Dining Out Tips
Tips for Dining Out
Someone asked me the other day if my gluten intolerance was challenging when dining out with friends and family at a restaurant or café. My initial reaction was, “Oh goodness no! I love food and I love going out – my eating gluten-free rarely gets in the way of eating at various restaurants around the world.”
But then I thought about it and placed my fork on my plate and looked down at the Greek salad I had just ordered for lunch. Granted, it is my favorite salad from one of Udi’s cafes in Denver, where I know everything is prepared fresh and is safe from cross contamination.
I reflected on the early days of my initial diagnosis when I was told that the gluten in my daily diet was making me ill. Let’s just call a spade a spade, I was in total denial. And yes, going out to eat those first couple of months was daunting, but as your Udi’s Gluten Free friend, I am here to tell you that it can be less challenging, embarrassing or high maintenance if you know before you go.
Dining out is a skill, especially when you must eat a gluten free diet. Here are a few tips on what I do when I dine out – remember I am not a medical professional nor should this list be an end all to save all. If you are newly diagnosed, you will find your own balance and techniques and if you have been living gluten free a while and have tips as well, please share! We can all learn from each other.
1) Don’t let the menu, nor the server or chef intimidate you when indicating right off the bat that your meal must be gluten free. “Must” is the key word.
2) Be confident, attentive and polite. Attentive in the sense that you know there are hidden little gluten offenders hiding in sauces, French Fries and some meats. Get to know your food!
Just the other night, I asked our server if she would please double check that the sweet pepper sausage they were about to put on my gluten free pizza was in fact gluten-free. Luckily, it was gluten-free and even though the server had hesitation, my dining companion politely reminded her that I would become ill if it wasn’t safe.
3) Dine with delight. I always think about a scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally – no not the infamous Katz deli scene, but the scene where she orders everything on the side. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnlm2e3EN78
Sometimes I feel like everyone is looking at me this way when I order. Of course, it doesn’t need to be this way! Encourage your friends and family who are your biggest supporters to also serve as your gluten-free champions at the dinner table. Lean on them to make you feel comfortable when dining out.
4) State the obvious. Sometimes you have to get truly specific beyond wheat, rye and barley and specifically say FLOUR or anything that comes in contact with bread or pasta etc. Countless times I will have people return to the table and ask if I can have dairy, rice or potatoes. I appreciate their concern, but then I take that moment and inform them on what foods contain gluten and those that do not.
5) Play detective. Do your homework prior to trying out a new restaurant or call ahead. I have done this countless times and it actually works because the staff knows in advance what I can eat. This is particularly important at parties, weddings and special events.
6) Be adaptable. Restaurants are busy places and sometime in your dining career you will be served something that is full of bread, pasta or croutons. Sometimes in rare occasions it is more than just simply sending your food back to the kitchen. One little trick I have done when my meal or salad is contaminated, is put dressing on the salad or add a pad of butter to the side, that way I know the chefs in the back aren’t just taking the croutons, bread or sauce off – they are actually creating my true gluten free meal.
The other day I visited a notable “taco” quick service restaurant in Denver. I announced that I was gluten free and the entire line immediately took off their gloves, replaced their spoons and handed me a card that was allergy friendly for what I could eat. I was impressed. If only other restaurants would follow the same protocol. Needless to say, I will return for ‘corn tacos’ again!
And lastly – have fun! I am looking forward to hearing from you and how you eat gluten free at restaurants.
Until next time and Be Udiful!