What Are the Best Tips for Gluten-Free Dining?

M.C. Huguelet

Those with celiac disease or certain dietary sensitivities may find it necessary to adopt a diet which is free of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. While omitting gluten from the diet may improve these individuals’ health and well-being, food-related experiences they once enjoyed, such as eating in restaurants, may suddenly seem complicated and unpleasant. With just a few simple tips, however, it is possible to enjoy gluten-free dining. First of all, gluten-free restaurants provide a wide range of options, while a small card which lists food “dos and don’ts” can make dining possible even when such restaurants are not available. In addition, speaking up to one’s server is essential to ensuring that all foods are genuinely gluten-free and securing substitutions when possible.

Most breads contain gluten.
Most breads contain gluten.

While it may seem like a “no-brainer,” one of the best tips for gluten-free dining is to seek out gluten-free restaurants. As of the early 21st century, the public’s awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is rising, and consequently, restaurants that cater to a gluten-free crowd are cropping up in cities and towns throughout many countries. Gluten-free individuals traveling to a new place should research acceptable dining options in that location using guidebooks or the Internet.

Someone on a gluten-free diet can still consume bread if it is made with a wheat flour substitute, like millet flour.
Someone on a gluten-free diet can still consume bread if it is made with a wheat flour substitute, like millet flour.

Inevitably, however, patronizing a gluten-free restaurant is sometimes impossible. A gluten-free individual may be attending a dinner at a restaurant chosen by another person, for instance, or gluten-free restaurants may simply not exist in a particular area. For such situations, it can be useful to print out a list of acceptable and unacceptable foods on a small piece of paper. Ideally, this paper should be laminated and carried in the wallet or purse at all times. If in doubt while ordering, the gluten-free diner can simply consult this list to verify that certain ingredients are acceptable.

Speaking up to one’s server is another important key to successful gluten-free dining experiences. Even if a dish seems acceptable based on its menu description, hidden sources of gluten may be lurking in sauces, breadings, or side dishes. Thus, it is advisable to notify servers of one’s gluten-related concerns. The server can then verify that all food choices genuinely meet one’s dietary requirements. While bringing one’s concerns to the attention of a server may seem uncomfortable or embarrassing at first, it is helpful to remember that experienced servers and cooks are accustomed to addressing a wide range of dietary issues.

On a related note, to make a gluten-free dining experience as satisfying as possible, diners should not hesitate to speak to their server when a gluten-containing menu item can be easily altered or substituted. For instance, a cook may be willing to grill a fish dish rather than breading and frying it, and rice may be easily substituted for a barley-based side dish. By simply speaking up, gluten-free diners will in many cases find restaurant staff to be accommodating, thereby avoiding the feelings of deprivation or resentment that may otherwise accompany a meal.

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