Gluten-Free and Servers/Chefs

There is a war occurring between the people trying to avoid gluten and the people serving them in restaurants. This posting is in response to the online post: tickld.com/funny/t/775109. I’d like to propose a truce that will probably satisfy neither side: 

What I’d like the people who want gluten free food at a restaurant to know:

  • When declaring that you have a gluten allergy (and yes I know that Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease not an allergy) you raise the stakes for the restaurant; they inherently don’t want to poison you, so if they now tell you that you can’t eat ¾ of their menu, don’t reject the perception of your allergy so you can eat bread. You look like an asshole.
  • Have some basic knowledge of what has gluten in it, before you declare you want to eat gluten free. Probably ordering Gluten Free pasta and sourdough bread is a tip off to your server that you have gone rogue.
  • Accept that if your server says it’s contaminated then it probably is. It took me a while to understand that sushi could be contaminated. Don’t be a jerk and argue with your server.
  • Accept that some servers and cooks don’t know even what gluten is or what products have gluten in them, if you ask if something is gluten free and get a weird answer like ‘all our food is gluten free’ in a chinese restaurant, or ‘yeah, no problem, would you like bread with that?’; assume that YOU know WAY more than they and it might be time to leave the restaurant….
  • If you ask for special services, give an extra tip

What I’d like the people who work as a server or chef to know:

  • I am not a ‘Glutentard’; if you think of me as one, you need to find a different profession.
  • Currently 1-2% of all people in the US have Celiac Disease and many more are undiagnosed. Additionally, many people have wheat allergies which cause congestion, upset stomachs, and other problems. Many Celiacs have few symptoms but eating gluten long term will destroy the duodenum, which is the part of the small intestine. This is the area that absorbs vitamins and minerals, including calcium, so long term this is potentially a fatal disease. Most of us grew up loving bread. I loved to bake sourdough bread and was a home brewer before I was diagnosed. Celiacs is a life condition that requires major diligence to be healthy, and most of us (me included) fall off the wagon from time to time and eat something we should not.
  • Newly diagnosed Celiacs or people with Gluten sensitivity are inconsistent.  Just after my diagnosis, I thought ‘Just don’t eat wheat’.  Later I found out that all oats that aren’t certified Gluten Free are contaminated, so my oatmeal breakfasts while traveling were curtailed.  As I learned more I changed.  Don’t evaluate inconsistency as faking, it could just be ignorance.
  • When you offer a gluten-free menu or gluten-free options I’d like to trust that each item is free of cross-contamination. So if you’re offering gluten-free pasta I assume that you did not cook it in the same water as wheat pasta. My pet peeve: Gluten free menus that ask you to inform your server of allergies: when you inform your server, he or she explains what’s cross contaminated. I would like a Gluten Free Menu to list only gluten free items.
  • When I eat at your high end restaurant, you have given me the impression that you cook everything for me individually. When I ask if you can accommodate my gluten-free needs, it’s OK to say, “you’ll have to wait an extra 30 minutes if you order this dish because we need to boil new water.”
  • How much of your kitchen is unnecessarily contaminated with gluten? If you want to serve food to people who suffer from some sort of problem when they eat gluten, perhaps you are able to reduce the cross-contamination by boiling gluten-free pasta in fresh water and baking with wheat flour only in a separate area of the kitchen or at a separate time. You can state on your gluten-free menu what precautions you take, and then people can judge for themselves if they will be able to eat at your restaurant.
  • If, on the other hand, your food offerings are made with gluten and that’s all you want to offer, be polite to your customers but do not offer them a gluten-free menu. You can explain politely to those who ask that you are sorry but you are not able to accommodate their dietary needs. Maybe you can avoid hating them for having a problem that both you and they wish they did not have.
  • It’s OK to tell me I can’t order anything fried since the fryer is cross contaminated, and it’s also OK to think about practices in the future that would allow for gluten free frying if you would like to have me as a customer.
  • Vanilla ice cream is cheap, and delicious, and as far as I know all brands are gluten free. Even if I can’t eat any of your desserts, it’s OK to offer me plain vanilla ice cream so I can be sociable with my companions. It’s even more awesome if you thought ahead of time and can have an actual gluten free dessert option.
  • Could chefs look at each menu item with a eye toward gluten? Could you create corn chips or purchase corn chips without wheat flour? If you make them yourself, do you need to use flour-contaminated oil? Arrowroot or corn starch can thicken a sauce nicely — would it compromise the taste? If not then why not?

I hope this helps all sides…..

Bill

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4 Responses to Gluten-Free and Servers/Chefs

  1. Shoshana Kleiman says:

    Hi Bill,
    Gluten-free dieters have very similar problems to diabetics, who have very similar problems to those who keep kosher and hallal, to those who keep any other dietary restrictions that address life threatening situations (yes, I consider damage to the soul a life threatening situation, you know me). What I haven’t been able to understand yet is why it bothers anyone. When I was a waitress, an eon ago, dietary issues were not so prevalent. But people always asked for things off the menu, specially made, different. And we accommodated the request. Why do people get so upset that someone is gluten-free? If you are a guest in my home, I want to make you comfortable. If you are guest in my restaurant, I want to make money off you. So, I accommodate.
    The waitress that went on a rant doesn’t understand business. It is her job to say yes we can do it or no that is not possible – not to judge. I wonder if her boss read her blog post.
    Best of luck and stay healthy, even if it means no beer. And I’ll stay away from bacon, much to my family’s dismay.

  2. Kelly Deprez says:

    I think there is a general misperception that people have regarding fads vs. serious health conditions vs. trying something new. We all know people who abuse the term allergy or illness. Hey I’m latex allergic I tell the hospital that and then we get to the OR for my emergency csection and the nurse notices my allergy band asks what symptoms accompany your “latex allergy” I describe severe blisters and she says oh we need to reprep the room, because the prep involved latex surgical items. Which part was unclear at intake of a supposedly latex free hospital? I constantly inform medical professionals and they constantly respond with oh we don’t use latex anymore… And then bam! The surgery unit is prepped as if a latex allergy is fake or no dear you can’t give blood because we store the needles in latex. So are they telling me people with severe latex allergies can’t recieve donor blood since it’s collection must be contaminated.
    I try to accommodate allergies or preferences and have a family member who has a documented wheat allergy (not celiac) and I actually saw the paperwork from the allergist. Anyway I decided we would focus on serving true gluten free items. First attempt and the family member was pissed I was serving her quinoa pasta when the remainder of the family got semolina pasta. Still to this day we fight about wheat since I think it’s a bad idea to feed a person an ingredient they have a documented allergy to and they continue to bring white bread and cake with them to my home which they then consume. Anyway my point is some people are just wildly ignorant and want to poison themselves and unfortunately many of us know a person like this. Servers unfortunately deal with a lot of crap from a lot of people. We all know at least one person who went gluten free for non medical reasons and now tells everyone they are celiac. There are fads doctor oz constantly tells people to try life without gluten and their life will improve. There are nutritional reasons this is true that have nothing to do with true gluten intolerance but rather with our omnivore natures and digestive processing. I know several true celiac and persons with wheat allergy and really life sucks for them the office has cake and no matter how much you want a taste you have to pass because your body is different and the gluten will make you sick. I think the waitress (assuming she works at an Italian restaurant based on her rant) got fed up with the fad followers since she probably sees many. My friends who are gluten intolerant wouldn’t even bother with a restaurant that didn’t have some gluten free options. Unfortunately true gluten intolerant people are stuck in the conundrum of being on the short end of the stick since they can neither have their cake nor eat it unless they want severe gastric issues. I think the point is if you have a true allergy or medical condition go ahead and let the server know discretely and if your just following doctor oz’s advice how about not announcing the “allergy” to the whole room like an attention whore. on the other side, if your business is catering to gastric requests just be honest about the issues. Texas Roadhouse announces peanut dust before you walk in the door, at least they’re honest and if I had a nut allergy I’d turn around without entering. Sorry about the meandering ramble it’s late here.
    <3
    K

    • bill says:

      LOL. I love that the latex problem is like gluten free menus; Oh, you mean REALLY allergic to Latex? Just like GF menu’s aren’t really gluten free….

  3. Kelly Deprez says:

    After my accident, while in the coma the medical professionals just ignored the latex allergy contrary to my family’s constant reminders. When I finally woke up I complained about the itchy blisters constantly and finally a compassionate nurse decided to go to encology to get me the latex free things. Up to that point everyone lied to my family and said that they didn’t have latex free respirators, leads, or bandages. At least I don’t have full anaphylactic reaction since then the respirator would have killed me instead of causing swelling, blisters, and rash. The amazing thing is you’d expect them to understand since latex allergy is a common progression within the medical field and the body may either demonstrate a severe allergy at first contact or may develop an allergy as a protection. Many long term medical professionals develop the allergy after continuous exposure and each subsequent exposure forces the body to react more.

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