Eating Gluten Free at Restaurants

After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, it certainly makes an impact on the diet that is required to be followed.   Suddenly a great interest is now shown on what is actually being eaten and what ingredients go into these foods.  This can quickly be turned into a positive; as the more we are aware of "what" our food contains it is actually better for our health and well being.

Initially eating out at restaurants can appear to be too hard or a little daunting for some.   this does not have to be the case if a little preparation is done prior to visiting the restaurant.

One hope is that, as more people request gluten free food, the more freely it will become available. Just think about the changes to menus that has taken place with vegetarian food. 

Choosing the restaurant. If possible choose a restaurant that caters for patrons who are gluten intolerant or have a good understanding of the requirements of a gluten free meal. Call and speak to the staff and ask if they serve gluten free food. If you get a positive response and they make you feel comfortable that they actually know what it means to be celiac or gluten intolerant. This is an encouraging sign, but if it is a negative response, maybe it is easier to choose another restaurant.

Gluten Free Menus. Many restaurants will mark gluten free meals with a "GF".   This will give peace of mind and indicate the meal is suitable to be eaten by someone suffering from celiac disease.

However, it should always be pointed out to the wait staff that you are a celiac and that is the reason the gluten free meal is being requested.   Sometimes meals are adapted to be gluten free by the chef once the order is placed.   it is recommended to speak up and play it safe.

It is encouraged to give the restaurant feedback on how nice it was to have the menu marked with "gf".  Positive comments will only encourage more restaurants to follow suit.

When ordering from a normal menu, think about what foods can be eaten and focus on that.   It is advisable to let your server/waiter know a gluten free meal is required and do they have a gluten-free menu.   Take note as sometimes a statement will be at the bottom of the menu saying "Gluten Free menu available on request."  If the waiter is unsure ask to speak to someone from the kitchen.   Most waiters are more than happy to check meals with the Chef.   It is not that difficult for some meals to be adapted to be gluten free.   For example:  Battered fish can be changed to Grilled Fish.   Salads can be made without croutons, or dressings can be left out.   Steaks can be served without sauces or gravy.

Talking about dietary requirements is very important and time needs to be spent with the waiter to ensure the correct food has been ordered.   It is a good idea to talk to the waiter when everyone else in the party is still looking at their menu and before they have ordered.

Consider what type of food the restaurant serves. Prior research on your restaurant is invaluable. Making a simple choice between different styles of restaurants could make all the difference.   An example, could be choosing a thai restaurant rather than the local pizza parlour. 

A thai restaurant can normally make a large range of dishes that are gluten free.   Some may leave out the soya sauce and oyster sauce while others will have gluten free soya and oyster sauces available to substitute.   Speak to the local thai restaurant and more than not, they will get the gluten free sauces in to substitute if they are aware there is a requirement. Indian restaurants are also another good option.

Some pizza restaurants may only make wheat-base pizzas bases.   This is why it is important to check if gluten free bases and toppings are available.   Otherwise  you may have to be satisfied with a salad, if available.   As it clearly shows by these examples it is important to know what type of food is served.   This will help determine if it is possible to eat there safely.

 


Is cheese gluten free??   Cheese is naturally gluten free.  However in some restaurants grated cheese is dusted with flour to prevent it from clumping together and to make it easier to spread on pizzas, salads, nachos etc.  When ordering dishes that contain cheese check with the wait staff to see if the cheese has been dusted in flour. 

Learn more about a gluten free diet. The more information and knowledge that can be gained about the gluten free diet will certainly give confidence when speaking and ordering meals at restaurants.  It is not necessary to know every ingredient  or to become a  “cookbook encyclopaedia” but before long, it will be surprising to realize just how much has been learnt.

Some foods will soon become very obvious as not being gluten free on the menu, and they will be able to be discounted straight away.  An example to this could be any food that is crumbed, battered, crispy or gratin. Other foods may not be that obvious - such as foods that are marinated or have dressings.   These foods need to be investigated as they may or may not be gluten free.

What to do if you are still not happy. If, after speaking to the staff and they have not been able to inspire confidence in the requirements of a gluten free meal, there is really only  one of two choices to make:

  • Say thank you for their assistance and leave the restaurant.
     
  • Order a very basic meal. It could be simply steamed vegetable and steamed rice, or grilled steak without sauce and a green garden salad without dressing.   This may not be the most exciting meal, but at least it will not cause any problems of feeling unwell.   Try and remember it is only one meal in a life time and the reason why the decision was made to stay - this was to socialize with friends. This is one time you should enjoy the company of your friends, rather than the meal!!!

Going out to dinner at restaurants is something everyone enjoys and should not be a bad experience. This should be the same for people who have celiac disease. It may take a little more planning or a few more questions but with practise it will become second nature. Getting to know the local restaurants can be a blessing. Once they know the requirements for a gluten free meal, it will always be one place you can go and not have to check or ask questions. Be adventurous – nice food is too good to miss out on.