Monday, August 12, 2013

Eating Out With Food Allergies Can be Tricky Business

Every now and then I run across a server or chef in a restaurant that is trying to help but is misinformed – and those can be the most frustrating restaurant experiences. Recently I experienced this two days in a row.

We never eat at Red Lobster when my son is home because nearly every dish contains dairy, but my husband convinced me we should go for lobster. I should note that this chain is on my list of restaurants to avoid, but that seemed to slip my mind as I savored the idea of lobster. (I should also note that we do not have fish or shellfish allergies.) Off to Red Lobster we went.

I asked for a gluten-free menu and was handed a six-page grid of ingredients in their menu items. Nearly every item on the list had an asterisk in the gluten column, including the lobster. (I should also note that there were half a dozen items that had wheat listed as an ingredient but not gluten.) I decided the list they had handed me wasn’t going to help much.

When the server came back I explained that I would like lobster, but asked if he could check why they had it listed as containing gluten. This was a simple boiled lobster – why in the world should it contain gluten?

The manager came over and explained that she checked the online database and that it also said the lobster contains gluten. (Now I’m rolling my eyes.) I explain that there in no gluten in the lobster itself and asked whether it was something they were boiling it in? (no, just water) or something in the butter (no, just 100% drawn butter). The manager then suggests that perhaps they have it listed that way because of the croutons on the salad. Seriously? (Major eye rolling now.)

I ordered the lobster with 100% butter (I am not allergic to dairy) and no croutons on the salad. I am happy to report that all is well.

The very next day my husband and I were at Coyote Grill. I have my standard two or three menu items that I usually order at Coyote Grill, but there was a chicken dish on the specials menu that sounded good. There was nothing in the description that would cause me to think it was unsafe, but notified the server of my gluten allergy and asked whether she could check. She happily reported that the chef said there was no wheat or gluten in the dish, but that it was coated with flour; the chef said it was okay.

From experience we all know that whenever someone says “flour” in a restaurant he or she doesn’t mean chickpea or rice (or any of the other safe flours) they mean wheat flour. I asked the server what kind of flour. She said she didn’t know, but she also noted that she was surprised at the chef’s response since she thought flour was wheat. (Smart girl.) I asked her if she could check the ingredients label on whatever he was using to coat the chicken.

Sure enough, my server cam back to report that the very first ingredient on the label was wheat. I happily ordered my usual salad.


Anonymous said...

I can completely relate. Last night we tried Outback Steakhouse. I couldn't have the seasoning on the vegetables, but I could have the "Outback Seasoning" on the steak. I wanted salmon. Could I get the GF seasoning on the salmon? The waitress was completely baffled. Ugh!

Colette said...

Amy, I really hate the "seasoning" thing. I don't think the wait staff -- or even the chefs -- at the chains really know what's in there.

mamatron said...

My bad experience was at a sushi restaurant getting some take out. When we got it home one of the rolls my husband ordered had krab meat in it and it was in the same box as my rolls. I was so concerned that I called the manager to ask why that happened and did the chef use the same knife to cut the two rolls? He was completely unaware that there is gluten in imitation krab meat. With me still on the phone he went back to the kitchen to read the ingredients on the package and said, "You're right! It's full of gluten!" You really just can't trust people to know where gluten hides if they don't personally have to be aware of it. Needless to say, after that experience and a handful of others at different restaurants here in town, I don't eat out much any more. :-/