Just because they have a gluten free menu doesn’t mean you should eat there.
That’s right, I know my rule is to only eat places that advertise gluten free, or have a gluten free menu, but there is another level to this, not all places with a gluten free menu warrant dinning at them. I’ve experienced this first hand, and heard others stories as well. “The menu said gluten free and I got sick” It happens, it really does, they can’t guarantee things won’t get contaminated, and some places do a better job of safe guarding things than others do. For me chain restaurants are the hardest. Corporate can boast a great menu, but if it’s not executed properly at the location level, it means nothing. Plus we have to remember gluten is not the top of their priority list in any restaurant, (unless it’s dedicated gluten free!). That being said, some chains do a better job of hiring and training for food allergies than others do.
Because of this factor I’m a self-titled Restaurant Snob. It can be hard with a large group, or with children, or if you’re traveling, even on a business lunch to choose where to eat. That’s where I end up getting crafty with what I order, and what I always have on me. 2 occasions I found croutons under my lettuce on the plate directly when ordering a salad, at two different locations. I have never in 20 years of ordering salads encountered that until I asked for a “gluten free salad, no croutons no bread.”
We all know the places we’ve been where they have great service so we keep going back. Other’s the service isn’t good we don’t go back, for eating GF it’s no different, other than I feel we hold a higher standard of good service. Personally places I’ve gotten sick, it’s hard for me to go back, that level of trust is broken and the thought of eating there make me nauseous and anxious.
The other night we ate at Olive Garden as part of a group party. Olive Garden does list a GF menu, but the number of complaints I hear from people out way the good experiences. I personally ate there 2 years ago and had the worst, saltiest steak of my life, and only ate a few bites before discontinuing my meal. This time the server flat out told me “We can’t guarantee anything but here’s the list of items you can order from.” I got a salad, no croutons. It seemed the safest option after hearing people say the pasta that’s cooked in a dedicated bag showed up with gluten pasta mixed in. Or the chicken came with bread crumbs on the plate… I’ll pass. Honestly not worth it. Yes it’s great they have a menu, but what good is it, if they can’t properly execute it??
Many say they have good experiences at Red Robin, they have gluten free buns and French fries (at most locations), so I was taken back when the manager brought me out a plate of Fried Chicken when I ordered grilled chicken, gluten free. He told me while laughing that I’d enjoy this better than what I ordered. I took the time to ask for the gluten free menu, tell the server it was an allergy, and asked if the fries were in a dedicated fryer. Why would you even think I’d prefer some Glutenful fried chicken instead? Personally I won’t go back, I’m glad others do well there.
We only go places with good reviews and word of mouth. I scrutinize every menu. I’ve learned just cause it says Gluten Free menu doesn’t mean it’s safe. Denny’s boasts a gluten free menu but from their own customer service, the English muffins are made in a shared toaster. That information is not noted on the menu though. If you stop in for a meal without beforehand researching it looks safer than it really is. It's frustrating, and it makes it hard on us trying to explain why we're not eating with everyone else, but it's what we have to do.
For me this means making sure we frequent the places that do a good job and tip well. But always have something on hand in case things go awry, I always have snacks to hold me over until I have a safe option.