It's me. Hi! I'm the problem, it's me 🎶
Do you feel anxious to go out to eat as someone with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance? Here's why you shouldn't and some tips for making your meal out a more relaxing one.
As someone who has to eat gluten free, when you go out for dinner, you might sometimes feel like tattooing those Taylor Swift lyrics to your forehead and preparing to feel like the biggest pain in the a*se. However, we really need to stop giving ourselves so much stick for something we have no choice over. Over 10% of the UK population are now gluten free and whether it’s an allergy, an intolerance, a medical reason or just because it makes people feel happier and healthier, be kind about it and that includes being kind to yourself.
You wouldn’t judge someone with a peanut allergy for being extra careful when ordering at a restaurant, and although gluten doesn’t pose an anaphylactic shock risk, it can still trigger some nasty symptoms and lead to serious health conditions.
When you have any kind of dietary restriction, going out for dinner isn’t always the relaxing care free experience it is for others. Sure, someone else is doing the hard work for you, you don’t have to do the washing up and (hopefully) you get a delicious meal out of it but there’s a lot of extra effort that goes into eating out when you’re gluten free.
Firstly, there’s deciding on where to go; we all love going to new places and seeing what different restaurants have to offer but, for me being coeliac, I often revert back to the same places because I trust them and their procedures and know they have great gluten free options. Going to a new restaurant means background digging to make sure they cater for GF/coeliacs and have more than a couple of options on the menu.
There’s nothing worse than showing up to a restaurant where their GF menu consists of a prawn cocktail without the bread, salad without the dressing and none other than the classic gluten free dessert, eton mess. We’re grateful, but we’re also hungry for more!
I’m sorry for what I said, please don’t leave me, you’re my only hope sometimes ❣️
If you’re going out with friends or family, it’ll likely be a lot easier for you to organise where to go because they’ll already know about your needs and be happy to do whatever is easiest for you. However, if you’re new to this or going out with work colleagues or some new relationships, you might feel like you’re being difficult dictating where to eat, or not confident enough to challenge the places others propose.
If suggestions are put forward, have a look if the place has an online menu to check for GF options or call them up and ask over the phone; that way you’ll get a good idea whether they’re clued up on allergens and if you feel comfortable eating there. Better still, check out the reviews on Glee!
If they cater for your needs then perfect, but if not, find a few suggestions to put forward explaining your situation so people are more on board. The majority of people won’t bat an eyelid at needing to go somewhere that works for someone with a dietary need and more than anything, if they do, do you really want to be spending time with them anyway?
Just because you need to eat somewhere that caters for your requirements doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to have a great time and nice meal. Don’t waste your money on somewhere you won’t enjoy and don’t waste your time on people who make you feel bad about something you can’t control.
If the restaurant doesn’t have a separate gluten free menu or the main menu isn’t marked with allergy symbols, you’re going to need the help from a waiter or an allergen matrix. Rather than wait last minute, ask someone to come over and explain the options with you because a matrix can be hella confusing and sometimes doesn’t align exactly with the main menu.
I’ve found something that takes the pressure off and allows me more time to ask the questions I need to, is to to be the last person to order at the table. It means that everyone can carry on with their conversations whilst you order your food and there’s not an awkward wait with all eyes on you. You’ll feel much better taking the time to ask all the questions you need and more confident that the server understands the seriousness of your requests. Think about it, you’d rather do this than not enjoy your meal out of worry or ending up ill afterwards.
Something else that happens quite a lot if I’m out with new friends or work colleagues who don’t know that I have to avoid gluten, is that the conversation tends to focus around me being coeliac. Depending on the situation, most of the time I’m happy telling them how long I’ve been gluten free and why I got diagnosed etc etc, however, it’s also absolutely fine for you not to want to talk about it. After all, it’s really not as interesting as people may think and who wants to hear about dodgy bowels and vomiting just before dinner?
Just saying something like ‘If it’s okay with you I’d rather not talk about it’ or brushing it off by saying ‘Oh it’s really not that interesting, let’s talk about something else’ is a good way to swerve the conversation.
I think over the past few years where the gluten free lifestyle has become a bit of a trend and not just a medical necessity, it’s had some bad press and I know that sometimes people who ask for a gluten free menu or complain about the lack of options get called a ‘diva’, a ‘Karen’ or even better, a ‘snowflake’! Whatever the reason, if someone is going through the palaver of ordering gluten free, there’s going to be a reason for it (apart from those who do it as a diet method, not all carbs contain gluten, gluten free substitute ingredients aren’t always ‘healthy’ and I bet you’re not cutting out soy sauce!).
The more you go out to new restaurants, the more confident you’ll become about asking questions without feeling embarrassed and you’ll feel empowered to do your best Sherlock Holmes work for the gluten free community!
🔍 Do your research on Glee, you’ll be able to see up-to-date, honest reviews about the restaurant, it’s gluten free friendliness, server knowledge, menu options and the overall experience, how great is that!
🙋🏽♀️ Don’t hold back from giving your own suggestions and if somewhere isn’t suitable for you, then explain why but offer some other options. If people pull faces then they aren’t worth your time, bye bye!
📞 Call ahead if needed to make sure the restaurant know that someone on your table is GF and ask any questions you have over the phone, you never know, they might put a GF menu on your table ready for you or discuss the GF options with you as soon as you arrive.
👀 Order after everyone else so that people can resume their conversations whilst you speak to your server; all eyes won’t be on you and you won’t feel like you’re the centre of attention, take your time!
✅ Why not double check your food when it arrives, if the server doesn’t specify it as gluten free when they put it down in front of you, ask them to confirm it so you have peace of mind.
🙊 Don’t feel obliged to talk about your allergy or intolerance if it comes up in conversation and you don’t want to discuss it. People might not realise that sometimes you want to go out for a meal and it not be the only thing you talk about, you do enough of that in your own head daily!
📝 Leave a review on Glee! Let your gluten free community know what your experience was like at the restaurant or café etc. so that they can decide whether or not they want to give it a try in the future. The more reviews people write on Glee, the easier it is for our gluten free gang to eat out!