Dining Out with Celiac Disease
Feeling overwhelmed by gluten-free dining is common to experience. Canadian studies surveying adult celiac patients report that 48% of patients avoid restaurants because of the associated burdens (1). Food labelling and eating away from home also remain a continuous problem among patients (2).
The good news is, with a little planning and preparation, celiac patients can enjoy dining out safely.
Guide for Dining Gluten-Free
Know Your Options
As more and more restaurants are offering gluten-free menu options, it has never been easier to dine out gluten-free. However, the challenge with celiac disease is finding businesses that meet the strict policies required to achieve a safe dining experience. Make sure to do your research to find restaurants that offer celiac-friendly menu options. Visiting a restaurant's website or calling the business beforehand to ask a few questions will help you find the answers you need. Check out the Canadian Celiac Association's Conversation Guide to get some suggestions on the right questions to ask.
Review the Menu Beforehand
It is a great idea to familiarize yourself with a restaurant's menu before arrival. By doing this, you can feel prepared to order without second-guessing your safety. Select a menu item in advance to minimize the stress of deciding what to order in the moment. It can also allow you to discuss celiac-friendly menu options with the serving staff in advance if you call the establishment to confirm the safety of your meal.
Start the Conversation Early
As suggested above, having a conversation with the serving staff of a restaurant before you arrive to confirm their involvement in keeping you safe while dining is a great way to start the conversation early. Consider these additional strategies to ease the conversation while dining:
Bring it up early - Try to mention your celiac disease diagnosis as soon as you get introduced to your server. This will allow the serving staff to plan in advance how to work with the kitchen staff to cater to your needs.
Ask the right questions - It is important to ask your server if they understand what is required for your order to be safe for you to eat. Can your server confirm it will be prepared separately? Has the kitchen staff been reminded? Work together with your server to ensure you have a pleasant dining experience.
Provide feedback - If you found a gluten-free meal to be very enjoyable, let your server know! Restaurants go out of their way to create celiac-safe dining experiences and would love your feedback. Recommend your favorite restaurants to others in the community to keep the conversation going.
To make your life easier, we have created a "celiac card" which contains this information and you can present it at the restaurant - click here to download the card-
Have a Back-Up Plan
Sometimes when dining out with celiac disease things do not go as planned. You may have called in advance to confirm the safety of your meal and find out you got misinformation. The menu item you may have selected isn't available. When this happens, do not panic. Having additional plans in place will help you make decisions that work for everyone involved.
Know the "safe" option - When you're stuck in a tough situation at the restaurant, as the server if they can prepare a salad for you with a gluten-free dressing and a protein on the side that is grilled separately. Most restaurants can make this accommodation to suit your needs and provide you with a simple meal to enjoy.
Always bring a quick snack (just in case) - It is not easy to make meal decisions when you're hungry and something doesn't go your way. There may be times where you have to wait longer than expected for your gluten-free meal. Have a quick and easy snack on hand for these moments. Trust me on this one.
Find a favourite takeout restaurant as a back up - When you find yourself stuck with no other options, your favourite celiac-friendly takeout restaurant is the way to go. Make a quick order to pick up on the way home and eat your meal in comfort knowing you can't win them all.
Zarkadas M et al. The impact of a gluten-free diet on adults with coeliac disease: results of a national survey. J Hum Nutr Diet 2006; 19(1):41-9.
Zarkadas M et al. Living with coeliac disease and a gluten-free diet: a Canadian perspective. J Hum Nutr Diet 2013; 21(1):10-23.