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  • Janice Schroeder
    Janice Schroeder

    Mistakes Restaurants Make In Gluten-Free Dining

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Sometimes the chef goes overboard in the interest of caution, and removes everything that could "possibly" contain anything remotely containing gluten. What I get is a tasteless shadow of the original dish, and resounding disappointment.


    Caption: Image: CC--Andy Montgomery

    Celiac.com 03/08/2019 - How many times have you gone out to dinner and tried to find a gluten-free meal that wouldn't make you sick? How many times have you eaten that gluten-free meal, only to think, "gee, I wouldn't feed this to my dog?"

    This leads to the question, do restaurants that serve gluten-free menu items taste test their offerings? If not, why not? Why do they think that people with gluten-intolerance or celiac disease want to eat cardboard? These and other questions continue to baffle me.

    There are a few things that restaurants could do better. The gluten-free wave is sweeping the nation. Restaurants need to learn how to swim, or be swept away with the tide. These are some of my pet peeves when it comes to dining out gluten-free.

    Running out of gluten free items, such as hamburger rolls or bread

    It is really easy to buy really good packaged gluten-free hamburger buns or bread. How many times have you been told that the only gluten-free offering is a lettuce wrap? Really? If I want to eat salad, I will order salad!

    Offering inedible gluten-free items

    Have you ever had a really awful gluten-free muffin in a restaurant, or for that matter, on a cruise ship? I am sure that if the kitchen staff tried these stale pieces of sawdust, they would not want to eat them. Why do they think someone with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance would?

    Trying and Failing to do it themselves (especially with dessert)

    Believe me, I really do appreciate the effort a chef makes to give me a gluten-free dessert other than sorbet or a fruit plate. I had a wonderful experience on a cruise a few years ago. The chef attempted to make me a gluten and dairy free cake (I am also dairy intolerant). It was really great. Unfortunately, they waited until the last night of the cruise, and I could only eat one piece of it. But I have to admit, by that time I was really tired of eating fruit plates. It's not that difficult to buy a ready made gluten-free cake, cookie or muffin mix and give us some options.

    Removing the "offending" gluten-free items until there's nothing left

    How many times have you ordered a wonderful sounding dish, only to receive a pale, gluten-free comparison? Believe me, before I go out to eat, I study the allergen menu really closely and try to find something that will not be entirely ruined if it is made gluten-free. I am not always successful.

    Sometimes the chef goes overboard in the interest of caution, and removes everything that could "possibly" contain anything remotely containing gluten. What I get is a tasteless shadow of the original dish, and resounding disappointment.

    I don't order certain items, like crab cakes, because even though gluten-free breadcrumbs actually exist, it wouldn't occur to the chef to try to use them.

    Improperly trained staff

    I am sure you have all seen the eye-roll and the deer in the headlights look of waitstaff who panic, or sneer at the mere mention that you are gluten-free. Nor do they have a clue about menu items that might contain gluten. It might be obvious to those of us who live this life everyday, but the waitstaff and kitchen staff don't seem to know.

    It is imperative that waitstaff and kitchen staff know what contains gluten, and what does not. I can't even count how many times I have gotten sick because I was told something was "fine".

    Cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods

    If you think your restaurant has a dedicated area to handle your gluten-free meal, you might be sadly mistaken. Using the same fryer, using the same pasta water, using the same utensils; these are just some of the things that are going on in the kitchen.

    It is far easier for a busy kitchen staff to take shortcuts than to properly prepare a gluten-free meal. I have also noticed that the attention to detail goes up with the price-tag of the meal in question. You are likely to get more attention in a fine-dining restaurant than in a small mom and pop owned one. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. You are also more likely to get "glutened" on a busy night, as opposed to a slow one.

    In Conclusion

    I know in my heart that as the numbers of gluten-intolerant diners grows, so will the improvement of our collective dining experience. My love for dining out has waned since I became gluten-intolerant. I find I can make better food at home. I know this is not an option for everyone. But why should gluten-free be a tradeoff?


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    It’s fine for us gluten-free people to share our pet peeves about restaurants with one another.  But, we should always keep in perspective that no restaurant is required to offer gluten-free food and when the fad of “pop” gluten-free eating ends, we celiacs will still hope for restaurants to eat out at where we can get a safe meal. We should offer kind, constructive, encouragement to restaurants who attempt gluten-free.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being honest, but if the end goal is to get safer meals, we should remember not to get whiney or snippy.  There are myriad food allergies and gastric conditions out there besides the gluten-free issue.  Can you imagine demanding that a restaurant puree your food, or perfectly balance acidity in a dish, or ensure no peanut or tree nut residue had ever been in their restaurant, etc.  We should commend the restaurants who are trying, offer them guidance when they aren’t doing it completely properly, and be thankful that some are trying their best on the gluten-free front, and some are vested only in casual gluten-free, not celiac-safe.  Individuals with food issues of any kind must accept that we must always watch out for ourselves, not be afraid to ask questions of a restaurant in the interest of our safety, and just forgo eating out where it is too risky.

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    3 hours ago, Guest Marisha said:

    It’s fine for us gluten-free people to share our pet peeves about restaurants with one another.  But, we should always keep in perspective that no restaurant is required to offer gluten-free food and when the fad of “pop” gluten-free eating ends, we celiacs will still hope for restaurants to eat out at where we can get a safe meal. We should offer kind, constructive, encouragement to restaurants who attempt gluten-free.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being honest, but if the end goal is to get safer meals, we should remember not to get whiney or snippy.  There are myriad food allergies and gastric conditions out there besides the gluten-free issue.  Can you imagine demanding that a restaurant puree your food, or perfectly balance acidity in a dish, or ensure no peanut or tree nut residue had ever been in their restaurant, etc.  We should commend the restaurants who are trying, offer them guidance when they aren’t doing it completely properly, and be thankful that some are trying their best on the gluten-free front, and some are vested only in casual gluten-free, not celiac-safe.  Individuals with food issues of any kind must accept that we must always watch out for ourselves, not be afraid to ask questions of a restaurant in the interest of our safety, and just forgo eating out where it is too risky.

    I could not have said it better myself. As in anything else in life, we are ultimately responsible for ourselves.  What we need is accurate information, so that we can make wise decisions when dining out. 

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    Dining out is very frustrating for me. Only places I know that serve delicious food that is truly gluten free near my home are Legal Seafood (East Coast chain ) in Short Hills NJ and the Trattoria in Clifton NJ - anyone nearby may want to check these out. Otherwise have to be hypervigilant. No fun. 

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    I would like to explain to restaurant owners that serving steak, salad, and a baked potato does not qualify as "having a gluten-free menu."  Simply because these things do not contain gluten, does not mean you cater to gluten-intolerant customers.  Also, there are many people with Celiac who (like me) cannot eat corn.  Corn has been shown to have more gluten than wheat, so it is not unusual for Celiac patients to abstain from eating corn.  Therefore, for those restaurants that do have a dedicated gluten-free menu, non-corn items should be listed as well. 

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    4 hours ago, Guest Kathy said:

    I would like to explain to restaurant owners that serving steak, salad, and a baked potato does not qualify as "having a gluten-free menu."  Simply because these things do not contain gluten, does not mean you cater to gluten-intolerant customers.  Also, there are many people with Celiac who (like me) cannot eat corn.  Corn has been shown to have more gluten than wheat, so it is not unusual for Celiac patients to abstain from eating corn.  Therefore, for those restaurants that do have a dedicated gluten-free menu, non-corn items should be listed as well. 

    I have a corn allergy, and Celiac....very different reactions.
    Corn "gluten" is a different protein chain and does not trigger celiac disease. BUT it is very common for celiacs to have other food intolerance, sensitivities, or allergies. IE Dairy, Soy, Peanuts, Corn, Nightshades, Legumes, etc.


    Like you, I hate the lack of true "Paleo" options that are free of all grains, dairy, and gluten. Sort of the diet I had to adapt to with my other issues in addition to low carb, and easy on the animal fats to appease the GI gods. 

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    I'm Celiac and lactose intolerant. But after 3 years becoming even  sicker, I've finally deduced that corn was the extra culprit causing IBS that was far more painful than any gluten symptoms.  Just when you think it maybe safe to venture out again, whammo, here's another ingredient to be put on the no-no list.  Does anybody else have vivid dreams of eating freshly made, fluffy soft coffee scrolls with lashings of real butter? !! 😂😂 

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    On 3/11/2019 at 10:38 AM, Guest Marisha said:

    It’s fine for us gluten-free people to share our pet peeves about restaurants with one another.  But, we should always keep in perspective that no restaurant is required to offer gluten-free food and when the fad of “pop” gluten-free eating ends, we celiacs will still hope for restaurants to eat out at where we can get a safe meal. We should offer kind, constructive, encouragement to restaurants who attempt gluten-free.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being honest, but if the end goal is to get safer meals, we should remember not to get whiney or snippy.  There are myriad food allergies and gastric conditions out there besides the gluten-free issue.  Can you imagine demanding that a restaurant puree your food, or perfectly balance acidity in a dish, or ensure no peanut or tree nut residue had ever been in their restaurant, etc.  We should commend the restaurants who are trying, offer them guidance when they aren’t doing it completely properly, and be thankful that some are trying their best on the gluten-free front, and some are vested only in casual gluten-free, not celiac-safe.  Individuals with food issues of any kind must accept that we must always watch out for ourselves, not be afraid to ask questions of a restaurant in the interest of our safety, and just forgo eating out where it is too risky.

    It's very good to remember that these places don't have to offer anything, however, it's the flip side of the coin that they shouldn't offer what they don't have or can't accomplish just to try and get a piece of the 'gluten free pie'.  Products in grocery stores are doing the same; labels say 'gluten free' when they are not and a lot of us are getting glutened by people who really have no intention or capability to make something gluten free.  While no one is required to offer these options and some are honestly trying and deserve all the help and support we can offer, I have zero respect or sympathy for all the people out there who offer these things with no honest, good intent or care.  If you aren't going to give it your best, then stop.

     

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    On 3/11/2019 at 9:38 AM, Guest Marisha said:

    It’s fine for us gluten-free people to share our pet peeves about restaurants with one another.  But, we should always keep in perspective that no restaurant is required to offer gluten-free food and when the fad of “pop” gluten-free eating ends, we celiacs will still hope for restaurants to eat out at where we can get a safe meal. We should offer kind, constructive, encouragement to restaurants who attempt gluten-free.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being honest, but if the end goal is to get safer meals, we should remember not to get whiney or snippy.  There are myriad food allergies and gastric conditions out there besides the gluten-free issue.  Can you imagine demanding that a restaurant puree your food, or perfectly balance acidity in a dish, or ensure no peanut or tree nut residue had ever been in their restaurant, etc.  We should commend the restaurants who are trying, offer them guidance when they aren’t doing it completely properly, and be thankful that some are trying their best on the gluten-free front, and some are vested only in casual gluten-free, not celiac-safe.  Individuals with food issues of any kind must accept that we must always watch out for ourselves, not be afraid to ask questions of a restaurant in the interest of our safety, and just forgo eating out where it is too risky.

    Kudos to you for a sane and reasoned approach to dealing with this very frustrating issue. I’m often tempted to drop off educational materials to those restaurants I frequent in the hopes that staff would become better informed. 

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    Guest Celiac Redux

    Posted

    I was diagnosed with Celiac when I was a toddler, then after being "cured" by age 3 1/2, I was careful with "bread" for the next 57 years.  Once I found out it never goes away, it explained oh so many ailments.  Add massive allergies, I think due to genetically modified food, and it's horrible to try to eat out.  I rarely can order more than a baked potato and a salad with oil & vinegar dressing.  My husband, who can eat anything, has sacrificed dining out, or at least enjoying it.  He has finally, after 4 years, become more tolerant to the onslaught of preparation questions before I order. He's embarrassed that the waitstaff brings out packages of the mixes they put in their food.  Cross-contamination in deep fryers is my biggest bug-a-boo.  What are little kids supposed to do, if they can't even eat a french fry? My sister is a waitress in Hawaii, and she says she has some regulars who bring in a list of their allergies, and she hands it to the chef.  I hope the restaurant industry figures something out.  Auto-immune disease is not a joke or a fad.

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    20 hours ago, Guest Kathy said:

    I would like to explain to restaurant owners that serving steak, salad, and a baked potato does not qualify as "having a gluten-free menu."  Simply because these things do not contain gluten, does not mean you cater to gluten-intolerant customers.  Also, there are many people with Celiac who (like me) cannot eat corn.  Corn has been shown to have more gluten than wheat, so it is not unusual for Celiac patients to abstain from eating corn.  Therefore, for those restaurants that do have a dedicated gluten-free menu, non-corn items should be listed as well. 

    The gluten in corn is NOT the same gluten that is wheat, etc. or rice for that matter. Corn is difficult to digest for many people (it comes out in the same form it goes in -sorry for being gross), so it is entirely possible you are simply reacting to corn in the niblet or ground form. I have had trouble with corn on the cob for years, corn chips, corn meal etc but am fine with cornstarch- so go figure. Many of the chain restaurants like P.F. Changs, Red Robin, Chipotle, Outback- have very strict gluten-free protocols in place and do a relatively good job preparing the meal, but the problem begins with human error when the wrong meal gets delivered to the wrong person, or the guy at the end of the  line places a reg roll on the plate, or the waiter throws croutons on the salad. We have all been there...

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    4 hours ago, Juliem said:

    I'm Celiac and lactose intolerant. But after 3 years becoming even  sicker, I've finally deduced that corn was the extra culprit causing IBS that was far more painful than any gluten symptoms.  Just when you think it maybe safe to venture out again, whammo, here's another ingredient to be put on the no-no list.  Does anybody else have vivid dreams of eating freshly made, fluffy soft coffee scrolls with lashings of real butter? !! 😂😂 

    First few years of no dairy was a huge issues...do not get me started on the corn allergy, I grew up adopted into a house with a Hispanic mother.
    Nowadays I just replace all butter with Nutiva Butter flavored coconut oil in recipes. AND I am so addicted to cheese that I make my own nut-based cheese blends at least every other week. Look up the vegan cheese making guide by Miyoko on Amazon, I went from there and just play with....though I tend to make my own blend of "cheese of perpetual melt" where I changed out solid set up ingredients like agar agar, and gelatin for psyllium husk which makes it a constant melted mozzarella texture. ALSO I found a trick for making expensive dairy free store bought cheese into a sauce that gets 3x more servings. 
    Oh if you miss a lot of things, oooflavors has nondairy cheese and dairy-based food flavors. Stuff is fun mixed with eggs, homemade cheeses, soups....the cereal ones added with almond milk/cashewmilk to coffee feel like a kid again. 

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    Guest Guest in DBS, FL

    Posted

    On ‎3‎/‎11‎/‎2019 at 10:38 AM, Guest Marisha said:

    It’s fine for us gluten-free people to share our pet peeves about restaurants with one another.  But, we should always keep in perspective that no restaurant is required to offer gluten-free food and when the fad of “pop” gluten-free eating ends, we celiacs will still hope for restaurants to eat out at where we can get a safe meal. We should offer kind, constructive, encouragement to restaurants who attempt gluten-free.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being honest, but if the end goal is to get safer meals, we should remember not to get whiney or snippy.  There are myriad food allergies and gastric conditions out there besides the gluten-free issue.  Can you imagine demanding that a restaurant puree your food, or perfectly balance acidity in a dish, or ensure no peanut or tree nut residue had ever been in their restaurant, etc.  We should commend the restaurants who are trying, offer them guidance when they aren’t doing it completely properly, and be thankful that some are trying their best on the gluten-free front, and some are vested only in casual gluten-free, not celiac-safe.  Individuals with food issues of any kind must accept that we must always watch out for ourselves, not be afraid to ask questions of a restaurant in the interest of our safety, and just forgo eating out where it is too risky.

    I agree with what you said above and that restaurants don't have to serve gluten-free items on their menu but if they want to feed the growing number of us that do have to eat this way for a because of our health, then they better pick up their game. I lost count of how many restaurants I go into that think they are serving the gluten free community because they have something. like salad or seafood on their menu. There are a lot of people with Celiac that also can't eat fish or seafood as well. (Myself included) I am part of a women's group that eat out once a month. Yes, I eat a lot of steak and potatoes, because its the only thing on the menu, which these ladies are noticing and are now asking me first, if the restaurant serves something I can eat, other than salad, steak or potatoes. They won't go to a place I can't eat at, because they are great bunch of ladies. So the restaurant industry should not be turning anyone away, because they can make the choice to step up their game and not shun us away because they think its a fad and will go away. When the facts we are multiplying as more people are diagnosed each and everyday. 

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  • About Me

    I started blogging (https://glutenenvy.blog) in May 2015 after suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for over fifteen years. I discovered that by eliminating gluten, then dairy, from my diet decreased my IBS symptoms significantly.  I also developed nut allergies two years ago.

    I have since become an expert and advocate for a gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyle, to support and help those who have struggled with side effects and health issues related to both gluten and dairy foods.

    Blogger, recipe developer, product tester, reviewer and guest blogger, I continue to help others while maintaining my gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free lifestyle. I hope to continue to grow and evolve and to be able to spread the word about the challenges and the rewards of a gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyle.

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