by Anglea Morken
by Anglea Morken
When you have celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten (wheat, rye, barley and oats), eating anywhere can be difficult, but especially when you want to eat out. Believe it or not, finding a restaurant willing to accommodate a gluten-free diet can be easier than you think.
Your first step: Provide yourself with dining cards. What are dining cards? Dining cardsare small business-sized cards-which are really folded brochures that communicate your dietary needs and enable restaurant cooks to provide a safe meal for you. Upon entrance to a restaurant, hand your waiter a dining card to take back to the kitchen. As a good dining card not only covers which foods you are not allowed to eat but food preparation requirements, you do not have to worry if your waiter understood what you were trying to tell him or if he even remembered to tell the kitchen about your special requirements.
Once you have your professionally or personally made dining cards in hand, going to a restaurant becomes a lot easier. There are several companies that produce gluten-free dining cards or you can make them yourself using your computer. Triumph Dining is one of the most popular companies which produces a series of gluten-free dining cards. These cards target specific types of world cuisines. Each card is written in English on one side and the country of the targeted cuisine on the other. There are cards currently available for American, Mexican, Italian, French, Greek, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese restaurants.
Home-made cards may be a more appropriate choice if you have additional food intolerances other than gluten. However, it is important to understand that the more official-looking your card is, the more importance it conveys. Carefully consider your own needs before choosing the type of dining card you wish to carry.
When you want to dine out being smart is also very helpful to getting your needs met. Don't show up at a restaurant at their busiest time. Do call in advance to find out if the restaurant kitchen has enough adaptability to meet your needs. To ensure that your dining experience will be a happy and healthy one, the smartest scenario would be to call the restaurant the day before and speak to the manager. Let the manager know that you are planning on visiting his food establishment and what your food restrictions are. Ask him if your food restrictions can be accommodated. Many times the manager will be more than happy to help. Sometimes, however, the manager may be less than enthusiastic. If this is the case, it is better to try another restaurant than to risk getting an unsafe meal.
Remember, in order to get the best and most accommodating service, keep the restaurant's point of view in mind. Showing up without talking to the restaurant first greatly increases your risk of receiving less than helpful service. It can also put your health in danger by not giving the kitchen enough time to prepare for or fully understand your needs, dining card or not. There are many reasons why the restaurant manager may refuse to accommodate your and your gluten-free diet.
For example, the size of the kitchen and food placement in the preparation area could be a hotbed for cross contamination, some kitchen staff may be out sick leaving him shorthanded or maybe there is just a temperamental chef. Whatever the reason, thank the manager for his time and move on. If you find yourself in a spur of the moment situation, out of the house and needing a place to eat, first ask to speak to the manager before you are seated. Show the manager the dining card and ask him if he can accommodate your needs.
If he can, this is a good time to review the menu with him. It will save you time if you can decide what you want before you are seated. This will give the chef or kitchen staff more time to prepare for you what you need, the way you need it while you are still being seated. If the manager isn't helpful or doesn't think he can accommodate your needs, the best thing to do is to thank him for his time and leave. It's better to drive to another restaurant than risk becoming ill. So don't be afraid to go out and give gluten-free dining a try.
You'll be surprised at how helpful and accommodating many restaurants are.
Angela Morken is an expert and sufferer of Celiac Disease. She has been living gluten free for over 20 years now. She has a highly regarded guide to living with Celiac Disease at www.celiacreport.com
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