Eating out is nerve-wrecking for me personally. There are so many risks, especially since I am juggling more than one food issue. I can't have gluten, dairy, or sulfur dioxide. So it makes it tough. In addition, I have cross contamination issues with the gluten and dairy, so that makes things even more complicated.
There are times though when I do dine out & I have had some positive experiences. It does take planning, effort, and boldness, but it can be done.
Things that help me when dining out:
- Plan ahead. - I go online and check to see if they have a gluten free menu. I write down 2 or 3 order selections from that menu. If the restaurant has an allergy friendly menu, but not specifically gluten free, then I write down 4 or more selections with notes by them, and ask more questions at the restaurant. Since I juggle both gluten free and dairy free, I have to usually cross reference 2 allergy friendly menus to come up with one meal.
- Ask the right questions. - When dining out I always ask how the food is prepared. This is key to avoiding cross contamination.
- State your needs. - Politely tell the waiter that you have food allergies and that your food needs prepared in a specific manner, separate from other food orders. (Clean utensils, etc.)
- Be Polite. - I often order first out of the group or very last. But never in the middle. This way I can take the time with the waiter/waitress to make sure that my order is correct, with little or no frustration. I tell the waiter/waitress before I start my order, that I have food allergies and that it will be a very detailed order, and apologize for any inconvenience.
- Bring your own toppings/ food. - Often I can get by with a very plain meal at most restaurants. Steamed veggies, plain chicken, and a plain baked potato. I bring in my purse little packets of olive oil to top my potato, or dressing to top my chicken or veggies. This customizes my meal for me and saves me the question of "is this dressing gluten free?" "what is on my potato?"
- Don't use the salt and pepper shakers. - I don't use the salt or pepper shakers, I bring my own in my purse or I ask if they have un-opened packets in the back (for to-go orders and such). This has helped me many times.
- If in doubt, send it back. - If you have ANY doubts that your meal is allergy friendly, send it back. Don't eat it. It is your health.
Again, any time eating out there is always a risk for cross contamination and human error. Being as detailed and prepared as possible helps to reduce the risk. Please eat out with caution, but remember to be polite to the wait staff for a more positive experience.
These are all things that have helped me while eating out, and although I haven't had success 100% of the time, I have had more positive than negative experiences.
What has been your experience dining out with Celiac or food allergies? What has helped you the most?
*As always, use common sense and check all ingredients when dining out with a food allergy. Eat out at your own risk. This is not intended as advice, and are purely opinions of the author.*