After a day of distraction, I am catching up on the gluten free world and I came upon this article published recently out of  Canada.  Waiters’ top 20 ways to not be a horrible restaurant customer.  I had to peek inside that sensational headline.

Sure enough here is what I found in the #2 spot of 20 things that annoy servers at restaurants:

 Allergies and intolerances and gluten free, oh my!

Everybody these days seems to have some form of dietary restriction, and servers are constantly hearing about new allergies and intolerances — and don’t get me started on gluten free! The scene below happens in some form or another all the time:

Client: I’m allergic to nuts.

Server: Well the plate you ordered has nuts in it. Would you like something else?

Client: No I’ll still take it.

Server: Great! Do you have any other allergies that you made up?
– Quote from MontrealGazette.com

In my view there are a few things going on here.

I do think the fad gluten free diet has made some servers more cynical  about catering to it (but that doesn’t give any excuse for the scenario above with the nut allergy.  Who in their right mind would eat a meal with nuts if they really had a nut allergy?  Which I suppose is why the server believes this scenario is “made up”.)

There are many Americans who believe that we celiacs eat gluten free because it is trendy and they don’t have to have a gluten free meal for medical reasons.  Similar to the example above, I once had a restaurant manager say  it can be frustrating when a customer asks for a gluten free meal, and they work very hard to make that meal gluten free, and then later they see the same customer eating bread or having a gluteny dessert.

In my view it is important for all of us to stick together.  If you are gluten free (for whatever reason — trend, weight loss, a sensitivity or celiac) we should all treat it the same– no gluten.  Picking croutons off a salad, taking a burger off a bun, just contributes to the misinformation, confusion and potential cynicism for servers, restaurant managers and chefs.  If you didn’t realize there was nuts, gluten, soy, shellfish, or another allergen in your food when you ordered and you later recognize it, ask for a different meal.

Pizza Luce Duluth GF Pizza

We have had luck with Pizza Luce restaurants in MN, where servers and chefs are are trained in gluten free procedures

Increase your chances of a great gluten free (or other allergen free) experience at a restaurant

There are things we can do to improve our experience dining out with food intolerances, allergies and gluten-free needs.

  • Choose a restaurant that is friendly to gluten free (or other allergen) requests.  Gluten free folks can do this by checking out Find Me Gluten Free online or through the app.  Also Gluten Free Registry has restaurant information.
  • Call ahead to the restaurant.  The phone call will make the restaurant realize you’re serious.  It may not always be possible to call ahead, but consider doing this when you can.  Ask to talk to the manger or chef.
  • At the restaurant, talk to the manager or chef before meeting up with the waiter at your table. They can often guide you on how to order safely at their restaurant and some good menu options for you.  And they’ll keep an eye out for your order in the kitchen.
  • If you have requested gluten free then be gluten free.  If a mistake happens and your salad comes with a big gluteny bread stick on it, send it back and clarify why you cannot eat it.
  • Finally, if you have had a great gluten free meal, make sure the restaurant knows it. Tip the waiter well.  Compliment the chef and/or manager.  Return to give them your loyal business.  A little love and appreciation goes a long way.

The above article may be there purely to grab a reader’s attention, but I think there may be some truth to what they are saying — unfortunately.

Yeah, there will always be a waiter who is kind of a pill.  Like in a case highlighted in a New York Times advice column by Florence Fabricant (FloFab) back in 2010 when a reader claimed a waiter joked about her food allergy.  FloFab advised:  “If a wait person is making you uncomfortable, I would get up from the table, go to the manager of the restaurant and very quietly explain the situation. And let the manager handle it. Obviously that wait person has been badly trained and the restaurant could use a wake-up call.”

What else would you add to the list to improve your chances of a win-win gluten free experience for you and the restaurant?

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3 Responses to “A Gluten Free Customer’s Best Practices at a Restaurant”

  1. As a former server, who is not gf, I think this is a great article. Any good server or bartender worth their stuff will always do their best to ensure a safe and pleasant dining experience. Nicely yet firmly, patrons should make their needs clear from the start, with patience being used on both sides for any extra time needed to accomplish a gf experience.

    I do think those who are simply trying to be trendy give people with true intolerance a bad rap. It is more work for all staff involved, and any unnecessary work simply slows things down for all in the restaurant ( including other guests).

    Also, I’d add, I think calling ahead is a great idea, but please keep in mind calling during a Friday night rush isn’t the time to do it! ;-). Off peak hours calls will be much more fruitful!

  2. If you have celiacs, be very clear to tell your server that it’s an allergy – not a preference, not a diet, not a trend. I find that the word “allergy” triggers a much more serious response from the waitstaff and cooks.

  3. I have an inlaw that eats quasi gluten free because her chiropractor told her to. I’d say she eats gluten free 30% of the time. She has, when her and I have been out at a restaurant, ordered something GF, then turned around and asked for a side or dessert with gluten in it, or ordered a beer. When the waiter pointed out that it had gluten in it, she responded with “well, I’ll go ahead and have it” without explaining further. It might have seemed rude but I made a point to distinguish to the waiter that she eats gf by choice, while I eat it due to an actual celiac diagnosis. But truthfully, it irritates me that she does that when we go out to eat, because it makes it much harder for me (and other celiacs or people who cannot eat a trace of gluten). I don’t blame restaurants for feeling irritated.

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