There are many challenges Coeliacs will face and unfortunately eating out is just one of them, but here are a few tips to make eating out a little bit easier.
1) Do your research
Whether you are going away for a day trip or on holiday, it’s a good idea to research any restaurants or cafes that will accommodate coeliacs or offer a gluten free menu.
There is nothing worse than turning up at your destination, having to trudge around looking for somewhere to eat and ending up with a salad – a little research will save time and make your trip much more relaxed and enjoyable.
If you are going abroad, learning a few key phrases is a good idea but if languages aren’t your forte, taking along a restaurant card that can be handed to the waiting staff is a great way of dealing with a language barrier.
You can print off restaurant cards in a variety of languages here.
Here is more advice about traveling abroad from Coeliac UK.
2) Call ahead, if you can
Call ahead to avoid the disappointment of arriving and realising the restaurant are not prepared to cater for you – some restaurants do require you to ring ahead so they can inform the chef or check if they have the necessary ingredients in stock.
Calling ahead is also a good way to set your mind at ease and speak to the staff members about any concerns you may have about how the food will be prepared etc.
3) Inform or remind staff upon your arrival of any dietary requirements and ask for an allergy menu
If the information is not visible to you, do not guess which meals may or may not be gluten free – instead ask the waiting staff for their advice.
4) ALWAYS double check
I cannot stress this point enough.
If the waiting staff think something is gluten free but they are not sure, ask them to double check with the chef – sometimes you may need to query if your food can be prepared in a separate area, if the food can be prepared with clean utensils etc or if certain foods are being cooked in the same oil as gluten containing ingredients, e.g. chips.
It’s also important to double check everything you are served just in case something slips through the net in the kitchen – restaurants are incredibly busy places with multiple members of staff and you can’t always guarantee information is passed onto the chef correctly.
When my plate arrives I always check that it is definitely gluten free, especially if the waiting staff doesn’t confirm this upon arrival. Even if it looks gluten free always, always, always check – I have managed to prevent many “glutenings” this way because I have accidentally been given the wrong bread or the wrong pizza base.
If your meal has accidentally been served with something which is not gluten free (eg. a bread roll) which may have come into contact with the other food on your plate, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for a fresh meal.
5) In fact, never be afraid or embarrassed about any of the above and don’t let anyone make you feel as though you are being ridiculous (this includes friends and family)
It’s your body and your health and your responsibility to take care of yourself – there is no shame in being careful.
Which is worse? Being ill or coming across a little picky?
Which leads me to mention…
6) You may come across difficult waiting staff or those who have no idea what gluten free even means
This is unfortunately the way it goes. Whilst there is a growing awareness around Coeliac Disease, there are some people out there who don’t understand that a gluten free diet isn’t a fad, or that even a little bit of gluten can make someone with Coeliac Disease or a gluten intolerance incredibly ill.
Sometimes waiting staff won’t have the training to deal with your questions – I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been asked if being gluten free means I can’t have cheese, or potatoes or milk.
You might even come across staff who can be downright rude.
My advice? Deal with it with a smile and use it as an opportunity to educate them. But, if you still feel that you are being treated unfairly, ask to speak to the manager – it may well be that your comments are the catalyst required to give staff a little training in understanding food allergies!
You will of course come across amazing waiting staff too and I’m glad to say that in my experience the majority have been incredibly helpful
7) What to do if you think you have been glutened
Don’t panic. Call over a member of the waiting staff or the manager and calmly explain what has happened.
Any actions taken are of course at the discretion of the manager and although they won’t be able to prevent you from being ill, they will want to know why it has happened so that they can try to prevent it from happening again -If you don’t inform the manager, there is the potential that similar accidents could happen to other customers!
Hopefully, they won’t charge you for your meal (which would be a small consolation), but if you feel that your problem was not sufficiently dealt with by the manager, consider writing an official complaint.
8) If you want to feel a little more at ease…
Here are a list of restaurants which have been accredited by Coeliac UK: