Guest Blogger – Rachael Oliver gives her views on eating out. Visit the webiste to see reviews by www.glutenfreebites.co.uk
I’ve experienced a variety of reactions when I’ve told my waiter or waitress that I need a gluten free meal.
The first is complete confusion- it’s like you’ve said something in a foreign language. Gluten? What is this woman talking about? Nothing strikes fear in my heart like a waiter or waitress who has no clue at all, as you then need to go into a lengthy explanation of what might contain gluten and issues around cross-contamination. Even after this palaver I have little confidence that they have understood what I have said and will make sure the chef does too. It puts you off eating anything at all, as their lack of knowledge could result in me feeling pretty ill for several days.
The second is indifference bordering on contempt. They think I’m just on a special fad diet I saw in a magazine about celebrities. They have never heard of someone being carried out on a stretcher after eating gluten, so think it is no big deal. It is true that I won’t go into anaphylactic shock and end up in hospital (I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking it must be eating out with that type of allergy), but eating gluten for me is like deliberately infecting myself with a nasty virus. The indifferent waiting staff tend to tell you things like ‘yes that meal should be gluten free’. They seem unwilling to double check or ask the chef to adapt a dish to make it gluten free- check out my review of one such restaurant here.
The third is the helpful response; they may not be entirely sure but will go and check all of your questions with the chef. This is quite reassuring but you still have that niggling worry at the back of your mind that they are not used to dealing with people who need to avoid certain foods and so may get something wrong.
The fourth is the Mecca for every person who can’t eat certain foods because of an allergy, intolerance or auto-immune disease; the helpful and informed response, someone who knows what you are talking about and is confident that their restaurant can cater for you. And I have come across some great examples of restaurants who deliver this type of service. And I go back to these places and recommend them to my friends and to the gluten-free community online.
I’m sure no restaurant wants to give their customers food poisoning and any decent restaurant takes lots of steps to avoid this happening. Every restaurant needs to think about food allergies and intolerances in the same way- to avoid poisoning these customers, they need to make sure their staff have the right training and the right procedures in place. And that’s why I think the training offered by companies like the Food Allergy Training Consultancy is so important and should be standard across the industry.
And having the right training and procedures in place is not only good for your customers; it makes good business sense too. The number of people with a food allergy or intolerance or auto-immune disease is going up as awareness and diagnosis increases, and we all want to eat out and we all have money to spend. I read an interesting interview with someone from Las Iguanas, the restaurant chain offering South American food, about why they have made an effort to clearly identify and mark gluten free options on their menu. They wanted to help out their customers, but they also recognised that the person with special dietary requirements will often choose where to eat, and will bring along their friends and family too.
After lots of disappointing experiences eating out, I now check menus online to see if gluten free options are marked clearly on menus and call ahead to ask some questions, to check if the staff know what they are doing. And if they don’t I go elsewhere. My advice to restaurants would therefore be clearly mark ‘free from’ options on your menus, get training for your staff and check how you prepare your food, so you can have confidence you can cater for all of your customers’ needs.
Find out about restaurants I would recommend for eating gluten free at www.glutenfreebites.co.uk
The views given above are those of glutenfreebites