Gluten-Free or Allergen-Free Dining Tips in a Restaurant
Dining out gluten-free or with food allergies can be challenging. One wrong choice could turn a beautiful dining experience into a physical nightmare. The simplest approach is to stick with items such as salads, a baked potato and a naked chicken breast. To enjoy items that go beyond simple sustenance requires a few extra tools. Here are a few helpful tips.
Know the allergens. To avoid them, we must learn their different names and derivations. Gluten-free means no wheat, barley, couscous, kamut, bulgur or spelt, to start. Dairy-free means no milk, cream, curds, ghee and more.
Know about cooking processes. It’s easier to ask questions if we know how the food is prepared. For instance, wheat is often used to make sauces, as a thickener for soups and for dusting a piece of fish before frying. Milk may be used in potatoes, sauces, to help brown items and more. Many food allergens are present in packaged mixes, bouillon cubes and “starters”, a term restaurants use.
Stay aware of how we feel emotionally. Each time we dine out; take an inventory of our attitude and state of health. Be prepared to take an active role in the ordering process and decide beforehand how much cross-contact risk we are willing and able to take.
Cross-contact between food allergens is very difficult to avoid in a restaurant. Unless there is a separate preparation area, it can occur between devices such as shared toasters, grills and fryers. During the cooking process, shared water may be used between allergens, as well as cutting surfaces, utensils and towels. Frequent staff turnover adds to the challenge.
Hats off to restaurants that take the extra effort to cater to the gluten-free and food allergy community; it is not an easy task.
Look for “made from scratch” restaurants and search their menus for items we can enjoy.
Call ahead to ask if someone will be available to answer gluten-free questions and schedule an arrival time before or after the lunch or dinner rush, if possible.
At the restaurant, let the host know we are gluten-free or have a food allergen, and ask to be seated with the waitperson that has the best understanding of our needs.
Be polite when meeting the server and they will listen better. Don’t expect them to know every single ingredient in every item on the menu.
Be brief and be specific. Avoid just saying, “I’m gluten-free,” or “We’re dairy-free.” Provide at least three ingredients in each food allergy category.
Read every word in the item description, and ask if we don’t understand an ingredient or a name. Also, be inquisitive. Ask how the chosen item is made or if it’s garnished or served with ingredients not shown on the menu. Do not assume every ingredient appears on the menu.
When the meal arrives, confirm it is free from our allergens before eating it. Some restaurants use separate plates to identify allergens.
When finished, say thank you. It’s good karma.
Food and the environment surrounding it add quality and depth to our lives. Being prepared means that we will be able to enjoy dining with family and friends outside of home.
LynnRae Ries is the author of Waiter, is there Wheat in My Soup? Gluten Free Creations Bakery has locations at 7607 E. McDowell Rd., in South Scottsdale, and 10880 N. 32nd St., in North Phoenix. For more information, call 602-680-7258 or visit GFCBakery.com.