New to eating out whilst gluten free? Everyone handles things differently but here’s the process I go through whilst eating out to do my best to keep safe.
First up, lets acknowledge the fact that loads of us feel like we’re a bit of a pain from the moment we enter the restaurant to when we’ve left. The questions you have to ask feel a bit over the top and it all feels like a bit of a faff. But please remember this wasn’t your choice. It’s a medical need. You are not a pain.
Ok… now I’ve got that off my chest, lets get cracking!!!!
Before you go to the restaurant
(1) LOOK AT THEIR WEBSITE
Have they got a gluten free menu or any mention of allergies? It’s generally a good sign if they do!
(2) CALL THEM
>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 you’d like off the menu, for example:
- Chips: Check they’re in a separate fryer/oil to any gluten containing food
- Pasta: Is it boiled in fresh water? (not water that’s previously had gluten pasta in it)
- Toast: Is the bread toasted in a dedicated gluten free toaster?
- Do they have a separate area to prepare gluten free food?
- Is there any gluten in the sauces/gravy? Any flour to thicken it? Test if they actually know what gluten is!
>If they don’t have a gluten free menu: there is still hope!
Think of a couple of options you’d like on the regular menu. Give them a call and ask if you can speak to someone about allergies (I know coeliac disease isn’t an allergy but this is the easiest thing to ask on the phone).
When they answer. Ask (1) Can they cater for coeliacs? (2) Could you have <<insert a few of your options from the menu>>? (3) drop in a couple of specific questions from above just to double check they do know what they’re doing
If you get a ropey “yes” or they seem unsure, all is not lost! You might not have spoken to the right person. 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
(A) BIG TABLE/EATING WITH PEOPLE I DON’T KNOW WELL:
My favourite tip: When I arrive at the restaurant, I get seated and find out who your waiter is going to be, then I then slink off to tell him/her about my requirements away from the table!
Why away from the table? A couple of times, I’ve asked the waiter at the table “is… gluten free?”. The rest of the table goes quiet, waiting for an answer and I can see the panic in their eyes. They quickly give me a say yes/no or no without really knowing the right answer and I’m left with zero confidence in the restaurants ability to serve me*. Personally, I’ve found that if I ask the waiter away from the table, they are more confident in telling me they’re not sure and they’ll find out. I also feel more conformable to push them with more questions about how the food is prepared etc. Both of us have a better experience!
*I know its not really good enough to say “yes/no” without knowing the answer, but (1) we’re all human and (2) it’s not their fault that they’ve not had the training from the restaurant and it doesn’t necessarily mean the chef can’t safely cook for me. Sadly, there’s plenty of people in the world who still haven’t heard of coeliac disease and we need to change that!
(B) SMALLER TABLE/FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THE PEOPLE:
I ask all the same things but just infront of everyone.
EITHER WAY, 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. I’m thinking of having <insert menu item>, 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?!”
The classic line: “We can’t 100% guarantee your food is gluten free”
Borrrringggggg but I feel like I have to address this before we get cracking because this statement is EVERYWHERE now. Everyone treats this differently but here’s my views:
Unless you’re eating in a 100% gf restaurant, there will always be *a* risk of cross contamination. I understand that restaurants might want to include this disclaimer to cover themselves against accidents but as long as they’re doing everything they can to minimise cross contamination to a level I am happy with, it doesn’t put me off from eating there.
It’s a bit like my own kitchen. Charlie eats gluten and therefore I am “at risk” and occasionally accidents happen, but I do everything I can to stop them.
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.
- 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 hard 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
- Facebook – search general Coeliac groups or specific ones for the area you’re visiting
- Check for gluten free recommendations on trip advisor
- Look on Coeliac U.K.s website for a Coeliac U.K. accredited venue
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 🙂