Many people may think it’s never okay to pick up — let’s say — McDonalds and bring it to a local restaurant that doesn’t serve the kinds of food kids with allergies can have. But for parents of young celiacs—it happens more often than you may think. But is it okay???

Outside Food Brought into Restaurant

I came across this post in The Morning Sun, a Michigan newspaper, earlier this summer. It was in a section called “Sound Off” in which readers can take a second to express their opinions. The following, out of Mount Pleasant, was published on June 11th.

“My 18-year-old quiet, polite granddaughter, who just graduated from high school, was at the Alma Arby’s with some friends. She is a celiac, and was eating a gluten-free sandwich from another restaurant, when the manager saw her and told her to leave. She tried to explain her diet, but he said he didn’t care and she had to leave.”

Has anyone ever had this happen? I know of another family who once had trouble with bringing outside food into a pizza place.

My husband and I used to pick up McDonald’s and bring it with to Famous Dave’s (a BBQ place that does not have food for celiacs – unless you only want to eat corn on the cob), because our extended family was having a big meal there. We never had any trouble doing this. But maybe that had to do with the fact that Emma was a toddler and cute…or that they knew there just wasn’t anything she could have. However, we don’t do that anymore. Our feeling is that with the plethora of gluten-free menus emerging, we can find a different restaurant where we all can eat.

But what if you or your child is with that group of friends that just doesn’t get it and you bring outside food into a competitor’s establishment?

Solving the dilemma

I went to an expert to find out…is there anything that violates a state or federal code by bringing in outside food? Or is it just bad form? I talked with Matthew Brickey, an expert with the  National Restaurant Association. “If the food is kept in the dining area [not in the kitchen] there is no food safety issue occurring. It is up to management at the restaurant if they will allow outside food to be brought in.” Brickey recommended contacting the restaurant first to see if they have a problem with bringing outside food into their business. He says if he or she has a problem with it, “…then you must follow this requirement.”

So then I checked – about bringing in a hot dog – just to heat up in the restaurant’s microwave. We have done this several times as well. Again, this was way before you could even think of finding a gluten-free menu at a restaurant. “This again will be the discretion of the restaurant manager,” Brickey said. “The Health Department may have an issue with this due to the possibility of cross contamination. All food items in a restaurant must come from an approved source in order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.”

Summing it up

First of all, I can’t say enough how thankful I am that more and more restaurants are picking up and accommodating gluten-free options. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! But it appears, according to the National Restaurant Association, that a restaurant that can’t, or won’t, fulfill your dietary needs,  has the right to ask you to leave or throw away your outside food.

I know as teenagers, planning ahead isn’t something that’s always important. But if they can make a call to the restaurant ahead of time, maybe the restaurant can accommodate the dietary needs? I’m not sure what Arby’s has currently that’s gluten-free in the case of this teenager. I did find Gluten Free in SD had a post on Arby’s —but it’s more than two years old. You can take a peek, but you’d have to reconfirm with the company that a product is still gluten-free.

Good luck!

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4 Responses to “Bringing Gluten-Free Food From One Restaurant into another – Bad Form?”

  1. I believe the polite thing to do when you bring food in from another restaurant/home is to purchase at least a drink and if it isn’t fast food to live a very generous tip.

  2. I have been on both sides, where it is critical to follow the medically necessary diet while still enjoying social outings, yet a restaurant would like to maintain only its food being served in the restaurant.

    From the restaurant’s perspective, they don’t go to the trouble and expense of building a restaurant so people will have a table to eat whatever food they bring in. However, in this case it is likely ignorance that caused the restaurant manager to ask the diner to leave, and clearly better empathy could have been exercised.

    A good way to prevent this type of unfortunate encounter would be to contact the restaurant in advance, speak with the general manager, and ask permission. Be willing to educate and explain how you are very interested in being a paying patron for those in the party who don’t have the dietary restrictions but don’t want to exclude anyone from the event either. Yes, it is extra work, but having a wife with wheat and gluten sensitivity has taught me that these conditions already are a lot of extra work. If the restaurant is unwilling to work with you and allow exceptions, then why give them your patronage? In any case, one shouldn’t make assumptions and suddenly arrive with outside food.

    While few restaurants can be considered gluten-free, especially if they have any wheat products (McDonald’s is not gluten free, even though their beef patties do not have gluten), some have ingredient lists to select food items without wheat or gluten as part of the recipe. For example, this posting mentioned Famous Dave’s as “a BBQ place that does not have food for celiacs

  3. I think it’d be better to notify the restaurant that one is wondering if one can bring in outside food to the establishment and perhaps buy a drink so the restaurant has some money coming in from you.

    I have contacted Arbys (just a few months ago) and all their meats are gluten free, just obviously not the bread. I have had no problems requesting the sandwiches without the bread.

  4. The correct thing to do is ask first. Perhaps the restaurant has had other requests for special diets and now offers unpublished options. Otherwise, if you just start eating outside food, you will most likely be asked to leave or put the food away. It is not your right to eat what you want where you want. Sorry. Establishment makes money by selling you items and rents you the seating space.

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