- Is the pan dusted with flour?
- Are you able to prepare my dish without using flour?
- What ingredients are in your Blackened Seasoning? (sometimes hidden gluten lurks)
- Are you mashed potatoes made from real potatoes?
- Are you mashed potatoes gluten-free? Is there any added gluten like flour added to the batter to make them thicker?
- Is your quinoa made in-house, or from a mix? If it is a mix, it may not be gluten-free as some mixes contain wheat for the flavorings.
- Is the goat cheese fried? Breaded?
- Does your broth contain gluten?
- Are your gluten-free tortillas made on the same equipment as the gluten options?
- What are the ingredients used in the salad dressing options? When in doubt stick with olive oil, lemon and salt/pepper.
- Are the nuts candied? Were they bought in bulk? (many nut options contain wheat. This would be listed on the package, but since you are out at a restaurant, you may not be able to snag a peek at the packaging. In this case, if you are Celiac, avoid them, or bring your own and put them on your dish.
- Are the home fries or hash browns dusted with flour? Do the home fries have any gluten in the form of a thickening agent, coloring or spice additive? Are the home fries roasted or fried, and are they fried or roasted in the same pan as other fried gluten options? (I usually skip the home fries)
- Condiments. Beware! Not all condiments are created equally. Ask about the brands they use, and google it on the spot. Or skip that condiment altogether.
- Are your deli meats gluten-free?
- Are you deli meats including turkey cut with a knife or a slicer that is used to cut other contaminated meats and bread?
- How do you prevent cross-contamination of pizza?
Always, always thank your server. Be kind no matter how frustrated you are (unless of course the wait staff deliberately adds gluten into your dish, then go wild).