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How-to Go From Gluten-Free Friendly to Restaurant of Death

Krista Fredrick

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Krista Fredrick | August 14, 2013 | 0

gluten-freeLet me start with I’m gluten-free and have been for about 2 years now.  For me, it’s not a weight-loss thing, but a true allergy. A little bit of wheat (a little more than 1/8 teaspoon of flour) and I have an asthma attack—half teaspoon or more, and well, I’d rather have food poisoning.

So while I’m very grateful to Victoria Beckman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the other celebs for touting the gluten-free diet for weight loss (and props to the Paleo diet, as well), I sometimes wonder if they have done more harm than good…or if it evens out in the end.

Why? Because sometimes I don’t think the restaurant industry takes my gluten-free status seriously. I’ve watched as the server audibly sighs. I get it—I’ve felt my mouth hit the floor when someone says, “I’m gluten-free, but cheat with beer.” I would love to cheat, but for me it’s not an option.

Then there’s the “we only serve meat, so you should be fine” response. As I found when I first went gluten-free, flour is in practically everything—not just bread and pasta. I lovingly call this “hidden flour, crouching gluten.”

Is there flour in soup? Check.

Soy sauce? Yep.

Sauces and gravies? Of course!

Meat? Sometimes, if they do a light dredging, it’s fried, or the sausage casing is manufactured.

French fries? Possibly, some are coated in flour and some are fried in the same oil used for floured things, like fried chicken.

All of these (and more) are potential landmines, because consuming 1/8th of a teaspoon of flour or 1/350th of a slice of bread could end in me having trouble breathing—not really something you want happening in your restaurant. So I find the broad statement a little alarming, since it means that the staff hasn’t been trained on food allergies.

Even with this hidden ingredient, I still eat out. Why? Because I am a foodie—whether I detour a road trip for breakfast or stand in line for hours to get barbeque—and a pesky allergy isn’t going to change that.

Granted at first, I thought my eating out days were over or I could only have a plain salad with lemons, no dressing. Then this magical thing happened, celebs started going gluten-free and a trend was born. Restaurants had gluten-free menus and educated their staff. And people like me starting venturing into the restaurant world again.

Though, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There are restaurants that are not gluten-free friendly and if I stay, I’m reduced to plain salads and lemons. Then there are the restaurants that seem to understand and let me know what I can have…but then I’m grabbing for my inhaler and praying that I only was poisoned a little. And on rare occasions, I run into the restaurants that proclaimed gluten-free and poisoned me. They are affectionately referred to as “restaurants of death” (and recently ruined my anniversary weekend).

So why is this important? The obvious answer is more customers, but this means more than just the gluten-free ones. When I go out with friends, we go to places I can eat—they make sure. This means that restaurants can gain more than just one customer, but a whole table. If we end up at a non-gluten-free friendly place, we usually leave and go elsewhere. Plus, it’s marked as a no-go restaurant forever (unless another gluten-free friend tells me they’ve changed, but that rarely happens).

A little less obvious are the gluten-free friendly restaurants that have only triggered my asthma. I chalk it up to cross-contamination, but go to less frequently because I truly fear crossing the line between a little gluten to a lot. Also, I’m less likely to recommend it to those that share my sensitivity.

Then there are the “restaurants of death” and the inspiration for this post. Obviously, I won’t be going back. It’s like being told your eating Kobe beef, only to find out it is kangaroo. The trust is broken. There isn’t anything you can really do—no comped meals, no promise, nothing—for me that is. For the other gluten-free people, you have a chance to train your staff better and ensure it doesn’t happen again. So when you get a call about poisoning a gluten-free person, use it as a learning experience.

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