When you are first diagnosed coeliac eating out can be daunting, trying to check menus of places online beforehand to decipher what might be gluten free. It can be time consuming and just plain frustrating, especially when you’re going out with a group of friends and you don’t want to feel like the annoying one being picky about where you eat. Then there’s the on a whim restaurant or café visit when you are already out about – ‘Do you have anything that is gluten free?’ It’s a necessity to ask but it can the pain of any coeliacs life.
I have become more confident about eating out over the past couple of years, I prefer to let somewhere know beforehand when I make a booking but I do still get worried when walking in off the street. Part of me thinks this is also because I’m shy and I feel uncomfortable just walking in and asking if they serve gluten free food, crazy I know! What may seem surprising is that I actually find restaurants at home in Scotland more clued up on it, with more choices for me than when I’m eating out in London. Back home it’s amazing how many places I’ve been in and the staff have told me they’ve had training on it, they always ask if you’re coeliac rather than just G.F to make certain there is no cross contamination. However, I have found a few things that really frustrate me as a coeliac and I wondered if anyone else has come across them too.
Firstly, there is a restaurant I went to in Dundee where I was given what they called a ‘Low Gluten Menu’. What does this mean? Is the food on this gluten free or not?!! I asked, this is what I was told… ‘we have to call it a low gluten because that’s what regulations say’. Anyone heard of this before? I certainly haven’t and how come no where else says this, they have a gluten free menu, which I look at and know each dish is safe for me to eat. I then had to ask, ‘so will I be safe to eat anything on this?’ ‘oh yes they don’t contain gluten’!!! Here’s the thing restaurants, as a coeliac eating out we don’t want to have to ask you lots of questions, we feel embarrassed and don’t want to seem like we’re being a pain but when it’s not clear to us we have to ask because we have an auto immune disease. If you are a restaurant that’s helpful, clear and clued up then thank you!
Secondly, I have a real bug bear with restaurants that have written on their menu gluten free option available (great) but then have an added price for the gf option. I get that gluten free ingredients can cost a bit more but I don’t believe they cost as much more that you need to add an extra few pounds on or can’t cover the cost in another way. Mostly I see this when it’s the pizza or burger option, its annoying as we’re being penalised for having something we can’t help. Plus, there’s always another option on the menu which they will tell you they can make gluten free by taking something away from the dish, however you don’t get charged less so aren’t they just evening out the cost along the way. This has actually put me off going back to a couple of places.
Finally, cross contamination. ‘Yes, we have a gluten free brownie’, you look and there is that delicious looking brownie sitting right next to the glutenous cakes, so close you think ‘have they touched?’. I’ve also been into a well known chain around London where you used the same tongs to pick up the gluten free brownie as all the other cakes. Not being informed that the fryer being used to cook chips also cooks gluten food, been glutened from that. Salads where again the same tongs/spoons are being used to make up your salad bowl going between gluten and non gluten items, seen that happen. I have to tell you though that when I was once in Chipotle Mexican Grill with my friend I was half though picking my choices for the taco when another member of staff realised the person serving me was doing a gluten free order, well it was like shut down! I thought an alarm was going to sound! He had to stop what he was doing and start again because he hadn’t changed his gloves. For me who is shy, well you can imagine but I did think it was amazing as to how much of a precaution they took and for that you have to be grateful.
Having only three real annoyances I don’t think is bad when it comes to being a coeliac eating out. It certainly doesn’t put me off going out because as much as I love to cook myself, I also love eating out. In the main I feel I always have a reasonable choice only a couple of times have I had to choose a salad or nothing, plus more and more restaurant staff are aware of intolerances so they’re is no need to feel like it’s an awkward question when you ask ‘do you have anything that is gluten free?’