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How To Ask If Food Is Gluten Free In Restaurants

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So I'm a newly diagnosed celiac, and I love to eat out. I'm not even a particularly shy person either; I'll ask for substitutions for food, have sent food back (rarely), ask questions, etc to my waiter/ress. However, I'm feeling lost as to what to do when I'm at a non-chain restaurant, and there's dishes that I suspect might be gluten free, exactly how do I go about figuring out what is or isn't?

Like, if no one working at the restaurant knows what being a celiac entails, then I suspect they'll have a very hard time finding out if something is indeed gluten free unless I give them a huge comprehensive list of things, or if they make everything from scratch (and that means everything!). I'm particularly worried about sauces. I can't just go in and say 'absolutely no wheat' because that doesn't cover everything. Is it better to call ahead of time, or should I ask the waitress? I could bring a list of ingredients that they could compare it to, but that list would by necessity be GIANT.

Ideally, I could get an ingredient list for each dish from them, so I can determine it for myself, but that seems unlikely to happen. (Besides which, it doesn't help me choosing new items off a menu; I'd need the entire menu's ingredient list if I wanted to figure something out!) The local restaurants I'm thinking of won't have the same sort of ingredient/allergen menu that large chains have.

I don't want to avoid perfectly tasty gluten-free food because of suspicion, but the entire process of figuring out if a dish is safe seems incredibly unwieldly :-(

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I think a big problems comes with cc. You ask for a plain burger, no bun. Great! They get that. They cook your burger on the grill on top of where they just toasted the buns for other peoples burgers. You get the green beans. They use the slotted thingy they use to get pasta out to scoop up your green beans because it handy.

If its a small local place, you might be ale to educate them. Go when it's not busy and explain the whole thing. If they aren't busy, they are more likely to help.

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The first place to start is googling "x town gluten free". There may be a list of friendly restaurants with hints.

Second, if you stick with nicer restaurants that make food from fresh ingredients you are more likely to have success. I open with "I am gluten free, can you point me to items on the menu that are easy to make gluten-free?" and go from there. You'll get a good idea if they are completely ignorant at that point.

Yes, call ahead if you don't know. Don't be surprised if you have to ask a few people.

Cards are a great option - they come in several languages and explain what you can or can't have. I think they sell them on the gluten-free mall.

And use common sense. If the place specializes in fried chicken, well, I wouldn't go there.

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The chef will usually be able to tell you if a dish is gluten free - chefs at better establishments are hep these days to allergen-free cooking. You can either ask your waitperson to check with the chef, or if you are at nonpeak times sometimes it is even possible to speak with the chef himself/herself.

If it is not a local small establishment, or a fine dining place, or a chain with a gluten free menu which can be trusted to train their staff, you are taking a risk - but that is not to say you cannot be successfull. Call the manager ahead of time, ask if they are used to acccommodating gluten free diners, announce to your waitperson when you arrive that you will be eating gluten free, choose a likely looking gluten free dish that you would like and have the waitperson check with the chef that it is okay or can be modified for you.. Remind them, no croutons on salad or soup, do not bring bread for you or put it on your plate, just the simple checklist. Sometimes they will go through this checklist for you - "you will need to have this without the sauce, sir" or whatever.

Best wishes on successful dining out. :)

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My experience with eating out is that I tend to get sick at Mom and Pop restaurants. As you have noticed, the list of gluten-containing ingredients is long and unless you are dealing with a chef who has had proper culinary training, getting gluten-free food is well-nigh impossible. On rare occasions they will be able to tell you ingredients, but with gluten hidden in bullion, broth, and spice mixes it's still hard to be sure your food is safe. Even a plain-looking chicken breast can come from a food service company with flour on it to help browning.

I eat in chains that publish clear gluten-free information, sushi bars where I can get plain sashimi and rice, and expensive restaurants where the chef fully understands the word "gluten". Formal culinary training includes food allergy training, and most trained chefs find it trivially easy to make food free of wheat, rye, or barley. If I get a stupid/insulting response like "you can't have the bread or pasta" I leave if I can. If I have no choice, I order nothing but salad with oil and vinegar, no croutons, and plain, steamed vegetables or a baked potato.

I don't even try restaurants where English is not spoken. I've gotten poisoned with gluten too many times to be even remotely interested. Dining cards are a joke.

Calling ahead is unreliable. I've called ahead and gotten to the restaurant to discover that the person I spoke to on the phone who was knowledgeable about gluten was not at the restaurant and nobody else had a clue. (This happened yesterday. I was assured gluten-free food was available and it turned out to be dry meat, salad and plain steamed vegetables. Waste of money.) I have also called ahead, been assured I could get gluten-free food, and then had my plate brought out with wheat-containing soy sauce dressing.

Sorry to be so negative, but I've gotten poisoned over and over though the past seven years to the point that I walk into an unfamiliar restaurant with deep trepidation.

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Gee, Skylark and I must be going to the same restaurants--could we have bumped into each other without knowing (???). I have had identical experiences and follow the same policies: No eating at restaurants where English is not spoken or where the chef has not been well schooled, no eating at Mom and Pop restaurants, no eating at establishments where the chef has never heard of gluten, no eating anywhere where the people make me feel as though I'm just being fussy, and I only go to restaurants that are high-end with well-educated chefs and servers, restaurants that serve meals made from fresh foods, and where there is usually a gluten-free menu or someone who can immediately point out which meals are gluten free or can be altered to be so. I must admit that I rarely visit "new" restaurants--there are half a dozen that I thoroughly trust, so they regularly get my business. I haven't been glutened by a restaurant in about a year, and it was a Thai restaurant out of town that assured me that they served gluten-free patrons regularly and knew what to do. I love Thai food, but I suspect that some of the sauces are sometimes produced in factories outside of Thailand and contain undisclosed gluten. I learned this at a conference a few years back, and this explains how my favorite Thai restaurant never, ever glutened me until about two years ago when, suddenly, my usual entrees began to make me ill. They swore that they hadn't done anything differently, so I suspect the company that makes their sauces sometimes sells them sauces produced elsewhere.

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My eating out experiences have been great except for twice. I do not go to chains. If there is a new place we want to go to I call to speak with the chef or manager and ask a lot of questions. Great restaurants should know/expect this. If they even go ahead and explain how cross contamination is prevented and so on before I ask, that is a wonderful sign. We are the guests and pay a lot of money for a great experience so believe me, I am very thorough when asking questions.

Thankfully there are seveal high-end places I trust. We have no safe places where I live so we must drive 3 hours to get to the city. I always call ahead to alert the staff; in fact, very good restaurants encourage this on their websites. The places I go to are discreet, incredibly knowledgable and even have gluten-free bread service. One place even brings me beet, carrot and turnip "chips" with an aioli or compound sauce as an amuse bouche. These places have highly-trained professional chefs, pastry chefs and servers. They explain precisely how my dishes are prepared. They places rarely have deep fryers. One does but it is dedicated solely to their truffled fries. In fact, the best restaurant menus should contain about 80% or more of their dishes that are naturally gluten free anyway and/or easily made gluten free. They places also use local fresh food and change their menus at least monthly to showcase a special ingredient. I am made to feel special and spoiled yet treated no differently from anyone else dining. We do tend to tip higher as my requirements sometimes do take extra work and time explaining and so on.

I travel to Europe regularly and have found restaurant cards to help immensely as we go to countries where English is not the first language. I have not tried them in North America, however. In fact, I find Europe to be more knowledgable and aware than most places around here where one place asked me, "Are you a little celiac or a lot celiac?" Not a good sign. Europe? Much easier.

It can be done safely if you do your homework. After a great dining experience I am sure to email the restaurant to thank them. They will realize how truly important it is and continue great service/food. :)

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When I go to restaurants and ask for their gluten free menu I assume that when I order off of it they would know I need for it to be GLUTEN FREE. Then you get the waitresses that are spacey and don't really care nor take the time to notice that you asked specifically for NO BUN. I think its important to alert the waitress of the importance of your meal being absolutely gluten free. It is a tough job but hey, we're all in this together guys!

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If they bring you the burger with the bun or meat with a piece of bread on top. Send it back but....how do you know you got a fresh burger? Make a mark in it before you give it back. You could do it in front of the waitress or be sneaky, whichever you think would work better. That way you will know if they try to give you the same thing again.

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In addition to what has been said above (very good advice), I'd also add that I patronize indian restaurants and thai restaurants freely but with stipulations. It's very helpful that both thai and indian dishes are naturally almost always gluten-free, but you have to be careful with Americanized versions. I've researched which dishes I can have that are gluten-free, and I stick to those.

For Thai, it's almost always Massaman Curry or Pad Thai as long as the server assures me that they don't use soy sauce in their Pad Thai.

For Indian (and especially South Indian), there are many options. One caution with Indian: watch out for papad, a crispy bread, which is often served with meals. It is usually gluten-free since it is made of lentil and chickpea flour. However, the flour is sometimes cut with wheat flour in the U.S. (sadly). The only time I ever got sick from Indian food was from papad.

I don't eat out all that much anymore, actually, and I don't even miss it. I can cook a better meal than what I'd get at a mediocre restaurant. Plus my husband and I are likely healthier for not eating out much. When I do eat out, I'd rather go to a more upscale place these days (and happily I can afford it because I've saved so much money from cooking instead of eating out).

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Another thing I've noticed (because I live in a tourist town) is that resorts are GREAT for gluten-free. Think about it, they are used to accommodating people from all over the world.

JBar at La Paloma Resort actually had a dessert tasting menu that was gluten-free. Totally by accident, but hey I took it!

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Warning about chains with gluten-free menus! Lately, I have read a rash of messages about people getting sick after ordering off gluten-free menus only to find that the staff was not trained about cross-contamination (or the basics of food allergies/intolerances). So many chains are dying to "get in on the trend" that they don't realize this isn't a fad, but something that can have severe consequences for many people. One chain even pulled their gluten-free menu after getting too many people sick. So don't be fooled! A GLUTEN-FREE MENU DOES NOT EQUAL A "GLUTEN-FREE FRIENDLY" RESTAURANT! You have to do your research on various message boards like these or around the web. A lot of chains are discussed on these boards, though I don't know how much luck you'll have with individual restaurants. Bottom line: learn what you need to ask and the cues of staff that get it and staff that don't. Ask every time, at every restaurant. It's very do-able.

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Well, I went out last night, and I ended up getting egg foo young without the gravy the restaurant usually serves on it.

My bf called a couple hours before we went out to ask if a couple of my favorite dishes were gluten free, and unfortunately they weren't. (stupid curry powder with flour, grr)

I then tried to order an omelette with potatoes (they make panfried with onions), but they didn't have any just then. I was unprepared for this, and the server honestly tried to be helpful in suggesting a salad (they have terrible salads), but I was pretty quick to ask if the foo young, without gravy, would have gluten. The server was even helpful enough to say that then eggs would have milk, but I got them anyways. (I really dunno if I can or can't have lactose, my understanding is that even if my body might not digest it well, it's not going to cause damage, unlike gluten.) The dish was as good as I expected it to be; so-so.

I wouldn't have chosen to go out to eat (upon finding the food I like there isn't gluten-free) there had my in-laws not invited me and my bf. I also think they forgot about me being a celiac, or else my bf just never explained it properly to them, because they seemed a little surprised about the conversation I had with the waiter, and we didn't talk about it at all afterwards. *sigh* they probably think I'm being unreasonable.

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My eating out experiences have been great except for twice. I do not go to chains. If there is a new place we want to go to I call to speak with the chef or manager and ask a lot of questions. Great restaurants should know/expect this. If they even go ahead and explain how cross contamination is prevented and so on before I ask, that is a wonderful sign. We are the guests and pay a lot of money for a great experience so believe me, I am very thorough when asking questions.

Thankfully there are seveal high-end places I trust. We have no safe places where I live so we must drive 3 hours to get to the city. I always call ahead to alert the staff; in fact, very good restaurants encourage this on their websites. The places I go to are discreet, incredibly knowledgable and even have gluten-free bread service. One place even brings me beet, carrot and turnip "chips" with an aioli or compound sauce as an amuse bouche. These places have highly-trained professional chefs, pastry chefs and servers. They explain precisely how my dishes are prepared. They places rarely have deep fryers. One does but it is dedicated solely to their truffled fries. In fact, the best restaurant menus should contain about 80% or more of their dishes that are naturally gluten free anyway and/or easily made gluten free. They places also use local fresh food and change their menus at least monthly to showcase a special ingredient. I am made to feel special and spoiled yet treated no differently from anyone else dining. We do tend to tip higher as my requirements sometimes do take extra work and time explaining and so on.

I travel to Europe regularly and have found restaurant cards to help immensely as we go to countries where English is not the first language. I have not tried them in North America, however. In fact, I find Europe to be more knowledgable and aware than most places around here where one place asked me, "Are you a little celiac or a lot celiac?" Not a good sign. Europe? Much easier.

It can be done safely if you do your homework. After a great dining experience I am sure to email the restaurant to thank them. They will realize how truly important it is and continue great service/food. :)

Your post was very helpful. I am wondering about chains. We just visited PF Changs and they seemed very up on the gluten issue. However, my daughter got glutened somewhere this weekend and we are trying to figure it out. I am just wondering if others have been glutened there. I hope not because she loved it.

She was a birthday party playing with uncooked spaghetti noodles. They had to make a tower with marsh mellows and spaghetti. I asked her if she washed her hands before eating and she said no. Maybe that was it.

Thanks!

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In addition to what has been said above (very good advice), I'd also add that I patronize indian restaurants and thai restaurants freely but with stipulations. It's very helpful that both thai and indian dishes are naturally almost always gluten-free, but you have to be careful with Americanized versions. I've researched which dishes I can have that are gluten-free, and I stick to those.

For Thai, it's almost always Massaman Curry or Pad Thai as long as the server assures me that they don't use soy sauce in their Pad Thai.

For Indian (and especially South Indian), there are many options. One caution with Indian: watch out for papad, a crispy bread, which is often served with meals. It is usually gluten-free since it is made of lentil and chickpea flour. However, the flour is sometimes cut with wheat flour in the U.S. (sadly). The only time I ever got sick from Indian food was from papad.

I don't eat out all that much anymore, actually, and I don't even miss it. I can cook a better meal than what I'd get at a mediocre restaurant. Plus my husband and I are likely healthier for not eating out much. When I do eat out, I'd rather go to a more upscale place these days (and happily I can afford it because I've saved so much money from cooking instead of eating out).

YES! There are some ethnic groups that offer many intrinsically gluten free foods. Man, I love Indian and Thai. Some northern African places have awesome stuff, as do Argentinian grills.

And what you say about cooking so well that you do not need to go to regular restaurants. Amen, sister! If you can cook better than most why go out?? And anyone can do this!! And cooking is pure joy. To me, anyway. :P

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Your post was very helpful. I am wondering about chains. We just visited PF Changs and they seemed very up on the gluten issue. However, my daughter got glutened somewhere this weekend and we are trying to figure it out. I am just wondering if others have been glutened there. I hope not because she loved it.

She was a birthday party playing with uncooked spaghetti noodles. They had to make a tower with marsh mellows and spaghetti. I asked her if she washed her hands before eating and she said no. Maybe that was it.

Thanks!

I'm so glad! I know I probably often come across as a food snob - I really do not intend it but I admit I am pretty darned picky about great food.

How is your daughter feeling now? I hope she is better and that you can determine what caused her troubles. I have not ever been to PF Chang's in my life so I cannot comment on that particular place. However, I have heard about both good and poor experiences. Unfortunately it often seems to depend on the location and who is cooking that day. One person may be excessively cautious and the next could care less.

Perhaps it was the spaghetti. Man, it's hard being a detective at times! And I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it would be for a Mom and her precious children! Wow. Moms really do have the most difficult, yet most rewarding jobs in the world.

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I haven't read the other responses yet, but funny enough I just got off the phone with the chef of a new restaurant near me. Some of us from church want to have a dinner meeting there and since I didn't see a gluten-free menu online I called them.

The person who answered the phone transferred me immediately to the chef, saying "oh yes, we're very careful with all allergans, especially the top eight" [first good sign]. The chef came on the phone and went on to explain exactly how they ensure that things are safe for those with allergies. [i'm not going to bother with the "allergy" vs. "celiac" vs. "intolerance" with anyone, as long as they realize that "gluten intolerance/celiac" also includes barley and rye.]

He told me exactly what was gluten free naturally, but also said that if I ordered any of those things I should be sure to tell the server. That way the kitchen would prepare mine in the "allergy safe area".

He also told me that the soy sauce they use is gluten free, and all but two of the salad dressings are. He clearly knew all his ingredients and I'm looking forward to eating there. :)

So my advice is to call first and have a chat with them. If you get a reply such as "um? glucose?" as I did with one pizza place I called then run for your life. :ph34r: If they say "oh yes, now let me tell you how we prepare things in the kitchen so you can feel safe eating here" then I'd say give them a try. B)

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Your post was very helpful. I am wondering about chains. We just visited PF Changs and they seemed very up on the gluten issue. However, my daughter got glutened somewhere this weekend and we are trying to figure it out. I am just wondering if others have been glutened there. I hope not because she loved it.

She was a birthday party playing with uncooked spaghetti noodles. They had to make a tower with marsh mellows and spaghetti. I asked her if she washed her hands before eating and she said no. Maybe that was it.

Thanks!

We have had great luck with the 3 different PF Changs I have eaten in. We all order from the gluten-free menu so we can share. If there is something someone at your table wants but it isn't on the gluten-free list, you can ask. They can't change something obviously gluteny but sometimes all they have to do is change the soy sauce.

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One thing I do is keep a list of places I've eaten on my i-pad and what I ordered, so that I can know when I go back what to get and what to avoid. Of course, I have to check and make sure ingredients haven't changed since the last time I ate there, but the list helps me remember what's worked for me in the past.

Yesterday I went to eat at a local restaurant chain that's famous for its burgers. It's amazing to see how much better they've gotten about understanding Celiac. They had announced that they were serving gluten free burgers last summer. The first time I went to order one back in August, the waiter had no idea what I was talking about and we had to show him the facebook post. Luckily when he went to talk to the chef, the chef knew and fixed my burger separately from the others. This time when I talked to the waiter he knew exactly what I was talking about. He started talking to me immediately about what I can and can't have with my burger. He even mentioned that they were developing a gluten free menu. He said it was because one of the managers has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I'm not sure if they would have done that without the input of the manager, but I am sure glad that they're working on it.

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