For many veterans of the gluten-free diet, we have our own system for navigating restaurants whether they have a gluten-free menu or are known for accommodating gluten-free diets. But if you’re new to the diet, probably one of the most daunting obstacles to overcome is eating out.
Either way, advice by Andrea Levario, executive director with American Celiac Disease Alliance, and Uno Chicago Grill could help the newest and the most veteran gluten-free eater the next time they go out.
One thing to remember is the internet is one of the best things ever! It can help you in so many ways, including the first point laid out in today’s news release:
Research options before you come in. “Truly health-conscious establishments put their menus online, and clearly label items as gluten-free or otherwise geared toward the nutritional needs of customers,” the news release says. This tip is quite essential. Doing this research saves many people time and frustration and makes the whole dining experience better. I would add to this for new celiacs, just because a menu is online doesn’t mean it’s always a health-conscious establishment. In recent years McDonald’s has put its nutritional information on line with a menu. While they do have some healthier choices like salads and fruit, I am not sure they quite rank to the “health-conscious” level that others do. But overall, establishments who put their menu and nutritional information online certainly help us all figure out the best restaurants for our diet.
Take advantage of posted information. Many places have nutritional information inside the restaurant for you as well. UNO has nutritional kiosks in the lobby, while others like Culver’s have pamphlets inside the business. “Establishments that offer such benefits are taking the initiative to ensure that consumers understand the choices they are making,” reports the news release. “The best information is that which is easy to use and can equip a diner to make the healthiest and most delicious choices before he or she is even seated.” I totally agree.
Don’t be shy about alerting your server. “A customer’s health should always be the server’s top priority. Your server should be the liaison between the kitchen and manager, ensuring you have a safe meal,” the news release says. I have found many of them want to be helpful. But if it is really busy and they have a lot of other customers to wait on, then the next point is even more important!
Alert a manager about your special needs. “Managers take special care to ensure the health and satisfaction of customers. A good manager personally checks the orders of his or her customers who make them aware of special nutritional needs — adding yet another quality-control measure,” according to the news release.
I would also add for you to come up with your own personal checklist that answers your specific needs when you go out. If there’s a gluten-free menu online, I always print it up and bring it with. I worry the actual restaurant may not know about or have the gluten-free menu to which I am referring.
Another thing I have come up with is specifically asking the manager or chef how they recommend preparing your food item, while keeping our special needs in check. And try pre-arranging your meal before the rush of lunch or dinner. Call the establishment at 10 a.m. or 2 pm a few hours before the upcoming meal.
You have to admit, if you’re gluten-free, now is a good time for it. So many companies are coming out with gluten-free options at restaurants and grocery stores. “There have never been more tools available to the consumer with food allergies to access health information and to act on what they find,” Ms. Levario said. I totally agree. Nine years ago when my daughter was diagnosed, we could hardly eat out anywhere. Now we have choices all within 5-30 miles of us: pasta, pizza, steak, burgers, pancakes!
I know, even now, many celiacs are hesitant about going out for dinner. I understand. Getting sick after eating a lovely meal can really put a damper on things and make a person cynical about eating out. But by following the above tips and coming up with your own safety measures it will certainly take some of the frustration out of it.
It is time for celiacs to take back the dining experience and make it enjoyable again!