You Can Eat Gluten-Free at Restaurants

Every day it seems like a new chain or local eatery is announcing a gluten-free menu. But menu or not, you can find great gluten-free food choices almost anywhere.

When dining out, ask questions every time. Does the server know what gluten is? Does the restaurant have a gluten-free menu? Will the chef come out to speak with you about how to prepare your meal? If you feel uncomfortable with the answers you receive, then take your business elsewhere. Making sure your meal is gluten-free takes some effort, but you can enjoy eating at restaurants that accommodate your needs.

Another bonus: When you ask questions, you help increase awareness of gluten intolerance! And hopefully this results in more food choices for everyone in the future.

Here are some suggestions for making your restaurant experience a little easier:

  • Check out the menu ahead of time. If you know where you’re dining, check the restaurant’s website. Restaurants often have menus online; if not, then call and ask before you go.

  • Narrow down your choices. At the restaurant, find two or three dishes that look good to you and that seem “safe” (no obvious gluten) and ask the server for details. Don’t expect the server to spend time going over the entire menu with you. It’s easier and safer to have him check on just a few dishes than, say, all the salads offered by the place.

  • Get the server’s attention. Try to spend a few minutes talking with the server about your gluten-free diet and food ingredients before everyone else orders. A good time may be when he comes to take drink orders or to tell you about the specials.

  • Communicate. Explain your dietary needs before you order and always ask the server to ask the chef whether something contains gluten or how it’s prepared.

  • Speak to the manager. If your server doesn’t seem to get it, talk with the restaurant manager before you order.

  • Substitute. Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to your selections. For example, request rice, polenta, potatoes, or a vegetable instead of pasta.

  • Check your food. When your food comes, check everything — twice; mistakes happen! If your salad has croutons on it or your hamburger comes with a bun, don’t actually send it back. Keep it at the table and alert your server that you need another order. Don’t let them take the contaminated plate away, as sometimes kitchen staff simply remove croutons or a bun (not good enough!) and return the contaminated dish to you.

  • Enjoy! When you’re confident that your food is safe, eat up and enjoy!

Even when you take precautions, risk of cross-contamination and mistakes exists. Everyone has a different level of tolerance, but the goal is always zero tolerance — no gluten! Over time, you’ll compile a list of places you know can accommodate you safely, and your gluten-free life will become easier because you’ll be ready with suggestions when your friends want to order late-night pizza, go celebrate at a restaurant, or order carryout for dinner.

When dining out with a group of friends, splitting the bill may not always be equitable if you didn’t share that pitcher of beer or bruschetta app. Just kindly mention that you’ll give a smaller portion since you didn’t partake. Asking for your own check at the beginning of the night may be an easier solution to avoiding an awkward situation when the bill arrives.

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