Problems at allegedly gluten free restaurants are almost invariably caused by cross-contamination. Here are some strategies that may improve you chances for having a great experience.
♦ Do lots of homework before visiting the restaurant but don’t reveal your knowledge to the restaurant staff. Ask lots of questions, and be prepared to walk out of the restaurant if you do not get appropriate answers.
♦ Find out exactly how the restaurant defines ‘gluten free’. An obvious example: Domino’s Pizza offers a gluten free pizza but indicates that cross-contamination makes their pizza inappropriate for persons with celiac disease. We may criticize this designation but we must agree that Domino’s has been honest about what it can and can’t do for us. Read and carefully consider the ‘disclaimers’ you find on the restaurant’s website or on its gluten free menu.
♦ Don’t ask yes/no questions. Encourage your food server to talk about the food.
♦ Use the term ‘allergy’ freely, even though it is probably not technically correct. That term sends a clear and simple message — don’t feed me wheat, rye, or barley. Many restaurant workers do not speak or understand English fluently, but they know what to do when they hear the word ‘allergy’.
♦ Use restaurant cards. These card contain information that the people preparing your meal need to know. Perhaps most importantly, the fact that you have purchased printed cards sends a message that you take gluten free dining seriously and that you expect them to do likewise. (Triumph Dining sells these cards in ten different languages as well a gluten free restaurant guide and stickers that you can use to identify gluten free products in your kitchen at home.)
♦ Always ask for a gluten free menu, even if you already know what you intend to order. Can your food server find the menu quickly? This will give you a quick insight into how capable your food server is.
♦ Patronize restaurants that have a good reputation in the gluten free community. I recently read four lists of favorite gluten free restaurants. The Chipotle restaurant chain was mentioned on all four of them. Runner-up was PF Changs which was mentioned three times. The Bonefish Grill, Carrabbas Italian Grill, and the Outback Steakhouse each got two mentions. Ted’s Montana Grill, Legal Seafood, Pizza Fusion, Subway, and The Melting Pot got one mention each.