How to Order Gluten-Free in a Restaurant

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
ordering in a restaurant

Dining out doesn't have to be off-limits for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It just takes some extra planning and attention.

"Gluten-free consumers should approach eating out at restaurants in three stages: what they need to do prior to going to the restaurant, while at the restaurant and upon leaving the restaurant," says Rachel Begun, MS, RDN.

Follow these tips to make sure your experience is both gluten-free and pleasant.

Before You Go

Call ahead: "You are more likely to get a safe meal if you call the restaurant ahead of time to let them know of your gluten-free needs," says Begun. Try calling during a slow time so you can have the host's full attention. See if the restaurant has a gluten-free menu or if it participates in the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program.

Read the menu: Begun suggests reviewing the restaurant's menu online before you go. "You can narrow down your choices and have a more focused conversation with the server," she says. Watch out for culinary terms such as crispy, crunchy, breaded, wrapped or thickened — a sign that those items might contain gluten.

While You're There

Be clear: To ensure a gluten-free meal, it's important to speak up. "While at the restaurant, communicate your needs clearly, assertively and graciously, never trivializing your condition or need to eat 100 percent gluten-free," says Begun. You may need to speak directly to the chef or manager.

Ask questions: It's imperative to ask your server what's in the food and how it's prepared. Menu descriptions don't always list every ingredient. Get the full list of ingredients for sauces and dressings. Inquire how gluten-free grains such as rice and risottos are cooked, for example, sometimes they are cooked in broth which may contain gluten. Confirm that separate, clean utensils and equipment will be used for your meal.

When You Leave

Spread the word about good service: "If you experience good service, be courteous and gracious to the staff. Let them know by saying so, tipping well and spreading the word to the gluten-free community," says Begun. "By doing so, they'll be more likely to provide good service to future gluten-free customers — yourself included."

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