The Right Questions to Ask When Dining Out
Written by Jennifer Harris, Gluten Free Go-To Guide
What are the right questions to ask when dining out?
Dining out when following a gluten-free diet can seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. Learning to ask the right questions to determine the status of a dish and how it will be prepared helps to develop a level of confidence between you and the restaurant.
Restaurant kitchens are pretty small and fast pace environments. There is little time to spare from when the ticket is received to when an order is expected to be ready, which makes properly communicating dietary restrictions of the utmost importance. You as the consumer have the responsibility to make your needs known. Use gluten-free dining cards as a tool to communicate with the server to ensure you are both on the same page and there is no miscommunication.
Just how is gluten used in a restaurant? Gluten is commonly used as a binder, so finding it in creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and sauces is pretty common; however, there are many other ways gluten is used in a kitchen. I have run into restaurants that use soy sauce in chili.
Some specific ingredient questions to ask include: Is there Worcestershire sauce in the Caesar salad dressing? Do you make salads in clean bowls (no crouton residue)? Did you use flour to thicken the risotto? Did you use chicken stock that contains wheat to prepare vegetables or to keep rice and beans warm during service? Was the gluten-free pasta cooked in clean water or water contaminated with wheat, etc.? I would rather have a server look at me like I have five heads when asking these questions than assume I know the answer.
Gluten-free diners understand there is a risk of cross contact with wheat during preparation in a restaurant environment, unless it is a dedicated gluten-free restaurant. Just a little Q&A can set the consumer at ease. Here are four questions that should set the stage for enjoying a safe and tasty dish when dining out:
Do you know what a gluten-free diet means?
Start with the basics. Can’t count how many times we have been in a restaurant and had the server ask if I am dining gluten-free for medical reasons or by choice. There is nothing funny about living with celiac disease especially when it comes to dining out, so be clear and ask yes or no questions until you feel comfortable with their answers. If you don’t feel you are getting anywhere, ask to speak to a manager, or directly to the chef.
Do you have a gluten-free menu – is it really gluten free?
Unfortunately, restaurants don’t always know what they are doing. Some restaurants research all of the ingredients in the dish to determine if it is gluten free, while others simply put a ‘GF’ next to every item that doesn’t contain gluten. Still other restaurants fall somewhere in-between. Make sure to have an understanding of the restaurants ability to prepare a safe meal. If you don’t feel comfortable, then leave and spend your money elsewhere.
How are gluten-free orders communicated to the staff?
In some restaurants, the word ‘allergy’ will appear on the order, which alerts them to use special handling procedures. Other restaurants have the manager come to the table to take an order and personally handle it. Have them spell out how the order will be handled once it is placed.
Are fried items safe?
This is a confusing issue for both consumer and restaurant owner, so let me clear it up. The answer can be yes, if these items are prepared in a dedicated fryer. If not, the answer is no. Leftover wheat particles in the used oil can attach to an otherwise gluten-free item causing it to be unsafe. Just two weeks ago, a server tried to convince me that the high temperature of the fryer oil can ‘burn off’ gluten. This just isn’t the case and can lead to a preventable cross contact incident. When fried item are marked ‘GF’ ask if it is made in a dedicated fryer prior to ordering.