If the Menu Says Gluten Free Your Staff Should Know What That Means….

So I went out to eat on a Saturday night before going to the movie theater. I chose a certain restaurant as it was fairly close by the movie location. And, on line they boasted of a GF menu. We got seated quickly. A tall, pretty young lady was our server. I informed her of my GF status. She said they had many GF choices. I picked steak fajitas. She said I couldn’t have the rice that normally comes with it as that had gluten. I said that rice has no gluten, that perhaps the seasoning was the reason why it was not GF? She smiled at me in a pitying way and said as though I was a simpleton, “Rice is a grain so it is not GF.” I said rice was something that we who have celiac can eat. She repeated, in that same patronizing voice, that rice is not GF. Hearing it said just that way, again, I decided to just agree with her and accept the lack of rice.       Image

My steak was juicy. The condiments were extensive including guacamole. I put one fajita together and took a big bite. Totally tasty. Still, the corn tortillas were kinda small and they tore easily when full of fajita components. So it was a messy enterprise to eat them. But, really worth the effort. Now if only they could make seasoned rice without any wheat flour in it! Then the GF fajita experience would be perfect for me.

This tiny vignette out of my Saturday evening should give you some idea of how little most people know about celiac disease and being GF. This server should have been well informed and ready to steer me towards GF choices. Instead, she gave me fairly incorrect information and corrected me in a somewhat patronizing fashion.

So…just for the record. The following foods cannot be eating by those with a gluten allergy (celiac disease is the most severe of the gluten allergies): wheat, barley, rye, spelt, farro and any variant on any of those grains. If an ingredient list says starch without identifying it any further then you should consider it to be wheat starch and avoid the product. Safe grains are all rices including wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and some other unusual items like chia, flaxseed, sesame seeds and other seedy items!

But, even a trace amount of gluten can cause a severe reaction in some people with gluten allergies. So you have to be careful about anything you eat or put on your body, read all food labels, take all possible steps to avoid contamination by even tiny amounts of wheat and when eating out, make sure your restaurant server is well aware of your gluten allergy.

Restaurants need to educate their staff more carefully so they can be more knowledgeable and more helpful to customers like me who know what we are allergic to! This is not some mild pesky thing but a very painful mistake if you serve gluten to someone with celiac disease. All serving and cook staff need to be properly educated in terms of not contaminating food with gluten and in discussing GF food choices with customers.  Such training would take less than 15 minutes and could be done in a large group making it quick and relatively painless.  If you are going to say GF on your menu, then every staff person should know the basics of what that means.  Your mistake could make someone very ill.  Patrons need to be properly informed on safe choices and why some things are not safe.  Are you listening local restaurants?

Originally posted in June 2013.

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