Dining Out Tip: Research, Research, Research
Before I eat at any new restaurant, I do my homework. That means researching the menu, reviews, photos and, most importantly, calling the restaurant to ensure that they can safely prepare a gluten-free and vegan meal.
Since my celiac diagnosis, gone are the days of eating freely in any restaurant I wanted to. Cross-contamination at restaurants can cause any meal labeled “gluten free” anything but.
My strategy in picking new restaurants to try, either around my home or when I’m traveling, is to Google gluten-free restaurants and begin looking at menus to get an idea of my options. Menus that have gluten-free and vegan options already labeled on their menu go to the front of my short list. As do places that say they have a separate gluten-free cooking space. But that doesn’t happen, so I begin weighing other factors. Having gluten free or vegan labeling on the menu earns points, and major points for gluten-free or vegan menus. Red flags arise if any menu says cross-contamination is common or likely. If items aren’t labeled, I then look for possible options, such as if a dish appears to be vegan and could be modified to be gluten-free. Examples include portobello mushroom sandwiches that can be served without the bun or salads that can have croutons removed. Likewise I look for meals with meat that look gluten-free, but could could be modified to be vegan. Grilled salmon with roasted sweet potatoes and veggies could be swapped with that portobello mushroom or chicken stir-fries could be made with with just veggies and rice.
Once I select a few restaurants, I try to find out as much about other gluten-free diners experiences at it. I tend to rely on findmeglutenfree.com for the most reliable reviews. I also look at Yelp, Trip Advisor and OpenTable to see if any of the reviews on there are from celiac patrons or those dining with them. This gives me a good idea of what the experience will be like. Are the restaurants very accommodating? Did previous diners get sick? How knowledgable are staff to celiac concerns? These are all questions I seek answers for.
Then I look at photos on the sites mentioned above. Sometimes you can see photos of the kitchen. Small kitchens tend to have a greater risk of cross-contamination versus larger kitchens that can prepare gluten-free items away from those containing gluten.
Finally, when I believe I have selected my best option, I call the restaurant. No matter how confident the menu sounds, I always call and have them assure me they know how to handle severe food allergies. If I question a menu item, I often ask for them to check with a chef to be sure. In addition, I tend to make reservations before I go, and if they allow it, ask that my gluten-free and vegan request go with the reservation. That helps to prevent any trouble arising when I arrive at the restaurant.
Now, all this being said, unless you are eating at an entirely gluten-free and vegan restaurant, problems can still occur. However, with this research beforehand, you can limit the risk of being left unable to eat anything or with a gluten-reaction afterwards.