Unless you’re at a 100% gluten-free establishment, eating out gluten-free can be a little intimidating. We’ve been doing it for 30 years and still have to remember to take responsibility for our own health each time we go out. To make the experience a little less daunting, we’ve come up with a few questions to ask before you dig in to your meal.
Do you have a gluten-free menu?
If there is gluten-free menu available at the restaurant, it’s more likely that your meal will be stress-free. Still, be careful; just because the ingredients are gluten-free doesn’t mean that there won’t be cross-contamination on the way to your table. Make sure to explain that your food needs to be kept separate from the rest during all stages of preparation and serving.
I have a gluten allergy/ Celiac Disease. Do you know what gluten is?
It’s great that a lot of restaurants on jumping on the “gluten-free” bandwagon—more choices for us GF foodies out there! Unfortunately, this sometimes comes with a lack of understanding of the severity of the effects that gluten can have on our bodies. Make sure your server understands that you are not on a fad diet, but that you must follow this diet or become very ill. If your server does not understand your requests, it is OK to ask for a new one.
May I see the ingredients in the dressing or sauce?
As a GF eater, you are well aware that many dressings and sauces can contain gluten. You’re used to reading labels, and know what “hidden” words to look out for. A waiter may incorrectly assume that if “gluten” is not listed in the ingredients, it is gluten-free. To be absolutely sure, request to see the packaging yourself. If that is not possible, order your salads dry with vinegar and olive oil and ask for meats prepared with salt and pepper instead of sauce.
How do you avoid cross-contamination with gluten-containing ingredients?
Of course the ideal answer to this question would be separate kitchens, but as we know all too well, this is rarely possible. The next best thing is to have a dedicated area in the kitchen that is used only for preparing gluten-free items. Make sure to ask that they use fresh water when boiling your gluten-free pasta, and that they use a separate or freshly cleaned frying pan for your grilled item. If they use a shared grill, it might be useful to request that they put foil on the grill to prevent cross-contamination.
May I speak to the chef/ cook?
As cooks ourselves, we usually reserve this one for the most extreme cases. We’ve found that a growing number of servers are well versed in gluten-free preparation and serving procedures, so just letting them know about our diet is enough to ensure a safe meal. However, if things start to get suspicious (your waiter ensures you that “of course the bread is gluten-free; it’s made with spelt”), ask to speak to a manager or to the chef directly to make sure they truly understand what gluten-free is, and how to accommodate your needs.
Does that come with croutons or bread?
If the answer is “yes,” remind your waiter to leave it off. Often, a waiter will be completely knowledgeable and answer all the right questions about the gluten-free dining options, and then totally forget to relay to the kitchen to exclude simple things like croutons and bread. It may seem like a superfluous request, but better safe than sorry!
Will you check my order with the cook to make sure the meal I ordered is completely gluten-free?
If you’re confident about your order and trust what your server has told you, this one may not be necessary. However, if you’re still a bit nervous, it can serve as a final check to make sure there aren’t ingredients in your food that your server does not know the origin of, or that simply weren’t listed on the menu.
Do you have a comment card?
Let the staff know that you appreciate the extra effort they make to prepare and serve safe gluten-free meals. When restaurants get the feedback that their efforts are worthwhile, they will be much more likely to work to expand their allergy-friendly offerings.
Of course, you never have to ask these questions when dining at the Little Aussie Bakery! Our products are always 100% gluten-free, and our staff is highly educated in allergy-friendly dining. But if you have any other questions, we’re always here to help!