The Top Ten Scary Things Restaurants Have Said To Me

Do you know what gluten free precaution to look for when you dine out in a restaurant? I thought I did, until I decided to call around and ask how much the restaurants knew. Some were great, others were downright scary!

Safe Gluten Free Dining

I have been both stunned and amazed at what restaurants say they know about gluten cross contamination.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are many restaurants out there that understand how important it is to prevent cross contamination in the kitchen. I love talking to those restaurants. They make me feel like we are speaking the same language. Other ones just scare me.

Since starting my blog last month, I have been calling and talking to a lot of restaurants. Well over a hundred in the past two weeks. I call, talk to a manager or staff person if the manager is not available, and ask about their safe gluten handling procedures in the kitchen.

I have compiled a list of “the top ten scary things restaurants have told me” list for you so you can get a better idea what to expect when you eat out. I also hope this arms you with some questions to ask your server to ensure your gluten free order is handled safely.

Drum roll please……I will start with the #10 most scary thing and work my way to the worst, #1.

10. “How long are you going to be on this gluten free diet?”

Wow, where do I start? How about for the rest of my life?? As much as I am thankful for the gluten free diet “fad” for helping get companies to put out more gluten free products, it set back those who really need to eat gluten free for medical reasons. Restaurants don’t know how to differentiate between gluten free for diet vs gluten free for medical reasons. Many have asked, are you really allergic? Or even better, #9.

9. “Are you really allergic, or are you just trying to lose weight?”

I kid you not. Someone asked me that over the phone. When I replied, “Yes, I really am allergic,” the staff person told me I should tell my wait person when I come in that I have a real allergy so they can take precautions. Really? So, if I interpret that correctly, this restaurant only takes safe gluten handling practices seriously when you tell them you have a real gluten allergy. What if a gluten free diner in this restaurant doesn’t know to specify?

8. “Our kitchen is too small to use separate pans and utensils.”

This is a common problem for restaurants in the Bay Area. I am not sure I fully understand why a restaurant would make an effort to accommodate gluten free diners if they can’t do it safely. I am trying to visualize a cook line. It would surprise me if a cook didn’t switch pans and utensils as they cook each order. No restaurant would use a pan to make chicken marsala, then use the same pan to make a scampi order, so I don’t understand why it is hard to switch to sterilized pans and utensils for gluten free orders. You have to switch to clean pans after each order anyways.

7. “Flour is in the air, so nothing on our gluten free menu is really gluten free.”

I understand this completely. Flour can stay in the air up to 24 hours. Unless you make the gluten free items in a separate area, it is impossible to keep things perfect. I also appreciate the restaurant’s honesty in telling me this. My main question is why have a separate gluten free menu? Wouldn’t it be a better strategy to state that you can modify menu items, and have the server explain potential cross contamination to diners? This dialog could be a valuable tool to help the diner understand the risks and make an educated choice.

6. Restaurant: “Our restaurant makes gluten free pizzas in a separate area in our kitchen, away from our regular pizzas. We have separate pans, cutters, and paddles for gluten free pizzas.”

Me: “Wow, it sounds like you really know what you are doing to keep gluten free customers safe. Do your chefs change their gloves before they start to make a gluten free pizza?”

Restaurant: “Oh, I never thought of that. I should let my District Manager know.”

Well, kudos to the manager who saw value in my question. I hope this information about changing gloves makes it to all of the pizza restaurants in this chain.

5. “I had a friend eat it and they seemed okay.”

Seemed okay? What does okay look like? Many reactions happen internally hours, or even days after ingesting gluten.

4. Restaurant: “We prep and cook our gluten free pizzas on a separate sterilized mesh.”

Me: “So you put the gluten free pizza dough on a sterilized mesh, and then you take that gluten free pizza on the mesh, and put it down on the same counter where you put the meshes that had wheat pizzas on? Can’t wheat flour go up through the holes in the mesh?”

Restaurant: “That is why we don’t guarantee our gluten free pizzas are gluten free.”

Am I the only one who thinks this is strange? Why have gluten free pizza if you are just going to contaminate it? It seems like a wasted effort on the restaurant’s part. Maybe they should put a sign in their menu next to their gluten free pizza listing and refer to #9 above. It could say only eat our gluten free pizza if you are on the gluten free diet as a fad diet.

3. “You should be safe. It is made out of wheat, not gluten.”

I will never eat at this place. They have not taken the time to even educate their staff.

And now the top two scary things restaurants have said to me:

2. Restaurant: “We pre-cook gluten free pasta in fresh water. When someone orders a gluten free pasta dish, we warm the pasta back up in the boiling water on the stove.”

Me: “Is this boiling water on the stove fresh or designated only for gluten free pasta?”

Restaurant: “No, it is the same water we use for all pasta.”

Me: “You do realize you contaminate the gluten free pasta when you warm it up in the same water you warm up wheat pasta, right?”

Restaurant: “Wow, come to think of it, you are right.”

Me: “You really need to change that policy. You could really make someone really sick.”

I was speechless after this conversation. At least this restaurant manager thanked me. I hope this is corrected asap.

1. “As careful as we are, if my kids had a problem with gluten, I wouldn’t let them eat out knowing what restaurants do.”

Wow! As a parent of gluten intolerant kids, this one really scared me. What am I supposed to think? His comment left a LOT out there. What do restaurants do? Which restaurants was he thinking about when he said that? I need to find out so I can avoid those places.

So there you have my list of The Top Ten Scary Things Restaurants Have Said To Me. As you can see, gluten free is very misunderstood in the restaurant world.

This subject is near and dear to my heart. It is why I started this blog in the first place. Please visit my restaurant database and click on restaurants in your area. You can see what their safe gluten handling policies are. Use this blog as a guideline to ask the right questions when you go out to eat. And lastly, please help me get the word out. Restaurants don’t understand that misleading statements can really make a gluten intolerant person sick.

 I would love to hear what restaurants have said to you!

While you are visiting, check out some delicious gluten free desserts to try!!

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth Price says:

    I have had some of those, it’s scary isn’t it!

  2. ……sorry hadn’t finished lol! I was going to add that my favourite restaurant quote is ” how allergic are you?!” Arghhhh had that asked in a few places!

  3. Elizabeth,
    I hear your pain. This has been so frustrating for me. I am so tired of getting sick because a restaurant misled me. I am hoping my article will help give gluten free diners some ideas of the questions to ask when they go out to eat. Restaurants don’t understand how their misinformation can cause unnecessary pain and sickness for those who can’t eat gluten.
    Thank you for your comment 🙂
    Sandi

  4. I’ve had a waitress telling me that they cook gluten free pasta in the same water as wheat pasta. Her manager told me they don’t. I try to never order gluten free pasta out since I wouldn’t even know if it’s actually gluten free.
    And I was also asked if I’m allergic to gluten or just on a diet.

    • Wow Irina, hearing more stories like this are definitely scary. I have found a few “trusted” places that handle gluten free pasta the right way (fresh water in clean pans, fresh tongs, etc.) If you are in the Bay Area, let me know and I can point out a few.

  5. I was at a restaurant in Vegas for dinner. I asked the hostess if they had any GF items. She pointed out the Steak and Eggs and apologized they didn’t have more. I was fine with Steak and Eggs for dinner, so we asked to be seated. The waitress when I tried to order said the Chef got mad at her the last time she placed an order for that after 11am. I understand pancakes or something being a problem, but Steak (uhhhhh) and eggs… really? With a bit of sarcasm I asked if she would find out what else would be a viable option. She went to check.

    She came back to me and said I could have any of their friend items. Very skeptical but excited I replied “Oh! Really?? Like what?????”

    She suggested the fried macaroni or mozzarella sticks. I attempted to inform her that pasta is made from wheat. With a very blank look she apologized and said she didn’t know why he (the chef) offered that then.

    They did let me order the steak and eggs.

    • That is an awful experience Mary. I hope you had some positive dining experiences in Vegas as well. I can recommend a few places that do understand how to prevent cross contamination in Vegas if you need. Please let me know.

  6. One of our favorite local restaurants changed hands. I was skeptical about GF options at the new place, so I called & FB messaged about GF options. They told me that had plenty, but hadn’t printed it up in a separate menu yet. That seemed reasonable, so Dad & I tried to eat there. I made sure we went during off-peak hours. We were actually the only customers there. I explained why we are GF to the waitress & she said okay. We looked over the menu. I ordered based on the menu descriptions. NO WHERE on the menu did it mention that all plates are served with a yeast roll on them, nor did the waitress mention it, even after I asked about croutons on the salad & that they not be added to ours. She bought out our plates with the UN-predisclosed yeast rolls. I reminded her that we are gluten free. She looked at me like I had six heads. I said, “We can’t have the rolls; they aren’t gluten free. We also can’t eat any of the food they are touching.” (The rolls were laying on top of parts of our meals.) She said, “They don’t have wheat; they are yeast rolls.” I should have left & nowadays I would, but this was early in my GF journey. I explained that the yeast rolls also contain wheat. She didn’t believe me & got the owner who also tried to tell me they were GF. I KNEW better, because I have seen these rolls a million times. The local food distributor sells them & they are made by a popular company. They finally agreed to take our plates to the back & fix them. (Heaven only knows what they did.) The owner did apologize when he brought our plates back out, because he had read the ingredients while in the kitchen. I do know that we were glutened & left without finishing our meals, because we were so sick. We have not returned, will not return, & I have warned all my local friends, & put reviews everywhere online.

    • Wow Susan, that is scary that a restaurant had no idea that wheat was in a roll. Worse that the manager was so unwilling to believe you. I like to use Yelp to warn fellow gluten free diners about a place I get sick at. I am glad you like to do that as well, it helps protect people from getting sick.

    • Yes, please, GF pasta places in San Francisco desired. Years ago, I found that an extremely well-known pasta chain used the same pots of water for gluten and GF.

    • I spent the night in a large SF teaching hospital. I explained that I had to eat GF. The nearby special ward kitchen offered to fix me a GF meal. A small plate arrived — with two beautiful dinner rolls on top. The kitchen person said he put them on because my meal looked so plain and skimpy. He meant so well!

  7. Horrifying! I’m not gluten free but as a new vegetarian, I’m terrified to eat out now. I have to double check everything. And when my fiancé told me he saw a cashier doubling as a server dip her beef greased glove into the ice to put it in the ice machine I got sick at the immediate thought. These people scare me!!

    • I agree Jessica. I would say from my experience that farm to table restaurants do a better job managing dietary restrictions because they know every ingredient in their dishes. Have you found any places that you feel safe eating at?

    • The owner of the company I work for took all the managers out for dinner to an upscale restaurant. I explained to the server that I was celiac and therefore gluten free. I asked him to check with the chef if there was anything I could have on the menu. The manager of the restaurant came out and told me that while they didn’t have any gluten free items and could not guarantee that anything I got would be safe. I wanted to leave but was talked in to staying and having a green salad no dressing, prime rib no sauce and a baked potato and got glutened. At least I was forewarned.

  8. As someone who is both a server and sufferer of severe gluten intolerance, I am frustrated on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how many times I go out of my way to make sure our line cooks change their utensils, gloves, etc, go out of my way to open new bags of lettuce so I know there are no errant crumbs, etc. only to go back to the table and see my “gluten free” customer taking a bite of his/her neighbor’s bread.

    I understand why some of these answers are so ridiculous, because honestly, when we are slammed and I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off but I manage to find the time to ensure your food is safe and you eat a crouton off your neighbor’s salad… I want to scream. It ruins servers for people who really need that extra attention and time- myself included. Servers get disillusioned because honestly, the majority if the time a customer tells us they have an allergy, they don’t. It is horribly frustrating for those of us with legit medical issues.

    The gluten free fad has opened up many options, but it’s all for nothing when the followers of that fad ruin it for the rest of us by making it seem like it is not a big deal.

    • Hi Amy, I agree with you completely that it is really hard for restaurants. I really like when the restaurant asks me if it is an allergy. This helps them understand what I need to stay safe. People who cheat in a restaurant after asking for extra precautions for their gluten free order give those of us who get really sick from gluten a bad name. I waited tables all through high school and college and I know it can get crazy busy.

      I am grateful for the steps you take. I hope I get to try the restaurant where you work sometime 🙂 I really appreciate that you took the time to comment. Thank you!

  9. Christina says:

    Funny But True Story:
    I went into Panera’s to get something to eat. I asked the girl if they had anything Gluten Free, She said, “Only Salad” so I said ok, I will have a salad with plain olive oil – nothing else. So, I go and sit down.
    The waiter comes over and serves me and my friend. In front of me he puts my salad, Croutons on salad and bread on the side..this is how the conversation went…
    Me: Excuse me, I ordered a Gluten Free salad, why is there bread on my plate and croutons on my salad? (very politely)
    Waiter: Sorry we do not sell Gluten Bread.
    Me: Really, No Gluten Bread?
    Waiter: Sorry, no gluten bread.
    Me: Do you know what Gluten Bread is?
    Waiter: A type of Special European Bread.
    Me: (laughing and wanting to cry), so I explained to him and he still did not know, and so I asked to speak to the manager.
    Manager: (manager asks) Can you please tell me what Gluten and Gluten Free is?
    Me: ok, have a seat…
    Wow….I am impressed, had I not acted on my hunch that this was Gluten bread and not a Gluten Free Salad I would be VERY sick right now!

    I could see they both felt very bad when they realized how it could have gotten me sick… The owner ended up giving me a free drink and a free cookie, which I had to explain was Gluten, LOL

    • Oh wow Christina….I may need to use this in a future article. I am so sorry you had to go through this, but you definitely helped future gluten free customers by educating the manager. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

  10. One chef in a restaurant recently said to me with a sincerely concerned expression “Oh sorry you can’t eat that. It has potato in it. Very starchy”!!!!

  11. I was out to lunch, in the Cleveland area,and we stopped at a place called the Hairy Buffalo. I asked our waitress if they any gluten free options and she said the salads were safe and any of the sandwiches, minus the bread.

    Ok, I said and placed my order.

    She asked if I’d like fries because they were gluten free and I asked if they fried them in the same oil as everything else. She went to the kitchen to ask. (Of course, I already knew the answer but it was worth sending her to the kitchen to ask).

    She came back and said “yes, the fries are cooked in the same oil as everything else but that
    they still didn’t contain any gluten”.

    I told her that if they were fried in the same oil as everything else, they were contaminated with
    gluten through the oil. She replied, “oh, ok”. Not sure the concept really registered but I agree
    with one of the earlier posts here that said that the food industry really needs to educate their
    entire staff about gluten (and really all other allergies).

    On the same note, I work for Disney, in Florida, during the winter and let me tell you… those folks
    are totally on top of the allergies. They have a manager, coordinator or chef directly consult with
    the person with the allergies (or the parent), write down what the allergies are, go over the list
    of ingredients with them, then THAT person (manager, chef, etc) goes back to the kitchen and
    prepares that meal, separate from all the other food, and instructs the guest NOT to accept a
    food tray from anyone else because that manger/chef will bring the meal to them directly. Even
    the cashiers at the quick service restaurants are not permitted to take an allergy order, to ensure
    there are no mistakes made. The rest of the country’s restaurants could learn a lot from those
    folks at Disney.

    There is also a pizza shop in the area (Uno’s) who were not totally aware that Feta cheese is
    not necessary safe for those who are Lactose intolerant. I asked one day if the Feta was cow
    or goat milk. They brought the package out to me to read the ingredients. I told them that if the
    ingredients didn’t specifically say “Goat” or “Sheep” milk cheese, then it was assumed to be
    cow and would prompt a reaction to anyone lactose intolerant. Some people may not be able
    to even consumer the goat/sheep .milk products but many, many can and it is a life saver for
    those who love cheese. I noticed the following year, upon returning to the area, that that pizza
    place started offering “goat cheese” on the menu. I was impressed at their rapid willingness to
    get corporate to make that change in their menu to help accommodate that issue. That same
    year they also started offering Gluten Free pizza crust. HURRAY!!!

    • Wow Snowhawk, thank you so much for your note. Sounds like the staff at Hairy Buffalo could use a little more training. Thank you for letting us know about Disney. That is a place we definitely need to check out sometime soon.

  12. I’m not GF, but I am a vegetarian. And, when I went veggie 25 years ago I ran into these same kinds of statements & attitudes. I guess at least they aren’t telling you that you can just pick the gluten out of the dish like they used to try and tell me. People & restaurants will learn GF procedures, just like they learned veggie procedures.

  13. Betty Tuininga says:

    With the number of people with gluten and wheat intolerences, I can’t believe how very ignorant people really are in the food industry. I have a severe wheat intolerance where if i even get a little wheat in a sauce such as from non-gluten free vinegar or soy etc I am sick for a couple of weeks. So when I order from a supposed gluten free menu I expect it to be just that GLUTEN FREE. I recently ate out with a friend for my birthday at a top restaurant and the orders we accidently switched…I got the one with the gluten. They didn’t discover it until we were almost finished with the meal…One must be so careful…The manager gave us the meal for free and asked me if there was something I could take for it….

  14. Welcome to life as a vegetarian….

  15. At a local chain restaurant, I ordered a salad – with no croutons. It came with croutons. When I asked for a manager, he came over. I explained what happened and he took the salad, saying he would take care of it right away. He proceeded to pick the croutons off, blow the crumbs off the lettuce and set the salad back down in front of me, saying. “There. No croutons.”

    I kid you not. I was ASTOUNDED.

  16. Leslie Todd says:

    I visited a bagel shop and asked if they had any wheat-free bagels. The lady told me that all their bagels were wheat-free because they were made out of flour not wheat.

  17. Love this post, it’s so spot on!

  18. My daughter and I are gf and dairy free. We had been eating at PF Changs from their gf menu for a few years, but as my daughter and I grew more and more sensitive to foods we noticed that we weren’t feeling well after eating there. Finally after the last time we ate their my daughter was very sick and I called them and grilled them about their menu. Turns out they marinate all of their meats in milk. We no longer eat there.

    • I am so sorry to hear that Rachel…but it is coincidental. I just got glutened big time at their Sacramento, CA location. I was sick for two days. I will never eat there again either.

  19. When I called Pizza Hut to find out if they had gluten-free pizzas, the worker on the phone said, “What’s gluten? I worked in a restaurant for 20 years, so I wouldn’t put much faith in not getting cross-contamination. I rarely eat out.

  20. “What on this plate contains gluten?”

    This was said by the manager while holding a hamburger on a bun! Then she wanted to make me another meal. NO THANK YOU,

    • Oh wow Cheryl. I am so glad you didn’t eat there! These things can be so scary. One mistake by the restaurant and we get so sick. Take care and thank you for writing in 🙂

  21. Restaurants have made some progress since you wrote this, but hospital dietary departments are terrifying.

    I had one lady deliver my grilled chicken on a bun. When I protested, she said, “Take it off the bun.”

    If you have additional food allergies, they really think you’re crazy.

    I was in the hospital in January of 2016 and was starving to death!

    Because of the so-called gluten free Cheerios, I now have advanced autoimmune Cirrhosis of the liver. The doctors are astonished! The University of Tennessee liver transplant team is advising me to get on the liver transplant ist, but knowing I would be unable to always protect myself after such extensive surgery, I think my chances are better working to encourage my liver to regenerate as much as possible!

    • Oh wow, I didn’t even think of hospitals Robyn, that is scary. Cheerios is doing a horrible job keeping this product safe. We won’t eat them after reading about how they are inconsistent. I am so sorry to hear about your liver and the trouble. Autoimmune disease is such a scary thing. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

  22. would you be able to share any recommendations of restaurants in Berkeley,/ San Francisco/Oakland that have been safe for you to eat in? I am a silent celiac who likes to eat out with friends. I never know which restaurants are truly safe for me because I do not have a reaction to go by. It is only when I get my lab results that I then see that I am being gluten by the restaurant(s) I am eating in.

    • Hi Maggie, I can definitely help. If you look on my blog on the right hand side, mid-way down, you will see a green button that says Restaurant Database. I have the safe gluten handling procedures of over 650 Bay Area restaurants. You should always do due diligence and ask the restaurant a lot of questions. I interviewed the restaurants over a year ago and staff/chefs change. I do love Revival in Berkeley. The owner is gluten free and she is super nice. I also like Saturn (vegan), and there is a new paleo restaurant, Mission Heirloom, that is also delicious.

  23. Michele says:

    It’s so frustrating to try to find restaurants who actually educate themselves on what it means to be GF. I was calling around the other day to pizza places about GF crusts and got the same answer as you’ve gotten – “no, but we have whole wheat so come on in and request that”. Seriously? What I love though is how places try to take advantage of people who NEED GF and aren’t just doing it as the new diet and charge more for a GF dish. Culver’s charges $1 extra for a bun. A local to me pizza place charges $5 extra for a GF crust. So frustrating!

    • Hi Michele, I hear you 🙂 It is super frustrating. Worse, when you find a pizza place you deem safe… and then after eating there several times you get sick. I wish you all the best, Sandi

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