Deciphering restaurant menus can be tricky, so your questions must be concise. As soon as your waiter approaches the table, ask for their gluten-free menu, or if they have any gluten-free items on their menu. Ask to talk to the manager/owner and chef, because it’s in their best interest for all customers to have a positive experience, and I’ve found most will do what they can to accommodate all food issues.
Many corporate chain restaurants have adopted gluten-free (food allergies in general) protocols. A restaurant employee will be assigned to the special plate, and personally escort it through the kitchen stations, alerting everyone of its status. (Gloves are changed; clean stainless steel utensils are used; foil is used as a barrier on common cooking surfaces – like griddles, grills, skillets, oven racks – or clean stainless steel pans/pots are used.) Because of this, it’s a separate order, and may come out earlier or later than everyone else’s.
Family-owned restaurants can be real hit-and-miss. Many of them don’t have any kind of protocol in place, and I find myself having to teach them. Literally walking them through the process: “Start with a new pair of gloves, and a clean, stainless steel pan; use clean stainless steel utensils. Do not use any premixed seasonings; do not use non-stick sprays; do not add sauces/dressings. If grilling/griddling, use a piece of foil as a barrier.” Fortunately, there have only been a few restaurants who’ve said, “we can’t accommodate you,” and weren’t offended when we left.
Our default restaurant selection is Mexican, because there’s not a lot of wheat flour used – just watch out for the cheese dip or any cheese sauce, and order everything on corn tortillas.
- white sauces, white-sauce-based sauces (cheese sauce, alfredo sauce, etc.)
- creamy salad dressings – Ranch, Thousand Island, creamy Italian, etc.
- breads: dinner rolls, Texas toast, bread sticks, croutons, etc.
- anything fried (cross contamination in the oil used in the fryer)
- marinaded meats and vegetables
- most desserts – cake, pie, cookie, etc.
- the ‘No-No’ food list
- red sauces (tomato based), pesto
- anything baked or grilled (double check about breading or seasoning!)
- Non-marinaded meats and vegetables
- fresh fruit