GF Restaurant Dining Tips
Taken in part from: www.celiacdisease.about.com with edits from Network Members
For those newly diagnosed with celiac disease, restaurants can be particularly difficult, especially for those who are shy about asking questions.
1. Don’t start out hungry. The hungrier you are, the more likely you are to make a mistake. If you must go to a restaurant hungry, bring some GF crackers to munch on while everyone else is filling up on the rolls.
2. Be familiar with the gluten-free diet. This means not only knowing which grains to avoid but also where they’re likely to be hidden and the need to protect yourself against cross-contamination.
3. Select the right restaurant. Look for the menu online. If you’re still not sure whether anything safe will be available for you, call ahead, preferably when the restaurant isn’t busy around 2-3pm, and speak with the chef or the manager.
Note: If you’ll be dining at an Italian restaurant, call to ask whether they have GF pasta. Could you bring your own? Many restaurants will happily prepare your gluten-free pasta and top it with their own fresh sauce.
4. Tell your server you’re on a special diet. Don’t try to explain your needs to a server who’s standing on the other side of your table. Ask him or her to come closer so you don’t have to shout.
Celiac disease is not an allergy, but if you think they don’t understand, now is not the time to explain autoimmune. Tell them you can’t have wheat or barley, and you are on a gluten free diet.
Consider bringing along a GF dining card to explain what you can and cannot eat. Cards are available in a wide variety of languages (Triumph Dining is 1 example).
5. Pick a few dishes on the menu that look as if they might be safe, and ask questions. You might find it easier to be the last person in the group to place your order. That way you’ll know the server is going directly back to the kitchen and is less likely to forget what you’ve told him. Start by saying something like:” I can’t have anything made with wheat & barley like flour, or bread crumbs, or soy sauce. Could you please ask your chef whether the _______ would be safe for me?” Don’t assume that anything is gluten-free. Even if a menu item looks safe, you might not realize that the chef’s secret recipe includes gluten.
6. Here are some additional questions to ask:
DUSTING– Ask if any of your food, especially meats, have been dusted with wheat or other gluten containing flour before being sautéed or fried. Avoid anything that says it has “Grille Baste” on it.
EGGS – Request that eggs, no matter the style, are prepared in a clean pan and not on the grill so as to avoid cross contamination. Be cautious when ordering an omelet as some contain pancake/waffle batter to make them fluffy. If ordering scrambled eggs, ask if they are made from fresh eggs or from a mix as some egg mixes may contain flour thickeners.
HERBAL TEAS – may contain barley.
ICE CREAM – Request that a cookie is not put in or next to it. Ask that a clean scoop be used for your serving so “cookies and cake” crumbs from previously scooped ice creams are not still adhering to the scoop.
BACON – Is it cooked in the oven or deep fried? If deep fried, is the fryer “dedicated” so no other items that have breading or wheat flour are cooked in it? Is the bacon drained on bread? (Restaurants that make their own croutons sometimes drain on bread to capture the flavor from the drippings.)
BACON BITS – Are they or other “meats” on potato skins and in salads artificial? If so, they must be avoided.
BBQ SAUCE – Be cautious as some contain beer or other “secret” ingredients that may contain gluten.
HAMBURGERS – In addition to requesting they be cooked in a clean pan to avoid cross contamination from a shared grill, do ask if there are bread crumbs in them. Some restaurants incorporate bread into their ground beef to make it more moist.
PIZZA – Be especially cautious if you are eating in an independently owned pizza restaurant. You definitely need to call ahead to find out if they are purchasing pre-made GF pizza crusts that are kept separate from their “regular” ones. If the restaurant makes their on GF dough, it must be made in a separate area as wheat flour remains in the air for up to 24 hours and the fine dust will settle into and onto everything. The mixer must be dedicated to GF dough. Toppings and sauce must be from separate, GF containers; the pizza pans and prep utensils must be dedicated to GF pizzas and ideally will look different from their regular pizza pans. Some people with celiac disease will only eat pizza from restaurants with separate, GF ovens due to concern something may fall on their GF pizza from the ceiling of the shared oven.
BAKED POTATOES – Ask that your baked potato be brought to the table uncut to insure a knife used to slice bread is not used on your potato.
FRENCH FRIES – Must be made in a dedicated fryer so other items that are breaded are not in the same oil. If the fryer and its oil are “dedicated” and thus gluten-free, ask if the used oils are drained separately or combined with the other fryers for draining at night.
MASHED POTATOES – From a mix or from fresh potatoes? Do they contain flour to thicken them?
REQUEST that no croutons, breadsticks or crackers be placed on or near your plate. Ideally, your dining companions will request no croutons as well so that a crouton does not accidentally get bumped onto your salad from an overloaded serving tray on the way to your table. If salads are mixed in a prep bowl in the kitchen, ask that yours is done in a clean, separate bowl to avoid crouton or meat-coating crumbs from previous salads.
DRESSING – Ask if it is made in house or is commercial and check to see what it contains. Malt vinegars, which are made from barley, contain gluten. Some dressings use flour to thicken them and some citrus-type dressings contain soy sauce.
CHICKEN and tuna-style salads – may contain wheat.
SALSA – Especially when traveling outside of Ohio, ask if the freshly made salsas are GF as some kitchens put wheat flour in them (for example in New Mexico.)
SEAFOOD – Always ask if it is in a salad, soup, or similar dish as you must avoid imitation crab and seafood as it contains gluten.
SOUP – Is it totally made from scratch? Is a powder or canned commercial starter used? If so, does it contain gluten? If it is a creamed soup, check to be certain a wheat flour roux was not used to thicken it. If it is a gazpacho, ask if fine breadcrumbs have been incorporated to thicken it.
SPECIAL INGREDIENTS – If the menu or waitstaff indicate the dish contains a chef’s special/ secret ingredient, you must inquire as to whether it is GF. If the staff will not disclose what it is, then it is best to ask them to leave it off or for you to choose something else since it may be a spice blend with a wheat flour thickener or breadcrumbs or beer or soy sauce, etc.
VEGETABLES – If steamed, be certain they have not been immersed in hot, used pasta water.
7. Caution the restaurant staff about cross-contamination. Remind the server and the chef that your food must be prepared on a clean cooking surface, using clean utensils. Many restaurant staffers will not realize the risks of cross-contamination unless these are pointed out to them. All places stock foil. Ask them if they could cook your entree on a piece of foil if it is cooked on a grill with buns, etc.
8. Be prepared to eat something that isn’t your first choice.
Sometimes nothing on the menu will be safe. Ask if the cook can sauté some plain meat or fish in olive oil or butter and steam some vegetables for you. It won’t be the tastiest meal you ever had, but your goal should be to eat food that won’t make you sick, and enjoy your companions and the fact you don’t have to cook or clean up!
Want more? Read: Venturing out of the house: Restaurant Realities by Danna Korn
When Eating at the Homes of Relatives and Friends
It can be challenging to dine at a friend’s or relative’s home. If possible, it is beneficial if you can assist with meal preparation so you see exactly what is going into each menu item. This also enables you to catch the inadvertent cross-contamination from shared prep utensils, pots and strainers that are not totally gluten free due to specks of previous food. In addition, you will see if a previously opened container, such as mayonnaise or jelly, is being used since chances are, there are gluten crumbs in them from the “double dipping” of knives and utensils.
If your host does not want you to actually help prepare food, you may be able to sit close by with a beverage to chat while the meal is being assembled. In situations where guests are each bringing a dish, you may want to isolate your contribution and put a note that it is gluten-free or just bring a separate container for yourself in
addition to the dish for all to share. If your host indicates they will have gluten-free foods available for you, it is best to explore what and how they will be served so you don’t see a delicious, GF item surrounded by regular crackers or placed next to something laden with crumbs.
Depending upon the situation, you may also be able to ask your host if you can “start” the buffet line which will lessen the chance of accidental cross contamination from people ahead of you as they use the various serving utensils.
When spending the night, just assume you should have your own box of GF cereal with you. If bringing bread, also have your toaster sleeves so you can use the host’s toaster.
“Toast It” Toaster Bags come 2 for $4.50 + shipping on their website. Also available on Amazon. Each bag can be reused multiple times. A must have if you are traveling– using the toaster at the continental breakfast bar or family/friend’s house.