How to Eat Out Gluten-Free and Never Get Glutened Again

by Steven Wright

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Is it possible to never get glutened when eating out?

Anything is possible and I’ll show you the 100% way near the end of this article, but you may not like it.  

Let’s get clear on one thing first: 99% success is possible… you better believe it. But I have to warn you. If you want this kind of certainty, clarity, and success rate, you have to be willing to dive deep down the rabbit hole with me.

Are you willing?

Okay, great! Let’s go.

Why Do You Even Want to Eat Out?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The reason to eat out is convenience and novelty. We want to save time, relax, and have someone else do the work. And other times it’s because we want an experience of new foods, new flavors, new people, and new environments.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Keeping this in mind will help you avoid your expectations not being meet.

For instance, if you are really craving new flavors and foods and you head out to the restaurant only to find out the only thing on the menu you can eat is salmon with sea salt and black pepper, you’re going to be let down every time.

But that same meal, if you really are just sick and tired of cooking and being in the house, can be a godsend reprieve.

So, get clear on why… are you going out to enjoy the company of the people you are meeting? Are you going out so you don’t have to cook? Are you going out because you are sick and tired of eating the same thing?  

This is the first key in having a great restaurant experience…

And a huge step in overcoming the fear of getting sick from restaurant foods.

Before you head out… let’s go deeper.

Step Into the Restaurant’s Shoes

I believe the first step to giving you the confidence to eat out is to step into a restaurant’s shoes and get clear what you are up against.  

For the best game plan, we must first understand the game.

So, here’s what to think about…

First, the restaurant industry has notoriously low margins… some of the lowest in all of the world. This means that they MUST use protocols, schedules, and systems to produce good tasting food without costing too much – so they can stay in business.

Any deviations from the norm costs them money and are against the training the staff gets…

Which means the industry in general traditionally has not wanted to cater to us gluten-free people. It’s not personal, it’s just how it’s always been done to stay in business.

Second, the cook, the person creating your food, will never meet you. At a chain restaurant or any lower tier restaurant, the cook isn’t typically even a truly trained pro. They are taught the systems and methods of that restaurant and that’s it. Many times, the only way they know how to make chicken is to marinate it in that gluten-filled sauce.  

They aren’t educated on foods, they aren’t experienced in making other meals outside of this restaurant’s staples. And so when you ask for a “special order,” it’s a genuine issue for many of them.  

Now, at a higher tier restaurant, where you have a professionally trained chef, things change. These men and women know what they are doing. They know in an instant how to change dishes by removing ingredients and still make them taste good. But you’re still messing with their money making system.  

Third, the waitress or waiter is typically either completely educated on gluten or actually has no idea. They are incentivized to care, which is good, but only to a point… since wages are very low in most restaurants and tips are how they pay their rent.

So… again, at restaurants that pay their staff more, use higher quality of standards and provide more of an experience,  you can expect to find the staff who are more educated, care more and understand special needs more.  

These are just the facts.  

And they are empowering, let me show you how…

Fail to Plan… Plan to Get Sick!

“I just want to forget about it and go out and relax and not think about food.”  

…Said by everyone who’s been gluten-free at some point. And guess what, that’s not going to work anymore – unless you like getting glutened and being sick.  

So, pull yourself out of any self-pity and sadness and be grateful that you even have the option and aren’t forced to eat rationed gluten bread and the bugs crawling on it. Because much of the world still does that.

If you don’t plan ahead… you’ll get sick.  

So, what does it mean to plan?

It means figuring out what restaurants in your area you would feel comfortable eating at. You need to do the research to understand how many options you really have, before you get there, before you say yes to any gatherings.

Here’s how to do that.  

Planning to Eat at Chain Restaurants

First, eliminate any chain restaurants that don’t advertise a gluten-free menu online. In many cities, this might cut out 80% of your options. The places like Applebee’s, Chili’s, and fast food restaurants are likely not what you are looking for.

Why?

Because you are not the customer they want. They have rigid food systems, they have the lowest wages and many times they don’t even cook the food on site, they just re-heat it.  

It’s super hard to do “special orders” when the food is already spiced, marinated and cooked someplace else.

If these restaurants do have a gluten-free menu, then the next step is to call the local manager and ask them the following series of questions.  

  1. I noticed you have a gluten-free menu, I have severe Celiac, can you tell me how your cooks would prepare my meal in order to avoid any gluten contamination? Ask about pans, knives, different cutting areas but honestly you are really trying to feel their energy.  Does this restaurant actually care? Or are they interested in pleasing you to make money? Despite their corporate push for gluten-free, does the staff even know what it is?
  2. Which of your meats are marinated or brined before cooking? Can you tell the ingredients of these marinades and brines? Go meat-by-meat, suddenly those mexican fajitas can sound awful when all the steak is marinated in gluten-filled Italian dressing.
  3. If you have other food allergies, like dairy, soy, MSG, or whatever, now is the time to figure out which dishes are gluten + other things free.
  4. Before you get off the phone, you better have a good understanding of which meats and which dishes you’d be willing to eat.  

Only a few years ago, this process would pretty much eliminate all restaurants in a medium-sized town. But corporations are waking up. It’s getting better.

So, there is hope, but you still need to do this for the 3-10 chain restaurants in town. Not sure if it’s a chain restaurant? Well, if an entree meal costs under $20 a plate and there’s a slick looking website… it’s likely a chain….

Which brings us to cost and upper scale places.

Money Matters (Eating at Upscale Places)

Here’s the truth, price matters. When the meal costs more, it’s typically a function of several things that play to your gluten-free needs.

Typically, higher prices mean:

  • Higher quality food ingredients
  • More diverse foods for the chef to work with
  • More trained chefs
  • Higher paid staff who care more

Now that doesn’t mean you’ll just be able to waltz into your local upscale steak joint and be just fine. It just means the odds are more in your favor.  

You actually still need to call them, talk to a manager and ask the same series of questions that you asked the chain restaurants.  

But if my experiences have taught me anything… the more I pay for the food, the higher the chance that I’m going to have a good experience. 

But don’t skip the investigating call.

Ordering in the Restaurant

Alright you’ve called ahead, you understand why you’re heading out tonight, now you’re at the table and the pressure is on. What do you do?

Start by ordering last. You want all your special requests fresh in the server’s mind.  

When it’s your turn to order, say something like this.

“Hi, I have severe Celiac disease and need my food strictly gluten-free. I called early and talked to your manager Jenny and we discussed that you guys could cater to my needs if I ordered the salmon cooked in it’s own pan with a side of broccoli and baked potato. She assured me that the cook could prepare this and cook it in it’s own pan. Can you do that? Can you verify that?”

Be courteous, be kind. Remember that the waitress/waiter has a desire to make you happy, so help them do their job with a smile.  

And lastly, leave a big tip. Remember, you are a special case and require everyone to cater to your needs so reward them. If not for them, but for the rest of us gluten-free eaters.  

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all tipped so well that the restaurant staff got turned on by hearing I’m gluten-free because they knew they would be getting a 30% tip, instead of getting turned off because they had to work harder?

With all this said… sometimes the cook won’t care, the server will forget and they’ll bring you a plate with bread on it.  

The honest truth is because they don’t care as much about your special needs as you do. If you eat out enough, you’ll likely run into a problem sooner or later…  

Which is okay for most people once they get comfortable eating like this.  

But if not then there’s one other technique I can share with you.

The 100% No Gluten Method

Now, let’s say that you called the 10+ local restaurants and you don’t feel very confident in any of them. (Or the ones you do like are a bit to high priced for you.)

Does that mean you’re stuck eating at home, not going on dates, not meeting up with friends?

Actually, the answer is no.  

There’s a way to make sure you’re 100% safe but it’s just not what most people are willing to do. Here’s how to pull it off…

Option 1:  You cook your food ahead of time, bring it into the restaurant in a cooler, talk to the hostess and ask to speak to a manager. Tell them that you are extremely food-sensitive but you have a very important dinner to attend. Ask them to please heat your food up in their microwave and put it on a plate. Tell them you’ll be very generous in tipping your waitress/waiter.  

Option 2:  Eat ahead of time, go to the restaurant and meet up with your friends. Tell them you’re sorry you got way too hungry ahead of time and ate then. Then, order water, tea or coffee from the waitress/waiter and enjoy the environment and connection with your friends. Make sure you tip the staff well as you took up a spot in their restaurant and didn’t allow them to make the money they normally would.

I’ve watched Jordan do these 2 options over and over again in small town restaurants that just don’t even understand what gluten or Celiac disease is. Is it awkward? Sure, if you make it. But if you remember why you are going out… it all melts away.

All it takes is for you to believe that this kind of behavior is normal and what you expect. And quickly the restaurant manager and your friends will adopt your point of view.  

Now, if you say sorry all the time, or if you keep bringing it up – worrying if people are weirded out – guess what? They will be. To whatever degree you make it a problem, the rest of the world will too.

So, get clear on what your plan is, set your reason for going out and then bend the world to your point of view.  

The Cheat Sheet Summary

Alright, so let’s summarize this into a memorable package for your brain.  

  1. Get clear on why you are going out to a restaurant
  2. Call them ahead of time and ask the tough questions about their food and cooking methods
  3. Order last, repeat the plan from the manager to the server, and tip very well regardless of taste of food
  4. When in doubt, bring your own food and act like it’s normal (because in your world it is)

This system has served me and Jordan very well over the last 7 years. And it’s been used by 1000s of others we’ve taught it to.  

If you want the full details about eating out, getting rid of social anxiety and isolation, then I want you to purchase our Social Butterfly Program.

The science is clear, as humans we need connection with other humans. Pets are nice, TV doesn’t work and social networks are fake connection.  

We must hug, laugh, cry and spend time with real live people. And food is very woven into the fabric of our western social scene, which means you need to get the skills to protect your health and get out of the house.

It’s actually remarkably simple, freeing and fun, when you realize that your diet is NOT holding you back.

Get your social life back with the Social Butterfly Program.

Do you have any tips for eating out that I missed? I would love to hear them in the comments below.  

-Steve

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About the author

Steven Wright Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Yolanda October 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

I present the manager with a 3×5 index card to be given to the chef with a statement of my disease. Then specific on how my order must be cooked and what items my food can absolutely not be exposed to. In some restaurants the chef or cook has actually come out to thank me for giving the information in written form. Things can be lost in translation from one person to another. I rarely go to high end restaurants but most definitely avoid low end chains. Of course calling ahead and speaking with the manager or cook is very helpful as well.

Reply

Mariel Heiss October 2, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Yolanda – that is a great idea!

Often when people don’t have special dietary needs they can get overwhelmed by them (vegan isn’t the same as gluten free as allergic to wheat, etc.!)

Thanks for sharing this tip!

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Dr. Larry R. Ward October 2, 2015 at 3:20 pm

I am impressed with your insights, care, compassion, and experience. Because of that, I want you to know about another Doc I met that is an incredible tool against gluten sensitivity. I met him at a conference last year, and I have since come to greatly respect his expertise. He is speaking at a functional medicine conference in Atlanta this month or next- and is an incredible resource to help you help others. His name is Dr. Tom O’Brien. He has formulated supplements to aid gluten sensitive souls, as well as a program to educate people on what to do …. thedr.com is his web stuff I believe.
Thank you for what you do.
Sincerest Regards,
Dr. Larry

Reply

Mariel Heiss October 2, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Hi Dr. Larry – we love Dr. O’Bryan as well!

He collaborated with us on our Solving Leaky Gut program and we very much admire his work and expertise.

You can learn more about SLG and our work with Dr. O’Bryan by signing up for a free webinar here: http://solvingleakygut.com/webinar/tom-obryan/

Reply

Kelly October 3, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Hi,
Just wanted to ask -does anyone know if dairy-alternative milks such as Brown Ricw milk and Oat milk are gluten free?

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Mariel Heiss October 6, 2015 at 11:31 am

Hi Kelly – you’ll need to check the labels on any store-bought milk alternatives to see if they are gluten-free.

However, we really don’t recommend these grain-milk alternatives as they can be damaging to the gut as well.

We recommend you try almond milk or another kind of nut milk. Some people do very well with coconut milk as well!

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Christina October 4, 2015 at 5:28 pm

I call ahead, talk to the chefs, take aspergillopepsin & dipeptidyl peptidase IV and heavily supplement with L-glutamine to heal quickly.

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Mariel Heiss October 6, 2015 at 11:29 am

Great point – and what we discuss in the article, too!

Here’s some info on L-Lgutamine, if you’re interested: http://scdlifestyle.com/?s=glutamine

Thank you for commenting 🙂

Reply

Christina October 4, 2015 at 5:29 pm

An abstract discussing the enzymes I referenced.

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Karen October 11, 2015 at 8:36 am

I find asking to speak directly to the chef helps too, usually in higher priced establishments. Also, sometimes a Mom & Pop mid to upper-scale restaurant can offer the most time and consideration.

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Kendall Ryder July 7, 2016 at 9:01 am

From someone who has had to switch to a gluten free diet, it can be so hard eating out! Of course, there are more and more restaurants adding gluten free items to their menu, but it is still hard fining those restaurants. Eating only meats and fruits and veggies is not fun. That is why finding gluten free alternatives to your favorite items is important for us gluten free folk! Searching for a restaurant that has these foods will be so much easier and better for you ! Don’t fall into the trap of eating the food that will make you feel sick!

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Oonagh July 11, 2016 at 11:43 am

What I keep repeating in articles, classes and conferences I speak at on food for gluten free and other food allergy diets. Make sure waiter/waitress writes your order down as gluten free and say medical necessity as too many restaurants have been burnt by people playing with following a gfd and being asked is it a preference. As a chef with cd I can understand frustration of restaurants trying to do the right thing and then have some idiot have wheat filled chocolate cake. Then check if restaurant says it has any visible protocols for gfd – different shape or color plate, allergy flag, meal served by chef or manager not your waiter. I was given a wheat filled meal one time as my waiter hadn’t put it through as gf and only avoided severe xc since I knew their protocols. If they don’t have visible protocols then double check when served that it is a gluten free meal and if they are not sure push back and insist they check, even ask for manager. And then smile, smile, smile, be sweet and leave a good tip so they take more care for next one of us. Remember you are only as safe as the waiter, manager and chef on duty that day.

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Mariel Heiss July 12, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Great tips!! Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experiences 🙂

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Dawn December 6, 2016 at 8:32 am

Thanks for this article – I love your humor and I think that’s what I needed most. Well, maybe that and enjoying a read from someone that gets it.

Reply

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