The deluge of companies that are coming up with gluten-free menus is amazing!!!  The list of gluten-free friendly restaurants and those with gluten-free menus has expanded tremendously in the last three years, but who are they doing it for: us or them?  I ask because I’m going a little nutty over some of the service of these places and how these menus tend to be filled with stripped down versions of a regular meal just to make it gluten-free.  I’m not talking about a “minor stripping” –because clearly chefs have to adjust for gluten intolerances.  I’m talking about an all out humiliating, bare-naked stripping of the entrees….well, just take a look at the following examples and you’ll know where I”m coming from.

Gluten-free Menu Case in Point #1

Chili’s.

They’re everywhere and it really is nice to go into a restaurant and order something gluten-free from their gluten-free menu.  Last week we went there, the server knew nothing about what actually was ON the gluten-free menu and what the restrictions even meant.

While eyeing the menu I saw the chicken caesar salad.  Yum!  But when you read the fine print on the menu it says:

Chili's Chicken Caesar Salad -- Hold the Dressing!

“All Listed w/o Dressing, Croutons & Tortilla Strips”

I understand the no croutons and tortilla strips, but no dressing?  So I’m just going to get plain, romaine lettuce with chicken?  Why bother putting that on the menu at all?  Does it make the gluten-free menu just “look” better?

We ended up agreeing on a plan burger, no bun, and their rice.  Emma’s meal came out with the bunless, plain burger (yup she can have) and french fries that she didn’t order (and no, she can’t have) — thus contaminating the entire meal.   Yup — time to send it back.  To give them credit, the manager said they would make it right recooked her a fresh meal and apologized.  Chili’s has a descent, basic selection from which to choose on their gluten-free menu:  burgers, ribs, steak and chicken but what worries me is that if the servers don’t know what they’re doing, then  it makes me skeptical about what is happening behind the doors in the kitchen.

Gluten-free Menu Case in point #2

Romano’s Macaroni Grill.

I took Emma there Friday night for a girls’ night out of dinner and a little shopping.  We get the menu and I scanned it for information.  And I saw their pasta dishes and I thought “Wow! That’s new!! They’ve added gf pasta!”  But look a little more closely at the menu from the picture I took of it  while we were there:

Handcrafted Pasta -- minus the Pasta!

Yes, it actually says Handcrafted Pasta on the menu with two items — that say “w/o pasta”  Huh?  Again here, I ask the same question.  Why are the pasta dishes even on there?

I have emailed both Chili’s and Romano’s Macaroni Grill for a response.  I am sad to say instead of having someone really address the issue, I got canned (nearly identical) responses even though I explained my concern and that I was hoping for an on-the-record response for my blog.  Here it is:

Thank you for contacting Chili’s [For Macaroni Grill (MG) insert that here] for information on menu items that would be suitable for your dietary needs.

At Chili’s [MG], a top priority is always the health and safety of our guests. As part of this ongoing commitment, we provide the most current allergen menu information available from our food suppliers on the eight most common allergens to help our guests with food allergies to make informed food selections. Below is a link to suggested menu items for Egg, Fish, Dairy, Peanuts, Shellfish, Soy, Tree Nuts, and Wheat/Gluten allergens.

Because this list expires on a monthly basis, please be sure to contact us for an updated version or please bookmark the below link and check it at the first of every month. We hope that you are able to choose a meal to your liking and look forward to serving you soon. ” [added a link to the menus listed above]

Should we shut up and be grateful?

Anyone who reads this post who doesn’t deal with the gluten-free lifestyle may just wonder what the problem is…and that maybe we should just suck it up and be grateful.  Should we?  Should I be happy that my daughter can have a dry caesar salad with chicken, but at least she can go out to eat with my family (there was a time when I did feel that way)?  Or should we be holding out for something more?

There are times where I think I should just be quiet and be thankful.  But other times I want to be loud and proud.  I crank up a rant and let it go — as I have today. What do you think? Should we suck it up?  Or should we hold out for more?

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7 Responses to “The Rant: Stripping down the menu to make it Gluten Free”

  1. I agree with your rant and for that exact reason, I no longer patronize chain restaurants and their half attempts to serve the GF community. I much prefer the mom and pop independant restaurants – servers are actually knowledgeable (usually very!), chefs totally willing to accomodate and I always have a great meal! The benefits of living in Minneapolis and having tons of non-chain options!

  2. I’ve done plenty of eye-rolling at things like this. The Asian salad without the Asian dressing or crispy noodles is the one I’ve come across most often. They can be pretty thoughtless.

    On the other hand, I really don’t feel that restaurants are obligated to cater to my special needs. I’m very grateful for the ones that do, and those are the places that get my business. But I don’t really resent it when they can’t accommodate.

    I guess I do, though, resent it when they claim that they can accommodate without making any reasonable effort to learn what that really entails. Chili’s went into that category for me with my first visit after diagnosis. You can have them print out the current list, but the staff generally have NO IDEA what it all means. My server was surprised to learn that there was a list to be gotten. Great.

  3. I praise the places that are good. We went to Red Robbin last night and the server was knowledgeable. I thanked the manager. I think we should keep spreading the word about good places and they will get our business.
    I do appreciate (to an extent) that a place will list what parts of a menu item are or aren’t GF. ex: At Culvers they say none of their burgers are GF and we are guessing it is because of the bun. If they listed it seperate then we could at least decide if we wanted part of the burger.
    Last week we went to Pei Wei (affiliated with PF Chang). They also had a good knowledge of the menu. The menu was small, but good.

  4. I almost had to laugh at the Romano’s Macaroni Grill Menu – I ate there last week and thought the same thing. I don’t know if you have Pizzaria Uno’s where you are – they are in Florida and Illinois and they have a pizza that they cook in a separate part of the ovens and isolate the ingredients. The offer cheese, pepperoni and Veggi. Mushrooms are not part of the Veggi and when I asked for them I was told that they couldn’t guarantee the pizza because they were not isolated and could be cross-contaminated.

    I was actually pleased that they were that thorough and the staff was well-informed.

  5. Chili’s does have salad dressings you can put on their salads but they are just listed separate from the rest of the list. So, they always give you the salad listed without dressing. You can’t use the Caesar dressing but there are dressings you can use. You could use the listed dressings with that salad instead.

    I actually appreciate that Chili’s lists things without gluten because I have a big group of friends who go to various restaurants and this is one of the places they can afford. Unlike Applebee’s, which has no list at all and doesn’t try in any way, shape, or form. They just have a phone number to call and put gluten in darn everything, at least Chili’s tries. If you explain everything – no bun, etc., etc. – you can get a meal there. I have the house salad with honey mustard dressing and one of their soups. You can also have a side of mashed potatoes with chicken, and a salad. I have to work a little harder, but when my friends go there, I can eat there. I will never walk into another Applebee’s ever again in my life – friends or no. No attempt whatsoever!!!

  6. I had a horrible reaction after eating at Pei Wei. I ordered everything gluten free but there was obvioulsy cross contamination. The first time I ate at PF Changs was fantastic, the second time I bloated and broke out with the DH rash. Again, must have been cross contamination. I have tried gluten free menus at Wendy’s, Subway, Bill Miller BBQ and Austin’s Pizza and so far, Austin’s pizza is the only place that I haven’t had a reaction to. I am ready to give up eating out due to cross contamination issues. Eating fresh at home is truly the safest way to eat. I have heard that Gattis pizza now offers gluten free but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk to try it.

  7. Vote with your dollars. And contact restaurants that have a good gluten free menu to let them know that you appreciate it and that you’re frequenting them because of it. And let the others know that you’d love to frequent theirs, but their gluten free menu is too crummy. Let them know you’ll be back when it’s better. If restaurants are going to offer more gluten free options it’s going to be a business decision.

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