I know that eating out with a gluten-free restriction can be very daunting – been there, done that. But this post will, hopefully, help you gain some confidence in owning your gluten-free lifestyle!
Back in 2003, no one knew what “gluten-free” meant much less “Celiac disease.” Going out to eat nowadays is a lot less painful for everyone involved. Many restaurants have gluten-free menus or are at least knowledgeable of what contains gluten and what doesn’t. And, if you’re lucky, you may stumble across an entirely gluten-free restaurant in a city near you.
Below this little commentary, you’ll find an interview I conducted with the lovely Stephanie from Gluten-free Steph. Her blog is dedicated to reviewing restaurants that offer gluten-free food in New York City – a great resource for any gluten-free individuals traveling to this magical city.
In the interview below, I picked her brain on a few of her tips and asked for her advice for a few different yet common situations that gluten-free individuals may find themselves in. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who may need this information!
So, you’ve given us a list of seven tips to eating out that you live by. What would you consider the most important tip of them all?
Hmm…Well I would say, don’t be afraid to speak up and don’t be ashamed about being gluten-free. Over the past few years, both society and the media have done a great job at belittling the gluten-free community by making light of it. To me, not being afraid to speak up is sort of the “Big Picture” of my tips.
What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when eating out?
Not notifying the server or manager that they’re gluten-free. I’m a huge proponent of being your own health advocate and not being ashamed or afraid to speak up whenever eating out. However, I have found that people who are new to being gluten-free tend to feel uncomfortable with constantly having to notify their server every time they eat out. Because of this, they may not mention to the server he or she is gluten-free. But don’t worry, over time this will become second nature and you won’t bat an eye!
I also know, from personal experience, that cross-contamination behind the scenes is a major issue when eating out gluten-free. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this?
Absolutely! There are three key steps I always follow to combat cross-contamination when eating out:
First, research, research, research. You must research the restaurant beforehand. Look up reviews online, check out the restaurant’s website to see if it specifically calls out if it’s gluten-free friendly, and definitely call the restaurant beforehand to speak with a manager. Make sure to ask the manager if they offer gluten-free food and, if so, what procedures are in place to protect its gluten-free eaters by minimizing cross-contamination in the kitchen. Right away, you should be able to tell if the restaurant is truly gluten-free friendly and does its due diligence to protect its eaters from gluten exposure by the person’s answers.
Second, when you’re at a restaurant, make sure to notify your server that you’re gluten-free as well as the manager on staff. I usually ask the host/hostess if the restaurant has a gluten-free menu. If not, I go through the menu to pinpoint 3-4 options I am interested in and then ask my server how each dish is prepared as well as the ingredients in it to figure out what I can eat. There have been times when I’ve gone out to eat and my server was 1,000% sure my order was gluten-free, but then it comes out and there’s bread on the plate or barley in my rice, so frustrating! Once I’ve placed my order, I also ask my server to notify the chef and kitchen that I have Celiac disease so that they take extra precautions when preparing and handling my food.
Third, it’s really important to know when ingredients contain gluten, even hidden gluten. If you know what you can and can’t eat, you should be able to easily identify dishes that are safe versus contain gluten.
Although I’ve been eating out gluten-free for 12 years now, I still get embarrassed when I order because I know that I need to repeat, reiterate, and reinforce that the meal has to be 100% gluten-free. What kind of suggestions can you give to people that are nervous about sounding annoying or overbearing to their waiters?
I think it’s important to let people know that this is completely normal to feel this way, and I went through the same thing. Not only is living a gluten-free lifestyle a whirlwind of a change, but there are also people out there who are misinformed about Celiac disease and have stigmatisms towards people who are gluten-free.
That being said, I say, forget them (politely, of course)! This is your health and your life. It will take some time to get used to constantly reading labels, asking questions and figuring out what you can and can’t eat. But, I promise, it will get easier :)
In your experience, are there any particular restaurants that gluten-free individuals have to be more careful about? For example, I feel that Italian restaurants pose a huge threat to gluten-free eaters just because of the culture of the food.
Definitely. The biggest culprits for cross-contamination are Italian and Asian cuisines like Chinese or Thai. I typically don’t go out to eat at restaurants like this merely for the fact that there is a greater chance of being “glutened.” However, there are some Italian restaurants in New York City that do a fabulous job at minimizing the risk like Bistango, Asellina, Risotteria, Del Posto and Lili and Loo’s, which serves Chinese food. This is where doing your research beforehand comes in handy!
Can you give any advice to people who are nervous about eating out with friends? I know that when I was younger (and it’s sometimes true still!), I’d decline hanging out with friends because they always chose a restaurant I couldn’t eat at.
I must say that if you have a friend who gives you grief or isn’t willing to eat at a gluten-free friendly place even though you’re gluten-free, then you shouldn’t be friends with that person, seriously. Nowadays, there are so many more restaurants offering delicious gluten-free as well as gluten-filled options, so it shouldn’t be hard finding a place to please everyone.
Just curious, what has been your best experience eating out gluten-free?
Without a question it was my trip to Paris in September 2014. There is this very small, intimate restaurant called Noglu that’s 100% gluten-free. I ate there 3 times in one week! Not only was the food gluten-free and the staff amazing, but I ate some of the best tasting meals I’ve ever had like pan roasted duck with the most succulent sauce (plate-licking worthy), and the beer and dessert selection was to die for! I probably gained 10 pounds, but I couldn’t care less. To me, it’s all about the food. Paris is already one of my favorite places to visit, but now it has a special place in my gluten-free heart because of Noglu.
So naturally, now we want to know what your worst experience was.
Oh boy! I guess I can eat and tell. Well, there was this one time my boyfriend and I went out to eat for Valentine’s Day. Per my friends’ positive recommendations and good online reviews, he and I decided to go to this Italian restaurant in New York City (not mentioned in this Q&A). The restaurant offered many gluten-free items including garlic bread, pasta and more, so obviously, I decided to order pasta since I was at an Italian restaurant.
As always, I notified the server that I was gluten-free. I ordered a gluten-free dish and confirmed it was gluten-free when it came out. Not until I was literally almost done with my dish did I notice a noodle that was not the same as all the others. The only reason I thought to question this was because the server made a point to mention that they only offer one type of noodle for all gluten-free pasta dishes. So I called the server over, and it turned out it was in fact a regular, gluten-filled noodle. I was really upset because I had basically finished my meal so I was concerned that there were more of those noodles but I just didn’t notice. The restaurant was extremely embarrassed, and of course, they paid for my meal. But the damage was done. I have never gone back, and I won’t because of this experience. It could have been a one-time accident, but I don’t feel safe eating there.
One of your tips was that, when the food comes out, you should confirm that your meal is definitely 100% gluten-free. (Like you, I learned the hard way too!) Some people may think that this is a redundant step because you already told your server that the food needs to be gluten-free, can you enlighten them further?
It all boils down to the fact that mistakes can happen (e.g. my response above). I used to work in the restaurant industry, so I’ve seen first-hand how sometimes small details can be overlooked when working in such a fast-paced environment. The chef may accidentally miss the note that you’re gluten-free and still put bread on your plate or the server could accidentally grab the wrong dish. Either way, you have to look out for yourself first and foremost.