So one of my favourite things to do is eat out, whether it be with family or friends old or new nothing quite beats a catch up over a beautiful meal. Then your diagnosed with Coeliac disease and things don’t look so rosy, (and please be mindful this is my experience, I appreciate if yours has been fantastic, but unfortunately mine hasn’t). My first time eating out I went out thinking that any restaurant which has a gluten free option on their menu would be fine, but as most of you I assume are well aware, gluten free is never that straight forward. So on my first meal out, my partner and I went out to the local pub, they presented me with a very good well-structured GF menu so I filled my boots … cut to me swelling up like a balloon and hugging the toilet for two days (Cross contamination, our arch nemesis has a lot to explain for this). With the best will in the world some establishments just don’t understand how complex the situation is. One mistake , one slip up and that’s days of pain and bloating for us, so we are now in a situation where we have to balance the integrity of the restaurant and its staff against just wanting a nice meal, the chef might be amazing but are they cutting corners? The waiter might have a nice bum but does he care at the end of the day that your food is getting contaminated by something he’s probably not even thinking about. How much of this is complete incompetence and how much is just a pure lack of understanding ? I hope it’s the latter because that’s something that we as a community can work on, I like to think that if they fully understood the importance as to why we are so strict about our diets, eating out would be a walk in the park. I appreciate not everyone should feel the need to understand or take the time to learn about GF diets but for restaurants that serve GF food it should be mandatory for people to learn the bare basics so at the very least I don’t have to spend days on end making friends with the bathroom floor.
So until that happens and when hell has completely frozen over I have put together a little guide to eating out, some more experienced Coeliac’s may do things a little different but these are the 6 main rules I stick to when eating out and I’m forced to leave the safety of my own kitchen.
Speak to your friends and family or whomever you have the pleasure of eating out with and explain the situation. Communicate with them that it has to be somewhere safe for you to eat, be honest, be brutal … if it’s not safe you’re not going! I found this hard at first and I have ended up in some shocking situations. Take control of the situation, organise everything yourself if need be, this will make it easier in the long run. If people cause a fuss or complain these people are not worth your time.
2. Do your research
Pick your location and start looking, Google searches, reviews, Apps (I’ve found that Find Me Gluten Free works best) you name it there is a review on GF restaurants or at the very least one with a GF menu. The Coeliac community are fantastic for leaving reviews especially when we find something new, FB groups are great for inspiration and full of people willing to help (I use Coeliac Manchester as it’s local for me) and like-wise if you have a good experience or an unbelievably bad one where you spent more time hugging the throne, shout it from the roof tops, we need to look out for each other and keep ourselves safe.
3. Communication is key
Speak to the restaurants before you arrive, call and ask to speak to a manager to see if they can accommodate you, if not then move on to the next. Don’t sugar cote anything, my reactions are really severe and I don’t have the option to walk around on egg shells and you shouldn’t either. Ask about the kitchen, will your food be prepared in a separate safe area? is there potential for cross contamination? Is the chef an incompetent asshole? well maybe not the last one but you get the gist.
4. Try something new
Be prepared to eat something that you wouldn’t normally choose. I would imagine that unless you are a newly diagnosed Coeliac that you have seen the GF options on menus from restaurants that don’t specialise in GF, it unfortunately is slim pickings, lots of dry meals and fruit salad desserts but hey, at least there is an option, right? (I was even trying to convince myself a little there). All I would say is be open minded, even if you have never heard of it, give it a go. Some of my favourite meals that I have demolished over the years are meals that I previously wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole.
5. Be diligent
Check, double check, triple check everything before and after it comes out of the kitchen. Staff are only human and we have to account for human error, check they have it down on your order from the get go and communicate to them why it’s so important, check when it arrives at your table. Some restaurants now have those cute little GF labels that they stick to the plate so the staff are all aware but it doesn’t hurt to check, even now I still worry that staff think I’m a complete arse hole but I’m paying so who cares.
6. Finally … Speak to a manager.
Some establishments now send a manager over to your table to take GF orders I know Frankie and Benny’s are great for this, their manager deals with all aspects of your GF order from preparation, overseeing the cooking and delivering it to your table personally. Some people have mentioned that this is slightly excessive but the more thorough the better for me, feeling safe and looked after is hard to come by in most restaurants. I think it’s amazing and only makes me want to return. Regardless of where you’re eating, it’s sometimes best to get the manager involved as the staff are then less likely to make mistakes and take your order seriously.
Well that’s me done until the next blog, I hope you have found this information helpful? All feedback is greatly appreciated so feel free to get in touch. Thank you , stay safe and enjoy your meal