New to eating out whilst gluten free? Or just haven’t eaten out for a while and needed a refresher?
Everyone handles things differently but here’s the process I go through whilst eating out, gluten free style!
Actually, a quick note before we get going: (its a note to myself too because I’m still getting comfortable with this one)
You’re probably going to feel like you’re a bit annoying from the moment you decide to eat out to when you’ve left the restaurant. The questions you have to ask all feel a bit over the top and a bit of a faff but its keeping you well and that’s the most important thing of all. Remember, its really hard to deal with but this wasn’t your choice. Its a medical need.
Ok… now I’ve got that off my chest, lets get cracking!!!!
Before you go to the restaurant
LOOK AT THEIR WEBSITE
Have they got a gluten free menu or any mention of allergies? It’s generally a good sign that they won’t look at you like you’re mad when you mention the big scary word: “gluten”.
>If they have a gluten free menu: your work is not over!
They might have a gluten free menu but is it actually gluten free. By that, I mean are they aware of cross contamination and all the things involved in making food that is coeliac safe? Call them and say:
(1) “Can you cater for coeliacs – that means I’m really strict gluten free and can’t even have a crumb of gluten?” and
(2) Ask a couple of specific questions relating to what I’d like off the menu, for example:
- Fancy chips?: check they’re in a separate fryer/oil to any gluten containing food
- Is there any gluten in the sauces/gravy? Any flour to thicken it?
- Do they have a separate area to prepare gluten free food?
>If they don’t have a gluten free menu: there is still hope!
From speaking to restaurants that CAN cater for gluten free but haven’t got a dedicated gluten free menu, there can be so many reasons why not (popular one: time and therefore cost).
Give them a call and ask if they can cater for coeliacs. If you get a confident “yes!”, drop in a couple of the questions above just to double check that their confident yes was accurate!!!
**Side note: you might not get the right person straight away on the phone – don’t let that alarm you, just because the person that first answers the phone doesn’t understand what you’re on about, that doesn’t mean the manager & chef won’t be completely clued up – not good training but hey!!**
STILL NOT COMFORTABLE?
Move on, find somewhere else!
When you get there
When you arrive at the restaurant, get seated, find out who your waiter is going to be and then slink off and have a word with him/her away from the table!
Why? I think the waiter is generally more comfortable to ask you questions about exactly what you need when they’ve not got a whole table of eyes staring at them!
They’re never going to be quite THIS happy but I’m sure they don’t want to make you ill either haha. Remember, there’s plenty of people in the world who still haven’t heard of coeliac disease and whilst I think all waiters should have that training, most don’t.
What to say? My conversation goes like this…
“Hi, I just wanted to say I’m coeliac so I’ll need a gluten free meal. It means I can’t even have a crumb of gluten without being ill, I’ve got to be really really strict. Is that ok?”
If they don’t seem to be comfortable with their answers, ask if you can speak to a manager or better yet, the chef.
If you’re still not comfortable that they’ve understood it, leave!!!!
When your food arrives
DOUBLE CHECK ITS YOUR MEAL THAT YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN
Sometimes the food arrives with a little “gluten free” flag in it – heaven! But if not, I always say “is this the gluten free one?” when it arrives to make sure I’ve been given the right meal.
Yep, this has gone wrong for me before. Mum and I ordered the same dish but mine was a gluten free version. She was given the gluten free and I had the normal one. Pffft.
DOES THE MEAL LOOK RIGHT?
Sounds strange to other people but as a coeliac, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
If the bread looks too good to be true, it probably is!!! Ask!!!!! “Sorry, I can I just check this is my meal because this bread looks amazing and I can’t believe its actually gluten free?!”
Common Mistakes Restaurants Make
I asked my lovely followers where they think they’ve been glutened in restaurants so you know what to watch out for and here are the common themes:
- Accidently given wrong pizza base/type of pasta (even when you’ve been told its definitely the gluten free one!)
- How to avoid it – your dish probably will look verye different to everyone elses! If it doesn’t, there’s no harm in asking them to check if its the gluten free one
- The waiter didn’t notify the chef you were coeliac/the severity of it
- How to avoid it – frustrating one but this shows why it pays to be extra “annoying” and ask the waiter tons of questions. Place extra emphasis on the fact your coeliac which means following a STRICT gluten free otherwise you’ll be really really ill. Its also why I often ask to speak to the manager or chef directly.
- They said they use a separate fryer but didn’t sound confident – turned out it wasn’t a separate fryer!
- How to avoid it – trust your gut, if you asked “is it a separate fryer?” and they didn’t seem sure, say “definitely? because if it isn’t I’ll be really ill”… in my experience they usually then say “ok let me go and double check” if they’re not sure!
- They used the same utensils when serving gluten free cake/snacks as with the gluten-containing stuff
- How to avoid it – all you can do is ask them to use separate utensils and double check they did when it arrives.
- They didn’t realise gluten could be in sauces/seasonings
- How to avoid it – added this to my list of questions to ask in the first section!
- The coke was a supermarket own brand and didn’t think to ask (some supermarket own brands contain barley)
- How to avoid it – I still find this one near on impossible to remember 🙁 so tough but all you can do is remember to ask!
- They had both a gf and not gf version of the same type of cake and served the wrong one
- How to avoid it – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. With cake it can be tricky though so just ask when the cake arrives: “is this definitely the gf one?”
Where to look for restaurants
If you’re nervous, there’s two things you can do before selecting a restaurant
- Check for gluten free recommendations on trip advisor
- Look on Coeliac U.K.s website for a Coeliac U.K. accredited venue
Neither can guarantee your safety but it’s certainly reassuring.
Finally, try to enjoy your meal as much as this kid is!!! Yes, being coeliac is a pain but eating out is meant to be fun and food is life… well it’s mine anyway haha 🙂