Tips for Handling a Bad Gluten-Free Dining Experience

What to do when you have a negative gluten free dining experience?
What to do when you have a negative gluten free dining experience?

What to do when you have a negative gluten free dining experience?

I travel frequently and love to try new places, despite living a gluten-free life. I put my health in the hands of strangers all the time but it never gets easier. The language barriers seem to be one of the hardest situations I encounter when explaining that I can’t consume gluten.

But through all the experiences, some are wonderful, positive and delicious and others leave little to be desired.

So, you had a bad gluten-free restaurant experience? Now what?

Anyone who lives a gluten-free lifestyle has survived a less than enjoyable experience in a dining establishment. Whether you deal with an agitated waiter or an uneducated kitchen staff, the experience still leaves a salty taste in your mouth. No one wants to go out to eat and have a great time, only to leave there a feel a gluten poisoning coming on to ruin the next few days of your week.

Most recently I entered into a dispute with a manager from a place I’ve eaten at before and received wonderful service from the girls working there, over their gluten-free menu. He told me it didn’t exist and when I asked for the orange menu from behind the bar with the gluten filled items scratched out on it, he told me the menu was exactly the same as the regular one. No kidding, I know it’s the same, but this one very clearly has it blacked out the items they can’t make safe for me and giant warnings about their chips not cooked in a dedicated fryer. He literally argued with me for 5 minutes about it before I just sat down and talked to my server about it.

I’ve been poisoned before and had a bad experience. Here are my tips on how to handle an unpleasant gluten-free restaurant experience.

  1. Try not to fly into an immediate rage or hysterics. While certainly you are emotional and for all the right reasons, now isn’t the time to go into antics. Compose yourself and ask to speak to the manager.
  2. Hopefully, the manager will offer to make it right or at least take care of your bill since they made you sick and it will end with them. But, sometimes you need to take it up the chain. One time I suffered from a horrible experience at an Asian themed restaurant where they served me an entire plate of regular sauced food and I was sick immediately. I barely made it out of there without changing my pants. The manager was less than sympathetic and assured me I received the correct meal. Clearly by my dash to the restroom before I even finished eating was a sign he didn’t know what he was talking about. I had no choice but to take it up a level.
  3. I wrote an email to the corporate office of the restaurant. I explained the situation in a calm, descriptive manner. When they didn’t respond within 48 hours, I wrote a blog post about my experience.
  4. The blog post was shared with their Facebook and Twitter pages and sure enough within 12 hours of the post, I received a message from them and spoke with their communications director who offered me a gift card in exchange for my experience.
  5. Then I wrote a review on Yelp and copied it to other sites with the corrected information about how they made the situation better and finally responded to the problem.

I am NEVER quick to write a bad review. I believe the business has the right to remedy the situation prior to it escalating to a negative review or blog post. When I write the review, I will mention the problem and then clearly explain how they decided to make the situation better.

If the manager and/or owner fail to respond to my attempts to get them to remedy the situation, then I will make it known very publicly about the situation and my attempts to offer them the opportunity to make things better.

Have I gone back to a restaurant after having a negative experience? Yes. But, if I have a problem on the second time, I can tell you it will be my last time eating there.

There are also times where I’ve gone to places that I loved because I always felt safe and they failed me. It happens everywhere and we need to always have our guard up.

 

Why gluten-free menus are worthless…

…because very few restaurants educate their staff on gluten and how to protect customers.

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I’d like to say I’ve mastered the art of eating out with celiac disease but that would be a huge lie. I could say I’ve mastered the ability to order my meal but certainly not of educating each and every server I encounter.

We are all too familiar with bad restaurants, especially when it comes to gluten-free. The reviews are all over the internet and we keep speaking out but it seems no one is listening.

A while ago, I wrote a post about successfully eating out gluten-free but the more I experience it, the more I realize we have no control over what we actually eat in a restaurant. You see the reality is some servers will really care about you, take their time with you and make sure you have an amazing meal. But, even a server with the best intentions forgets things and gets busy leaving us with a stomach ache.

The only true way to stay  completely gluten-free is to make all your own meals, all the time. Sounds great right?

We can’t even get companies and the government to regulate ingredients labels so we know what we are consuming, why would we think the restaurant business cares about gluten? And why would we expect them to educate their staff on gluten related issues, even when they offer a gluten-free menu.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – higher end restaurants with chefs not cooks are going to be your best bet. Those places care about bad reviews and bad experiences. Their servers typically make more money and provider a higher quality of service. Please don’t think I’m stereotyping cheap restaurants because I’m sure in our world out there some little chains really know what they are doing and get it right, but the girl working at Taco Hut or The Burger Shack making $7.50/hour are less likely to care about gluten.

I mean how many times have you looked up a place to eat online, selected your option only to get there and find out they don’t carry half the items on the gluten-free menu posted by corporate online?

Or how many times have you eaten out only to have food brought out still with croutons, breadcrumbs or something else incorrect?

Or how many times have you eaten off the gluten-free menu only to poop your pants and have a migraine for 3 days?

It happens. It happens probably more often than we think. But, until the government and FDA take gluten seriously, we can’t expect to be treated the same as someone with a nut allergy.

So, what we can do about this?

Advocate for food label changes. Educate ourselves about menus prior to going to restaurants. Read reviews online to see if people have difficult experiences there. Write reviews about our experiences both positive and negative. Don’t beat yourself up if you get sick after eating out. Learn to cook more gluten free meals at home. And lastly, remember you aren’t the only one going through this….

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Gluten Free Review Outback Steakhouse

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We started our road trip Thursday night and ended up at a Courtyard Marriott outside of Charlotte. In the car, I took a bunch of snacks with me but there is only so much snacking you can do before you want a real meal. Thankfully, there was an Outback Steakhouse right next to our hotel.

The hostess got me the huge gluten free menu and I was in heaven. So many options! I didn’t know what to order. I knew I wanted a lot of protein since I didn’t have much throughout the day.

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The waitress brought Aaron bread and he joyfully devoured it right in front of me :( She said she saw that we only had one gluten free menu and didn’t want to leave the hubby out.

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My dinner was the mini filet with the shrimp and a baked potato. The filet was cooked perfectly and the baked potato had the perfect amount of crispiness to the shell that I love. In hindsight, I should of ordered some veggies too while we were there but I’m on vacation and I am going to eat whatever I can that’s gluten free!

I’m not a huge fan of sauces and didn’t try them. I just  like to enjoy my meals plain.

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Another great thing about Outback Steakhouse is their connection with their fans on social media. They tweeted me back within 10 minutes and re-tweeted my tweet at 10pm on a Thursday night. That’s great customer service!

I’d highly recommend Outback if you are gluten free or gluten insensitive. They are educated on gluten and have an extensive menu to accommodate your needs without making you feel like the odd man out.
Rebecca

Comments

  1. Eve says:

    what does gluten “insensitive” mean…. I’m sure you meant gluten sensitive…which means GLUTEN INTOLERANT!! This is not a walk in the park, I have gluten intolerance, and didn’t know what was wrong with me and it caused my Graves Disease. I was first diagnosed with RA, 20 years ago but that wasn’t what was happening to me, I had no symptoms of RA, but that had to be when the antibodies first showed up in my blood and the medical profession just didn’t know what it meant. It meant that I was developing Celiacs…and if I’d known it 20 years ago, (maybe) I wouldn’t have developed Graves. I also have lactose intolerance and allergy to eggs…my diet is IMPOSSIBLE if I eat out of my house!! I hope you find your way and starting a blog should help as you will get a lot of input and experience to help you along your new life! Good Luck and good eating.

    • PrettyLittleCeliac says:

      Eve! Thanks for the catch, I will fix that right away. My fault for not proof reading but at least I know someone is reading my blog.

      What a long journey you’ve had with the Graves and RA. I can’t even imagine. Hopefully with education and people sharing their stories, we can help people going for years without symptoms being linked to the root cause of celiac or gluten intolerance.

      Rebecca

       

  2. Megan says:

    Rebecca.. thank you for this entry… Gluten intolerance has been added to an already complicated diet….so this was great to know that Outback is “Megger’s” friendly. Keep up the good work…

     

  3. kathy says:

    We have had great experiences at out local Outback. The waiter was on top of everything! He even thought to ask the kitchen for some GF bread for my husband to enjoy while we all got the regular loaf.

     

    • PrettyLittleCeliac says:

      Do you normally get steak there? They are very active on Twitter and Facebook – so let them know you loved it!