Questions Matter: My Restaurant Script

Many Celiacs enter restaurants with great trepidation. The fear and dread of being glutened makes what to most people would be a pleasant meal outing into a “lamb to slaughter” sort of feeling for us.

And it sucks large.

It’s a vicious circle: if Celiacs don’t frequent restaurants, then restaurants won’t know how to serve Celiacs properly.  But if the learning curve for food handlers means that we’re going experience {yet another} glutening setback to our intestinal healing, many of us would rather not risk it.  There HAS to be a happy medium.  And I believe that there is.

After my first few months of “post-diagnosis freaking the hell out”,  I made a decision.   I decided that my dislike of cooking far, far outweighed my fear of restaurants, and that I needed a strategy to keep my intestinal healing on track while at the same time allowing me to eat out.   Since I’m Canadian, (did we invent the word “sorry” or what?) I hate the idea of being thought of as a pain-in-the-ass customer.  But, as a Canadian that loves the U.S. and spends quite a bit of time there, I have no issue with the polite, yet firm, assertiveness that Americans do not hesitate to express.  That and their good tipping practices.


So I developed my restaurant script:  my script of questions to keep me safe.

Now, I know that nothing is 100%  Hey, even a perfectly healthy person can get food poisoning, eColi, and tons of other crap (no pun intended. Ok, maybe pun intended).  But this script can really go a long way towards being able to dine out like a normal person.  Everytime I go into a restaurant, I pretty much say the same thing.  And it goes  like this:

If a Hostess is seating us:

“Hi, do you have a gluten-free menu?  I have Celiac Disease and need a strict gluten-free meal.”

To Server:  “I’ll do my order last if that’s easier for you, because I have strict medical dietary requirements.”

*This allows the server to get the “easy” orders out of the way. *

When it’s my turn to order:

“I’m ordering from your Gluten Free menu because I have Celiac Disease.” (Alternatively, if there’s no GF menu:  “I’m hoping that you or the chef can help me order a strictly gluten free meal because I have Celiac Disease.”)

“Are you familiar with Celiac Disease?”

I will listen as the server tells me their level of awareness. If they have a really good understanding of it, I will just order my meal, and confirm that the kitchen handles GF orders with clean cutlery, a fresh pot of water for GF pasta, and clean pans.  If the server seems at all hesitant:

“Celiac Disease is where your body starts severely damaging your intestines if you eat even a tiny trace of gluten, which is wheat, rye, barley, most oats, and some other grains.  So I need to order only items that won’t include or come in contact with any of those things so that I don’t get sick.”

(At this point I choose an item that’s either on the GF menu or should be GF.)

“I’d like to order the _________________.  Could you please ask the chef if that could be made gluten-free in a clean pan with clean utensils?”

(If I’m in an Asian restaurant, I will ask if they have GF soya sauce.  If not, I will go back out to my car and get my own.  Yes, I carry my own GF soya sauce, plus other stuff.  But that’s a blog post for later!)

Added questions may also involve:

• the ingredients in their home made salad dressings

• the ingredients in their sauces

• if gluten items are cooked on the grills

•anything else that looks like it merits more details.

I’m not shy. I’m really pleasant about it, but I ask what I need to ask and don’t put the food into my mouth until the answer comes back.  I’ll also speak directly to the chef if my Spidey Senses are tingling that the server is not getting it.  But such instances are rare.

This script has been remarkably successful.  If I have to say the same thing a couple of times, I do. No one is responsible for my health except me.  But if you’re friendly about it, most servers will want you to have a great experience at their restaurant, and will be happy to help you navigate the menu!

I have only once ever been in a restaurant where I could get absolutely nothing to eat, and that was a place in Westport, Ontario Canada where they had a cross-contaminated deep fryer, and didn’t use pans, and cooked everything on the griddle.  But this is why I carry Clif and SoLo bars  🙂 –I had made sure to snack myself earlier, and happily drank coffee with my car club friends as they ate the breakfast there on our drive stop.  I waved away all of their sweet concerns (they had no idea), appreciating that they felt bad for me:  no need– I was fine. I reminded myself that I was  there for the drive, and for their company….

…and that I am really lucky  to be able to eat full meals in so many other restaurants.  It’s all good.




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