In my humble opinion, eating out with Celiac Disease can be an adventure filled with anxiety of the unknown. Eating out safely with food restrictions is a learning process and in my case, a painful one. You learn pretty quickly which types of restaurants and staff you can trust and how to explain your food requirements. It is so important for Celiacs to feel comfortable navigating gluten-free menus and asking the right questions in order to create positive dining experiences free of glutening.
I’ve found a few things that have helped me feel comfortable eating out:
- Gluten-free menu. Be careful with these. Although I usually will not eat at a restaurant without a gluten-free menu, some of these are not always safe. The gluten-free diet has become popular with many people who do not have Celiac Disease or an intolerance. Some restaurants are cashing in on this and their staff is not properly trained to cook for an allergy or their kitchens are not properly equipped. Even if a restaurant has a gluten-free menu, make sure to do your research beforehand.
- Calling Ahead. There is nothing wrong with calling a restaurant before deciding to eat there. When I’m unsure of how a gluten-free menu is handled, I call ahead and ask. It doesn’t hurt and it saves the embarrassment of leaving once you get there and discover you can’t dine safely. When I call ahead, I like to make sure I’m talking to a manager or someone who is more informed.
- Asking the right questions. When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I wasn’t tough enough with the questions I asked when eating out. That resulted in some terrible reactions. You need to be clear and firm with your dietary needs. I like to ask how they do things in kitchen: do they have a separate area, fryer, etc. Does the staff switch their gloves or is everyone trained on what to do? If it’s a slow time of the day, there’s also nothing wrong with asking to speak with the chef if you have additional worries. Being forward and asking these types of questions not only lets the staff know how serious my dietary needs are, it makes me feel more comfortable.
- Following up. When the waiter or waitress brings my food, I always like to follow up about my meal being gluten-free. I like to ask if he or she made sure to tell the kitchen staff of my needs. I think doing this is a great added precaution.
- Technology. Lately I’ve been using apps to find gluten-free menu and restaurant options. One that I recommend is called: Find Me Gluten Free.
It takes awhile to test the waters when it comes to finding the “safe” restaurants to eat at. But it’s definitely worth it. Although I still always get a little nervous before eating out, it feels great being able to comfortably enjoy the same restaurants as friends. Food is a social thing, after all. Cheers!