going out to eat, or for a night on the town.
oh man, this can be one of the hardest things to figure out. here are some important things to keep in mind:
- 1. call ahead. especially if its a restaurant you've never been to before, it's a great idea to call ahead and talk to a manager. you can ask whether or not they have a gf menu, if they're accustomed to cooking for gluten free customers, how careful they are in the kitchen about contamination - those are my big questions, always. calling ahead helps you socially more than anything - if you can ask those questions before you even get there you can have a much more "normal" dining experience once you arrive!
- 2. be friendly. no server wants to be attacked by a gluten free customer! you need your server to be on your team. he/she is the communication line between your needs, and the kitchen's actions, so make sure he/she understands your needs, and also thinks you're nice. my go to: "i'm going to be the biggest pain in your butt tonight, and then i'm going to give you a really great tip". works like a charm.
- 3. ask if there is a gluten free menu. often restaurants have this, especially as more and more of us are needing it! if there's not a specific menu, my next questions are: is there anything you, or your chef, would recommend for me that can safely be made gluten free? but beware - just because a restaurant has a gf menu, doesn't mean they are going to keep you safe. you still need to advocate for your needs, making sure that they are aware of the potential for cross contamination and are doing what they need to to keep you safe.
- 4. here's probably the most important part. be very clear on what you need, and the severity of this request. i always say the same thing: "i have a serious gluten allergy, are you able to make sure that the grill is completely clean, all the utensils are clean, and that there isn't gluten anywhere near my food?". i may have just raised your blood pressure a little by referring to gluten as an allergy, as for so many of us it's not an allergy and in fact operates very differently in our bodies. if that's the case, take a deep breath silly - i have found, through trial and error, that using those words elicit the best responses. people can relate to allergies, and i dare to say that most eateries are aware of "severe allergies". it's a good tag word, use it to your advantage. this is not the time to educate your server on gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, and their differences from allergies ;)
- 5. sharing. if someone wants a bite of yours, then kudos to you and to the chef - you must have found a great gluten free meal! but be careful of contamination from your friend/date/spouse's previously eaten food, or lip gloss. if they've got a clean fork, go ahead and let them take a bite. if not, scoop some onto their plate so you don't run the risk of getting contaminated! and same goes with wine - just don't share. ya never know, and it's not worth it, just ask for an extra glass.
- 6. watch out for bacon! i have found that almost every time i've gotten sick from a restaurant, bacon has been involved. many, many people don't realize how many places gluten can be hidden, and bacon is one thing that just seems to slip peoples' minds. if there's bacon involved, unless they make it themselves and can tell you all about the process and what ingredients are used, leave it alone. if you really want to try a certain dish that has bacon in it, make it at home!
- 7. alcohol. tricky my friends, tricky. there is controversy out there about whether or not grain alcohols are okay for people with gluten troubles to consume. from the research i've done as well as my own trial and error, i'm on the side of the fence that says that the refining process in producing alcohol does rid them of the gluten. that being said, you still need to be wary - anything that has a flavor or a color added to it, could pose a problem. smartphones are a girl's (or guy's) best friend in this situation, simply google the name of the alcohol that you're wondering about along with the words "gluten free" and 9 times out of 10 you'll be able to figure out if that is safe for you. remember the rules though: make sure the information you're looking at links directly back to the company, either a blogger who has spoken personally with the company, or a company statement itself. and then, make sure it's recent - in the past year is the best, but truth be told i'll go as far back as the last two years and still feel okay about the information. manufacturers of anything can change the ingredients at anytime, so it's always good to check back in on these things as part of your yearly housekeeping. one list i like is: www.glutenfree-lifestyle.com
- a couple more sneaky things about drinks - watch out for lemons, you never know where they were cut or who cut them. i opt for no lemon, all the time, to eliminate that risk. who knows what the bartender touched before they cut up the lemons? (get your minds out of the gutter, i'm talking about food ;) also, watch out for how they shake or stir your drink. if they do either in a container, or with a utensil, that has been contaminated and not properly cleaned, you're going to be in a world of hurt. it's totally okay to put in the request that whatever is used to shake or stir your drink be straight out of the dishwasher.
- 8. go-to desserts. creme brulee is most often gluten free, it will just depend on the environment in which it was made. i can say that i'm the most sensitive celiac i know and i've had great experiences with creme brulee at many different restaurants. but remember to ask questions - you must be your own advocate!! is it made with any gluten? was it made near any gluten? do you drizzle, or sprinkle, anything on top? another go-to of mine, if there's nothing on the menu that's a viable option, is whipped cream, and/or whipped cream and fruit. but remember to find out, where was the fruit cut up? is there anything in the whipped cream?
- 9. tip well. let's create the culture of gluten free peeps to be one known as generous, and grateful. by leaving a good tip we are recognizing that this person had to go out of his/her way in order to keep us safe, and that is the only reason we are able to eat out.