Your new life with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity will require a lot of changes. You have to worry about your family, your child’s school lunch and snack programs-even holiday parties. But there’s no greater challenge than figuring out the strategies and tactics you’ll need to employ when you go to a restaurant. For those with celiac disease, dining out requires advance planning.
You can rest a little easier knowing that many restaurants and restaurant chains are now catering to the unique dietary needs of those who need to avoid gluten. Look for those certified by the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP), operated by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG). About 1,600 independently owned restaurants in the United States, Canada, and Germany have been GFRAP-certified as safe for gluten-free guests, making safe gluten-free restaurant dining easier than in the past.
Restaurants are listed on the GFRAP website by location and style of food. NFCA’s Gluten-Free Resource Education and Awareness Training (GREAT) Kitchens website, beyondceliac.org/kitchens, equips chefs, restaurants, and cafeterias with the knowledge and tools to safely provide customers with gluten-free meal options.
And make sure you look over individual restaurant websites to see if they post gluten-free menus. Some establishments, especially restaurant chains, list specific ingredients and allergen information on their websites. When ordering from a gluten-free menu, inform the restaurant staff about the severity of your celiac disease and the need to prepare food without any cross-contamination.
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Preparing in Advance
Call the restaurant during non-peak hours to inform them of your special dietary needs. Ask to speak with a chef or manager. If a manager isn’t available, ask for the manager’s name and the best time to call back.
Use a clear, confident, assertive style of communication. Ask questions until you’re satisfied. Here are a few suggestions:
- Can you accommodate a gluten-free diet? If the staff says yes, it offers a gluten-free diet, provide information about what foods you cannot eat. Make sure they are aware of this and that they understand the severity of your reaction to gluten.
- Do you have a food allergy policy? If so, this is good news. Ask what company provided the training. The Gluten Intolerance Group, for example, offers restaurant training and certification through its GFRAP program.
- Do you have a designated area to prepare foods for special diets? Verify cooking procedures to check for cross-contamination. Ask about separate cutting boards and utensils. If restaurant staffers don’t understand why they should keep food segregated during the preparation and cooking process, they don’t understand gluten-free cooking.
- Do you have specialty gluten-free products? When a restaurant carries prepared pancake mixes, gluten-free rolls, or desserts from reputable manufacturers, it is taking gluten-free customers seriously.
- May I look at ingredient labels? If the restaurant is willing to show you ingredient labels, it’s a good sign that they’ll accommodate your gluten-free diet.
At the Restaurant
The best time to dine at any restaurant is during the first hour of a service period. The staff is more alert and attentive and the kitchen is much cleaner. At off-peak hours, the kitchen is not as rushed.
The most important strategy when dining out is good communication. Be clear about your needs—as well as the possible consequences. Clear communication is the key to interacting with servers, managers, and chefs. A calm and confident approach is the most effective way to ensure that your needs are met.
If you’re part of a group, consider ordering last. Ordering last means you get the server’s full attention, you won’t feel pressured, and you won’t disrupt the table conversation. The person taking your order should write it down.
Select simple dishes with fewer ingredients; this goes for desserts, too. Avoid casseroles, sauces, gravies, soups, and marinades. A sautéed or baked item will minimize the use of common cooking equipment and shared utensils. Go through the list of ingredients, including garnishes, to make sure there is no hidden gluten.
Originally published in 2016 and regularly updated.