Monday, June 23, 2014

Is the Gluten-Free Trend a Problem When Eating Out With Food Allergies?

Last week I ate at one of my favorite restaurants. The restaurant will remain nameless because despite the story I am about to tell, I still rate it highly. I went there for gluten-free pizza. I know from prior experience that they prepare the gluten-free pizzas in a separate pan and that they have appropriate controls in the kitchen.

And so I ordered my favorite pizza and told the server that I have a gluten allergy. (I was dining alone and hence there was no need to explain my son’s food allergies.) I was sipping my glass of wine and checking my email when a manager approached my table. The conversation went something like this:

Manager: You ordered a gluten-free pizza. I need to ask, do you have celiac disease?

Me: (Antennas going up…) Why are you asking?

Manager: We just like to know.

Me: (Now thinking that they won’t take proper precautions…) I will get very sick if I eat gluten.

Manager: Okay. The gluten-free pizza is a good thing to order, you should be fine. But I have to tell you that we can’t actually guarantee anything.

For a minute I considered getting up and leaving. If it had been my first visit there, I would have. Instead, I proceeded to ask the detailed questions about the special pan, etc., and I got satisfactory answers.

Me: (Now feeling like I had to advocate for everyone.) You really shouldn’t ask people that question about how severe their allergy is.

Manager: Really? Why not?

Me: It makes people nervous, and if you really are doing everything properly in the kitchen you should be making them feel comfortable.

Manager: Yes, we just don’t want to get sued.

Me: You shouldn’t have a problem with that if your staff is trained properly.

I was at a restaurant that is known for it’s gluten-free food. My son and I have eaten there successfully numerous times and always felt very comfortable. I stayed, ate my pizza, took some back to the hotel, and had no problems at all.

And so I am left wondering if the “gluten-free trend” (meaning people choosing to eat gluten-free without medical issues) is causing confusion in the restaurant community. It’s too easy to lump people into two groups – celiacs and non-celiacs; there are many non-celiacs with medical reasons to avoid gluten. If I am highly gluten-intolerant (and I am) I want the same care taken in preparing my meal as if I had celiac disease.

What do you think?


Alisa said...

I definitely think it is causing confusion for the restaurant community. As well with food intolerance/sensitivities vs allergies. I think a better question to ask is "do you have concerns over potential cross-contamination?" This doesn't ask anyone to speculate on what is severe enough, but rather gives a yes or no answer that the manager can work with and properly respond to. Also, it allows them the convenience of not having to go into full allergen preparation mode if someone isn't concerned about small amounts of a food, such as gluten.

Colette said...

Alisa, yes, that would be a better question!

Jean | said...

Colette, I symphathize with both sides on this issue. I think it's nice when a restaurant offers some GF options, but a restaurant that uses gluten cannot guarantee there won't be cross-contamination. From what I've read they would actually have to have a walled-off area and separate kitchen equipment and staff to be completely GF.