Tips for Dining Out Gluten-Free

Who doesn’t love going out to eat?

We all do! Wining, dining- it’s all about the food and the experience. But if you’re gluten-free, you might be unaware of the obstacles that dining out can present. Cross-contamination and a lack of awareness are two big reasons it’s easier to stay home and cook for ourselves. I am all for cooking your own food, but sometimes it’s really nice to get fancy, go out and let someone else do the cooking and cleaning.

So what can you do to minimize these issues while dining out? Here are 7 tips I use whenever I go out:

Tip #1 – Educate Yourself

Whether you have celiac disease, are gluten-intolernant, etc. it’s important to be your own advocate when dining out. Knowing what contains gluten will better prepare you for navigating the gluten-filled world we live in (breads and cookies and cakes, oh my!).

Tip #2 – Do Your Research

Before you go out, do your homework. I know this sounds tedious, but it’s worth it! The alternative is eating at a restaurant that basically offers nothing and there’s nothing worse than picking at a house salad while all your friends dig into their gluten-ous meals. Plus, you don’t want to eat something that gets you sick.

If you’re not sure where you’ll be eating, try to pinpoint a couple of places in the general neighborhood you’ll be in. That way you’re ready with some recommendations that are close by.

Tip #3 – Call The Restaurant Ahead Of Time

If you know where you’ll be eating, don’t be afraid to call the restaurant and ask to speak to a manager about what gluten-free options they offer and if they incorporate ways to reduce cross-contamination. In New York City, many restaurants are aware of gluten-free lifestyles and are making efforts to accommodate.

Tip #4 – Inform/Educate Your Server

This may seem like an obvious step but many people who are gluten-free will just look at a menu and order something because it appears to be gluten-free at face-value. Big mistake.

I understand, especially in the early stages of your diagnosis, you might feel like you’re being needy or overbearing when informing the server about your very serious dietary needs. However, if you don’t speak up about having celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity’), then you’re playing Russian roulette with your body.

Before placing your order, take the time to explain to your server, “I have celiac disease so I can’t have wheat, barley or rye. It’s very important that anything I eat doesn’t contain or come in contact with other foods that contain these three ingredients.” Remember – it’s all about being your own advocate!

Tip #5 – Inquire What Ingredients Are In The Dish

Many people in the food industry may know some of the main culprits that contain gluten (e.g. bread and pasta) but there are many hidden glutens that your server might not know about. This is why it’s very important for you to know what foods contain gluten and where hidden gluten can be found.

Once your server understands you’re gluten-free, I find it best to ask the server to list off the ingredients in the dish you’re looking to get. Doing this will allow you to personally run through the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain gluten. This may seem like overkill, but when it comes to your health you can’t ever be too careful.

Note: When eating at Chinese or Italian restaurants, the risk of cross-contamination can be much higher due to the gluten-containing ingredients in the food. Extreme due diligence is crucial when eating at a restaurant serving either of these cuisines.

Tip #6 – Ask The Server To Inform The Kitchen That You’re Gluten-Free

It’s a very simple, easy thing to ask. Since cross-contamination is an issue when dining out, informing the server as well as the kitchen will only help in trying to decrease this from happening as well as taking extra precautions when handling your food.

At some restaurants, there are clear protocols in place to protect eaters with dietary restrictions. At Not Your Average Joe’s, once you notify the server you’re gluten-free, the restaurant only allows one person to make your dish in the kitchen to minimize cross-contamination and only the manager is allowed to bring out your dish once its ready…pretty cool!

Tip #7 – Confirm The Meal Is Gluten-Free

Once the server brings your meal, it’s a good idea to quickly reassure that everything you have is gluten-free. You would be surprised how often food that shouldn’t be on your plate accidentally sneaks on.

Just this past weekend, I ordered quinoa tabouli and made sure to go through all my checks and balances listed here to confirm the dish was gluten-free. So what happens, the dish comes out with four pieces of sliced baguette on it along with the quinoa tabouli. As you can imagine, I was not a happy customer and called over the manager to explain that I am gluten-free and yet my dish came out with bread on it.

If you have any other tips you use when dining out gluten-free please share!

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