Enjoying meals out with friends and family should be an enjoyable experience without stress or challenge. For many of us, eating out presents regular challenges and stresses, especially if we have coeliac disease, IBS, intolerances or food allergies. Even now, with so many free from offerings, I still have challenges. When I was first diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2012, I found eating out was a real struggle to find anything that catered for gluten free diets, especially in my local area, so much so that I rarely went out, unless I knew for sure that it would cater for my needs. I also found certain people that didn’t know me very well would say irritating things about coeliac disease as they were unaware of the severity of having an autoimmune disease. But I do not want others to feel this way, you should be as social as possible, and get out there and enjoy eating out! Trust me, I have had some amazing experiences! You shouldn’t feel limited.
I have found that preparation and planning ahead is a major thing when having coeliac disease. If you plan ahead and take certain precautions you will be able to enjoy yourself and not have to worry about getting sick.
Here are my Tips for Eating Out If You’re Gluten Free:
Investigate the restaurant
If it’s a restaurant you’ve never been to, check out their website ahead of time. I always read the menu several times and even decide a week before what I am going to eat! Review their gluten free menu and any allergen statements they may have. Also, check to see if they make fresh bread, baked goods or pasta in the kitchen. Do they cook the gluten free food separately to the other food? If they do not, this could be a red flag for cross contamination.
Ask about the restaurant in a group or forum
I get many recommendations for restaurants and cafes from other people through reading their reviews. Lots of people share their discoveries on social media now, so you are very likely to find out some information about the restaurant that you are going to. I have also found that reading other gluten free bloggers restaurant reviews particularly helpful.
Call the restaurant
Before you go, call and ask questions about their gluten free menu/options. After speaking with someone on the phone, you should get a feel about whether they can truly accommodate your needs and understand cross contamination. If they seem a little unsure, I would advise not to enter the building!
Book a table when it is less busy
I know you can’t always avoid a busy place, especially in busy cities, but if you have the option to pick a time, choose a time when the place is a little quieter. I feel a lot more relaxed when it is less hectic and crazy, and the staff aren’t running around like headless chickens. Mistakes unfortunately can happen whatever time, however, I feel that the staff are less likely to botch up your order if you are there when it is less busy.
Tucking into my food at Leadbellys
If in doubt, speak to the manager
Don’t feel like you a being a nuisance because you have asked to speak with the manager if there is a problem. When you bring the manager into it, chances are your meal will be prepared with a little more caution and attention. Even now with more awareness about coeliac disease, I still find that certain places do not educate their staff enough and this results in blank looks and confusion. I find that using key words when I order, such as ”gluten makes me very ill” and make sure that I say ”coeliac disease”. Even though coeliac disease is not an allergy, sometimes I do say “severe gluten allergy” just because that often will make a server take extra precaution with my meal. Whatever you feel like you need to say, make sure you say it!
Be specific when you order
Make sure you clearly state your order and explain why. Always ask about how the food is prepared, check that the food you are about to order is definitely gluten free, even if it has a gluten free label next to it on the menu.
Doubt it? Go without it!
If I feel that the food is going to make me ill, I will dodge it. Don’t be embarrassed or feel like you need to be polite and just eat it. If you are not happy, tell the staff that you do not think it has been prepared right, and they will send it back and re cook another meal for you.
Always be polite
You would think that this would be an obvious one, however I have been out with a bunch of gluten free eaters and someone was very rude to the waiter about the food as they thought that the food didn’t look right and it was sent back. I understand that it is stressful when eating out at new surroundings, but being rude isn’t going to get you anywhere. Politely speak to your server about your situation, kindly request to speak to the manager and if there is something wrong with your meal you don’t need to go totally cray cray! Staff can find it very stressful too, as many restaurants that I have been to really try incredibly hard to accommodate for the needs of their customers and for all they know you could be an undercover spy from another restaurant, or a food critic that will write terrible things about their restaurant, so do be polite. If my experience is a good one, I always take the time to let my server and other staff know that I appreciate the extra care they took of my food! I will not only give them a nice tip, but I may just share a pic on social media or write a nice review on my blog.
Bring your own food to an event
I know this sounds awkward, but if you are invited to an event or party that doesn’t cater for your needs, then bring your own gluten free food. That way, you know you will be safe from any contamination! I would rather have an enjoyable evening, rather than worrying about whether or not the food was going to make me ill.
I hope these tips help you!