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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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    On 3/11/2019 at 1:43 PM, 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. 

    Corn has gluten? WTF?

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    2 hours ago, ballyhoo said:

    Corn has gluten? WTF?

    Different protein, it does not trigger celiac disease. Corn Gluten is different than wheat, barley, rye gluten, the amino acids composing wheat, barley and rye are very similar (oats are close), but corn and rice gluten has a different structure. Some people also have issues with it but the gut and autoimmune damage is not present. IE I got an allergy to the corn protein, but that is different them a celiac reaction that attacks my organs, many get food intolerances or sensitivities and corn is a semi-common one. 

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    7 hours ago, ballyhoo said:

    Corn has gluten? WTF?

    Of course not!  Sometimes people like to stir things up.  

    In the case of “ corn gluten” - sometimes you hear this phrase but the only gluten a Celiac is concerned with is the kind in wheat , rye and barley.  In food, the term “ gluten” refers to these 3 grains.  

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    I am 63 years old and was finally diagnosed with Celiac two years ago. I had the most wonderful experience in Mexico of all places, at the Restaurant at the Sirena del Sol about 4 km north of Cabo San Lucas. The Head Chef addressed all my concerns personally. He even came by our table a couple nights later and comped our desert. All their deserts are made from scratch using gluten-free flour. Best sea bass I have had ever!

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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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