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Talking To Restaurant Staff
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Hi everyone,

I'm pretty new at the gluten-free lifestyle and I was hoping to get some help regarding eating out. I'm not outspoken by nature, and I am not sure how to bring up the gluten topic with restaurant staff? Do I announce that I am gluten free to all who will listen? Just the wait staff? Do I order carefully and then double-check that it's OK?

We eat out a couple of times a week, and I have been just ordering what I think is safe and then double-checking about coatings and sauces and such. My husband tends to then double check for me, in a much more dramatic way that they "don't want to know what will happen if my food has gluten in it." I find it a bit embarrassing but on the other hand I kind of appreciate his input on my behalf.

And if I may ask one more thing -- how much explanation do you go into? Say the waitress doesn't know what gluten is, does saying wheat or flour suffice?

So far I haven't been glutened that I know of (my symptoms are fairly mild anyway) but I usually just order something plain and straightforward, and I'm interested in the etiquette of ordering out.

Thanks so much. Any advice is helpful at this point. I suspect this part will get easier with practice.

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If it's a restaurant with a gluten-free menu, I ask the hostess for it while we're being seated. If not, I inform the waitstaff when they stop by to get our drink order. I usually say something like this, "Hi. I have Celiac Disease, which is like a wheat allergy. I can't have wheat, barley, rye, or oats. I also can't have dairy. I've been looking at your menu and I see ____ might be okay for me to order. Could you double-check with the chef that it would be safe for me? Is there anything they would suggest I get instead?" Most waiters and waitresses are really nice and will go back and forth between our table and the kitchen BEFORE putting in the order to try to be sure that the food is going to be okay.

I never order anything fried (including french fries) in a sit-down restaurant because their deep fryer is almost certainly shared with onion rings, fish sticks, or something else breaded. I never order anything with soy sauce in a restaurant unless I know they have tamari. I try to stick to places that will have an easier time serving me, but I've also had good experiences at Italian places (and you'd never think that would be possible without wheat or dairy!)

My $0.02: tell the waiter before you order, make sure the food will be okay and they're willing to work with you, THEN place your order. Be nice, try to be proactive.

I also make a point of thanking people, reporting great help and problems to the manager, and trying to give return business to places that treat me well.

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In addition to what else was said, cross contamination is an issue. Some places where I can only get a salad, the wait staff will often feel sorry for me and but a roll on top of the salad not realizing that ruins the whole thing. If possible call ahead of time and see how knowledgable a place is. I'll call and talk to the chef -- if the chef doesnt know what celiac or being gluten free is about. its time to go someplace else. All chef groups have national magazines that have it mentioned and all major hotel kitchens know about it now. Some restaurants just dont care which is another problem. Many national chains have gluten free menus so that would be the first thing to ask for. good luck!

Hi everyone,

I'm pretty new at the gluten-free lifestyle and I was hoping to get some help regarding eating out. I'm not outspoken by nature, and I am not sure how to bring up the gluten topic with restaurant staff? Do I announce that I am gluten free to all who will listen? Just the wait staff? Do I order carefully and then double-check that it's OK?

We eat out a couple of times a week, and I have been just ordering what I think is safe and then double-checking about coatings and sauces and such. My husband tends to then double check for me, in a much more dramatic way that they "don't want to know what will happen if my food has gluten in it." I find it a bit embarrassing but on the other hand I kind of appreciate his input on my behalf.

And if I may ask one more thing -- how much explanation do you go into? Say the waitress doesn't know what gluten is, does saying wheat or flour suffice?

So far I haven't been glutened that I know of (my symptoms are fairly mild anyway) but I usually just order something plain and straightforward, and I'm interested in the etiquette of ordering out.

Thanks so much. Any advice is helpful at this point. I suspect this part will get easier with practice.

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I typically just tell them I can't have wheat and they understand. Although out for breakfast a few weeks ago I ordered an omelet with meat and veggies and a side of potatoes and told the waitress no toast please and please ask them not to even put my food near the toast I can't have wheat. She smiled and said "Would you like pancakes instead?" LOL I laughed and said no thank you pancakes are made from wheat flour maam... she got all red in the face totally embarrassed but maybe next time she will remember. On another note my cousin is a waitress and since talking to her about the Celiac and that she herself should probably be tested she said she is more aware of people's requests now when she hears someone saying no toast or no croutons on the salad she asks them if there is anything else they can't have... like if the salad comes with a bread stick or roll. Education worked well with her.

When I go out for lunch, I typically can only have a salad, hold the croutons and bread please.. and stick to 'clear' dressings like italian, raspberry vinagrette etc.. I tried 1000 island last time without asking about it's ingredients and was in pain before we finished lunch..!! No creamy dressings unless you make them yourself at home!! That's my rule.

Eating out is perhaps my most troublesome issue. At home, gluten free is easy as I don't buy much canned or prepackaged food anyway. Restaurants I feel like I'm walking a tight rope each and every time.

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I like to call ahead if possible to let them know I have to eat gluten free. Gives them warning. If I can not do that I tell the hostess when seating me that I need to eat gluten free and would they check with the chef on what I can order. I also carry some gluten free dinning cards so I can hand them to people who do not know what gluten free entails. I'm up front and honest with the staff right from the start. My health is worth it.

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Two things to add to this conversation: First, I always ask for a gluten-menu because even if they don't have one, I want them to be aware that having a gluten-free menu might be a good idea in the future; second, unless the "clear" dressings are made from scratch at the restaurant (and oftentimes they're NOT), steer clear of any and all dressings and ask for oil and vinegar instead. Many restaurants simply use dressings from a jar, and the vast majority contain gluten.

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Its really a good point about salad dressings with gluten. Most of the chefs dont even know whats in the food service dressings or what is in the components they use when they make their own. I just bring my own or ask for some orange slices and vinegar ( cant do oil)

Two things to add to this conversation: First, I always ask for a gluten-menu because even if they don't have one, I want them to be aware that having a gluten-free menu might be a good idea in the future; second, unless the "clear" dressings are made from scratch at the restaurant (and oftentimes they're NOT), steer clear of any and all dressings and ask for oil and vinegar instead. Many restaurants simply use dressings from a jar, and the vast majority contain gluten.

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Many restaurants simply use dressings from a jar, and the vast majority contain gluten.

Actually, most don't. The problem at a restaurant is that there is no way to be sure that the dressing they use is not one of the minority that contain gluten. If you can see the ingredients, you will know since wheat cannot, by law, be concealed. Restaurant food is exempt from FALCPA (it only applies to food delivered to the consumer in a package)--they do not have to disclose the ingredients.

Most salad dressings are in fact gluten-free. Some are not, which is why "salad dressing" appears on multiple lists for celiacs to avoid. If you are buying it at the store read the label. Wheat can not be hidden in the US or in Canada.

At a restaurant in the US, ask the staff. The restaurant's food is exempt from FALCPA, but their supplier who ships them the package of dressing is not.

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We'll have to agree to disagree on this on Peter. Teaching at the culinary school, Wworking at special events in resort hotel kitchens and being on the board of the American Culinary Federation chapter gives me a lot of first hand experience. Your correct that the food service supplies, including dressings, have to list contents, The amount of wheat starch and barley malt extract in dressings is not something I want to deal with.

Actually, most don't. The problem at a restaurant is that there is no way to be sure that the dressing they use is not one of the minority that contain gluten. If you can see the ingredients, you will know since wheat cannot, by law, be concealed. Restaurant food is exempt from FALCPA (it only applies to food delivered to the consumer in a package)--they do not have to disclose the ingredients.

Most salad dressings are in fact gluten-free. Some are not, which is why "salad dressing" appears on multiple lists for celiacs to avoid. If you are buying it at the store read the label. Wheat can not be hidden in the US or in Canada.

At a restaurant in the US, ask the staff. The restaurant's food is exempt from FALCPA, but their supplier who ships them the package of dressing is not.

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My wife and I will typically google "gluten free (city name)" and you will see some gluten free places pop up. Then we will read reviews and pick out the specific gluten free ones. We will also try to see if they have online menus. Lastly, we ALWAYS CALL. We will always call just so we can talk and find out if they specific restaurant(whether a chain or local place) has specific gluten free options.

I prefer to find a restaurant that actually has a gluten free menu. While that doesn't make it 100% safe, it does let me know they are aware of gluten and they are typically a step or two ahead of a restaurant that doesn't have one at all.

I don't have to eat gluten free, my wife does, but I am probably even more cautious for her because I don't want her to hurt after going out to eat. No one should have to worry about that. So I kind of make it my priority to make sure there is a safe option for her so she can enjoy it and not worry. I'll call, do the research, and verbally make it known at the restaurant. I think it really helps her feel better knowing I have thoroughly researched everything and made the best possible decission for for our dining experience.

and.. she will definitely let me know if the restaurant messed something up! fortunately, that isn't very often.

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Joy :D I finally found a small bottle of salad dressing that I can slip in my purse made with olive!! oil and white wine vinegar with no lemon or gluten. Now I can order a naked salad without care. Damn, I can't remember where I got it; I should have bought several :angry:

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Excellent advice all around! I always have to take a deep breath and remind myself that I must be my own best advocate when we eat out. My spouse and friends are always supportive too, which helps. It can be intimidating, but I know I need to speak up for myself. (I admit, it's easier sometimes to just stay home. sigh.)

I feel that I need to be a gluten free ambassador, educating those in the food service industry so they will learn and be able to keep their gluten free customers healthy while eating in their establishments.

If I need to choose a salad, I remind myself that I am NOT eating gluten, NOT eating excessive calories, and WILL feel healthy and happy after the meal! (Most of the time that works, so I don't drool too much after the meals others are enjoying. :rolleyes: I also bring my own bread, so I can 'round out' my salad with bread and butter, assuming I can get to the butter before gluten-ated knives get into it.

Happy restauranting!

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    • Another link: http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/7351/PDF
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