Question: I have had celiac disease for 2 years and I’m comfortable cooking at home. When I eat out, however, sometimes I run into servers who don’t seem to take my dietary restriction seriously. How do I get them to understand that I have to be gluten-free and I’m not just on some fad diet that I read about in a magazine? -James W.
Answer: Your question is an excellent one. You are not alone! It has long been my opinion that restaurant eating is the most challenging aspect of being gluten-free. As a first step, please take a look at the detailed list of suggestions on our website. In addition to what you will read there, here are some other tips you may find helpful:
1. Having basic knowledge of how food is prepared provides a tremendous advantage and will help you to know which questions to ask depending on what you are planning to order.
2. It is important that your servers understand that you cannot have any items containing flour, wheat, or gluten. This may help them understand the scope of your restriction. Many people try to handle menu decisions on their own without involving the server, which increases their chances of receiving an unsafe meal.
3. Use of the word “allergy” vs. celiac disease: There seems to be a bit of a backlash against people with “gluten allergy” as evidenced by comments made on late-night talk shows and sitcoms, as well as memes shared on social networking. To clarify, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy. However, many with CD use the term “allergy” with the goal of emphasizing the seriousness of their special diet. According to servers interviewed, some customers claim to have a “gluten allergy” and then proceed to order food with gluten. Understandably, this is confusing to wait staff! Since so many people use the phrase “gluten allergy” these days (including people who are trying a new fad diet, those who heard it was healthy, and those with true intolerance, wheat allergy, or celiac disease) this two-word phrase has become confusing and significantly less meaningful over the past several years. Perhaps you can say, “I have celiac disease so I need to be strictly gluten-free.”
4. To dine out safely, it is vital to understand the ins and outs of the diet. Know which ingredients you can and cannot have. When we solely rely on the wait and cook staff, who may have little or no knowledge of which ingredients contain gluten, it is risky. While they may be aware that bread and pasta contain gluten, they may not be trained to scrutinize ingredient lists for words such as malt, rye, oats, barley, or even wheat. If you would like to receive counseling to discuss the specifics of a GF diet, consider scheduling an appointment with a dietitian who thoroughly understands your disease and its sole treatment.
Thank you for your question and I wish you happy and safe dining!
Trisha B. Lyons, RDN