Tips for Dining Out
♥ I research my restaurants ahead of time. I will start by looking for gluten free places (GIG or Gluten Intolerance Group certified is great, but not required) in the area we are going. Then I will check their websites, look for an actual gluten free menu and other allergy statements on their website. Next, I call them and ask if they can accommodate various food allergies. If the hostess knows lots of information immediately, it is a really good sign that the staff are well trained! If they say, “Uh, glu- what?” that is definitely checked off my list of possibilities! Sometimes they will have a manager speak to me or a more knowledgeable staff member; this is a great way to ask questions ahead of time and limit stress/anxiety when dining out.
♥ I bring a dining card with me that lists all my allergies and a brief statement about cross-contamination (this is often my biggest issue at a restaurant…a little gluten in my food can make me sick for days or a little mango on a shared cutting board can send me running for my epi-pen). I always keep a few of these dining cards in my wallet so I am prepared at all times. You can laminate your card if you want and reuse it, but I have found that the kitchen often keeps it, so plain paper is my preference. I give my card to the waiter/waitress and ask them to share it with the chef.
♥ If I am new to a place, I will often ask for a manager, supervisor or chef to come talk with me about my food once we are seated. Some people may find this uncomfortable, but I have learned that speaking with someone who is actually handling your food or is supervising your meal is MUCH more effective than just telling your wait staff. It is like a game of telephone sometimes and taking 2 minutes to talk with the staff can save you the trouble of feeling sick or stressed about the dining experience.
♥ When my food comes, they almost always repeat back to me what I ordered and my dietary restrictions. I do not ask them to do this, they seem to do it for me to make sure they are correct. If it does not look right (there is a sauce you did not ask for, etc.), don’t eat it, or ask for clarification immediately! I leave a good tip for their extra efforts and always thank them afterwards on my way out. Sometimes we will email the manager if it was an extra pleasant experience. People often take the time to complain, but not many will take the time to say something positive. Once I find a place we can enjoy, we add it to our ‘list’. Restaurants LOVE repeat visitors!
♥ So what do you do when you are with a group who wants to eat somewhere that does not accommodate your food allergy needs? Bring your own, of course! I will pack a cooler with my meal and if anyone asks, I tell them I have several food allergies and have to be careful what I eat. I only had a problem once in the past 6 years – and I paid a ‘plate charge’ of $5.00 so I could eat my own food. It was still cheaper than anything on their menu!
♥ Eating at other people’s houses is a whole other ball game. It is really hard to trust someone else’s cooking when you know their house may not be free of your particular allergens. For close family members, I provided a list of my allergies. My mom keeps her list on the fridge so she always has it handy for when I come over. Long ago, we talked about cross contamination and how to read food labels. My relatives will often call me ahead of time to touch base about what they are making and this makes me feel loved and less anxious because I know they are putting thought into my safety and well-being.
But, to be honest, dining at homes outside my immediate family circle can be more complicated. Even when people have the best intentions, they might still make mistakes that can be dangerous for us. In these cases, I have learned to ask about the menu they are serving (maybe there will be a salad I can have, fresh veggies or fruit that I can munch on, chicken that is simply roasted in the oven, or some baked fish cooked in lemon juice/olive oil). Even if they offer to make it special for me, I will stay away from recipes with lots of ingredients and baked items. I always offer to bring something for the group that I know I can eat (quinoa salad, a gluten free pasta dish, a vegetable side dish, even a dessert). And if needed, I bring some additional food in my trusty cooler, just in case.