When you are gluten free, dining out has its challenges. Even good places sometimes make mistakes or have an employee that does a less than stellar job! However, there are things you can do to raise the chances of having a good experience. Ask questions and don’t rely on someone else’s opinion.
Questions to Ask
1. Do you have a gluten free menu or gluten free options available
This is a great starting point! The best is when they have a certified gluten free menu! California Pizza Kitchen has gone through the process to certify their gluten free menu. Because they are certified, you know that you can safely eat those things and they have the least amount of risk for cross contact. (Just one example)
However, most places don’t have certified menus, so asking questions and helping them to understand what you need, helps to make it a better experience. You can even print out a restaurant card, cut it and laminate it to keep in your wallet.
Some of the places we like are:
- In and Out Burger (protein style)
- Chick-Fil-A (option for a gf bun, though they will do it lettuce wrapped/grilled chicken)
- Red Robin (option for a gf bun)
- Outback (Chocolate Thunder From Down Under is already a gf brownie)
- PF Changs (gf dishes are served on dishes with a black ring around the edge)
2. Ask to talk to the chef or manager
We have gone places where we know they offer gluten free, but the server or seater gives us a blank stare and doesn’t know what we are talking out. Especially, if you are uncomfortable with your server, make sure you talk to the manager and /or chef. Ask them what they would recommend for gluten free options.
Whether your order is taken by a server, manager or chef, make sure they mark your order clearly that it is gluten free! Double check with them about injected flavorings in meat, bouillon, croutons, sauces, etc. These are the usual places that problems come in.
We went to one place, on a recent trip (in Anaheim, California, not the parks), and our food was almost done when the server told us they wouldn’t be able to put cheese on any of it. They used wheat/flour to keep the cheese from clumping. I have heard about this, but it was the first time I encountered it and it was really disappointing!
3. Do you have a separate place to prepare gluten free foods?
Some kitchens have a separate place to prepare gluten free foods. Often this includes getting fresh ingredients that haven’t been opened or at least untouched in making gluten dishes. These areas are typically wiped down and kept free of gluten.
It doesn’t hurt to ask if they can use fresh ingredients from the back.
4. Is the grill cleaned before cooking gf foods? (Ask for a grill mat or for your food to be cooked on tinfoil)
If they grill buns or other gluten things on their grills, ask them to clean it before cooking your food. The gluten does NOT burn off, no matter how hot the grill cooks!
We have a sandwich place near us that takes wonderful measures and uses a grill mat for all of their gluten free customers! They do an amazing job! We have never gotten sick there!
5. What measures are taken to cut down on cross contact?
There are lots of reasons why you may still choose to eat somewhere that doesn’t offer most of the above. So, what measures do you take to cut down on cross contact is an important question. You may want to just have a drink if you are with a group or find another place to eat.
I wouldn’t eat at a place that says we really don’t do anything. . .
6. Please change gloves
Even if you go somewhere frequently, it is good to remind them of things that should be done. Especially with fast food. They tend to be kids, working in those places and may have a tendency to get lax on things. Also, high turn over and sometimes the training for gluten free is on the job; figuring it out with the customers.
Ask the person taking your order to make sure the cook crew knows it is gluten free and ask them to change their gloves.
7. Does your salad contain croutons? Ask to have salad mixed in a clean bowl
I always double check about croutons. No! You can’t just pick them off!
Some restaurants mix their salads in a big bowl that may have croutons and/or pita bread. Bits of those gluten products can still be in the bowl, so ask them to mix it in a fresh bowl.
8. Do you have a dedicated fryer?
Contrary to what seems to be a popular myth, frying foods does NOT kill nor neutralize the gluten! If breaded gluteny foods are cooked in the oil, it is not safe! If they combine and reuse the oil in that fryer, it is not safe. (Combine from all fryers into one container.) If they are dripping from the gluten fryer across the dedicated fryer, it is not safe. (I know a chain of restaurants with a dedicated fryer that does this! What is the point in having a dedicated fryer when you purposefully contaminate it? Why won’t they switch the fryers so the gluten doesn’t drip into the dedicated fryer? Ugh!!!)
A dedicated fryer should have no breaded items or fry anything other than French fries.
9. Are vegetables cooked in clean water or in pasta water?
A popular practice in many restaurants is to use the water that pasta was cooked in, for cooking vegetables. So, those very gluten free vegetables suddenly aren’t as safe as they would seem.
Happy Safe Dining!
I hope these tips help you in having a happy and safe dining experience. What other questions do you ask when eating out?
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