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Gluten-Free 101: Eating Out

Updated on December 30, 2011

Where to begin

You’ve begun your gluten-free diet. By now you probably know that being served under the golden arches is a no-no unless all you want is a soda pop or cup of coffee. But where can you safely eat away from your own kitchen?

The trial-and-error method can be dangerous to those with gluten-intolerance or wheat allergies. One of your best defenses is to get information from others experienced in avoiding gluten. Another method is by checking with national chains on their own websites. If you’re comfortably reading this from your home, in your pajamas and bunny slippers, keep on reading, and I’ll give you some tips here as well.

First I’ll list a few places my family has found that take great care in accommodating gluten and wheat allergies:

· For a nice dinner out, Olive Garden, Johnny Carino’s and P.F. Chang’s have extensive gluten-free menus.

· For casual dining on a Friday night, Ruby Tuesday is an excellent choice for anyone who has allergies. Simply ask for the special food allergy menu.

· Fast food isn’t completely out of the question. Chik-Fil-A has a great reputation for providing bunless grilled chicken with a smile. Also, their famous waffle fries are fried separately from the batter-fried chicken (which is produced as needed in a pressure cooker) making them safe for most gluten-intolerant individuals.

· If you are craving a double bacon cheese burger, head straight to our president’s favorite burger joint. Five Guys is extra careful when a customer mentions a wheat or gluten allergy. Not only is a separate tray used for the preparation of that burger, but also a single employee will follow that burger throughout preparation to be sure it does not come into contact with any contaminants. Five Guys is another place where the French fries are safe as well.

A friendly greeting from the Five Guys staff, The Legends, Kansas City, Kansas
A friendly greeting from the Five Guys staff, The Legends, Kansas City, Kansas
Peace and peanut oil! Five Guys serves up gluten-free fries.
Peace and peanut oil! Five Guys serves up gluten-free fries.
The mouth-watering results
The mouth-watering results

Always ask, always tell

Now that you know of a few great places to eat out, as a gluten-free or wheat-free dieter, you need to know how to get the best, most accurate service. My family functions on an “always ask, always tell” policy. Even the best restaurants won’t know you have a food allergy if you don’t tell them. Instead of simply asking for the gluten-free menu item, you need to specifically point out that you have a food allergy. This will alert the staff to take extra care to avoid cross contamination.

Some restaurants are better than others at catching on to your needs. For example, Five Guys employees are well-trained to handle wheat and gluten allergies in a specific way every time there is a need. Conversely, Ruby Tuesday wait staff often have to be reminded to tell the chef about the food allergy (Make sure you do. I have heard reports of issues with their food, but it seems to be because a customer didn’t remind the wait staff of the importance of getting the request right.). The good news is that at each of the national chains listed above, as long as we make sure the staff understands our needs, my family hasn’t had any trouble with the food we have been served.

Going local

Local businesses or “mom and pop” establishments can be a little more tricky.

Here in Kansas City, my family has had success with a few local Mexican establishments where we have specifically asked ahead of time about their use of wheat flour. Remember, don’t just ask about the tortillas. Red sauces can be hiding dangerous gluten as well.

Privately owned barbeque places have become some of our favorite hangouts as well. Often times we have the privilege of explain the gluten intolerance directly to the owner or chef. Indicating the need for them to use fresh gloves before touching our orders has been effective, and owners of some of our regular eating places have begun to recognize our needs as soon as we walk in the door.

For those of you in the Kansas City area, I will be posting a Hub on gluten-free Kansas City grub soon.

A word of caution

As with any medical condition, if you have or think you might have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten, check with your doctor. Some severe allergies will require even more care than I have described above, and while this article is intended to give some direction to those pursuing a gluten-free lifestyle, I cannot guarantee that all of my tips will work for everyone.

Happy dining! Here’s to your health!


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