How to Eat Out When You're Gluten Free

Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 04, 2022

For some, a gluten-free diet is a choice. For others, it’s necessary. For those who must stay away from gluten due to medical conditions such as celiac disease, it can be difficult to dine out. While dining out isn’t a necessity, and you can easily make gluten-free meals at home, sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a night out at your favorite restaurant. 

But when you have a gluten-free diet, it can become a chore trying to figure out what restaurant serves gluten-free food, what to look out for when choosing a gluten-free restaurant, what to ask restaurant staff, and how to choose the right items that are appropriate for your diet.

How to Find Gluten-Free Restaurants

There are several ways to find restaurants for gluten-free individuals, especially now that we live in a technology-based world. One of the most common ways to find gluten-free restaurants involves searching the internet.

Most restaurants have websites. These websites usually contain their menus, either samples or full menus. If there’s no official website, you may be able to find menus on their social media pages, such as Facebook or Instagram. These menus will often have a gluten-free section. Sometimes the restaurant will state that they are allergy-friendly and can cater to specific dietary restrictions. 

Some restaurants also go the extra mile in having a separate area to prepare allergy-friendly meals to avoid the risk of contamination from other foods that may cause reactions in those with dietary allergies. 

Some websites allow for community contributions to a directory list of gluten-free restaurants. This allows you to search restaurants locally to see what others recommend. However, it’s important to do your research to ensure that these restaurants are truly gluten-free and safe for you to dine at. 

If you’re still unsure about a certain restaurant, call ahead and ask to speak to the manager or chef to check their gluten-free options. Be as detailed as you can in your conversation and explain your situation. Let them know of your disease, whether you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and that you need to stick to a gluten-free diet. If there are no gluten-free options on their menu, they may be able to assist you in preparing a safe meal for your consumption.

Gluten-Free Foods at Restaurants

If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or are restricting gluten for another health or personal reason, then you might be wondering what types of foods you can eat at restaurants. Most of the time, fast-food restaurants won’t have gluten-friendly options available, and won’t have the appropriate staff to make changes. So, dining at a non-fast-food establishment is your best bet. 

Many pizzerias have introduced gluten-free pizza options to their menus, but these options are usually prepared in the same kitchen as their non-gluten-free counterparts. Wheat flour, which is often used in preparing pizza dough, can live in the air for up to three days, so gluten-free options that are prepared in the same kitchen as their wheat counterparts are at risk of contamination.

If you require gluten-free options to be prepared specifically for your diet at a restaurant that normally doesn’t have gluten-free options listed on their menus, it’s best to visit these establishments when peak times are over, such as after breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Even with restaurants that have gluten-free options, it’s best to avoid them at peak hours since mistakes can happen, especially in a hectic kitchen where the kitchen staff is frantically trying to fulfill orders.

Gluten-Free: Things to Eat and Avoid 

When dining out at a restaurant, be sure to explain your dietary restrictions. Ask to speak directly to the chef if you have any concerns about menu items and then ask them if the gluten-free items listed on the menu are actually gluten-free and how they can ensure your safety when eating there. 

Ask about spice blends, thickeners, coatings, toppings, and garnishes to ensure that your meal is 100% gluten-free. You can also ask about separate prep spaces, cookware, and utensils, and if there are possibilities of contamination from airborne flour or contact on the grill. 

After you’ve received your order, be sure to thoroughly and carefully examine your food. Look for any signs of gluten. If you see even a speck, remind the staff, respectfully, that you can’t have even a speck. 

If you had a wonderfully, gluten-free experience, don’t forget to thank the staff, tip them well, and spread the word. Additionally, become a repeat customer to show your gratitude.

In short, it’s best to avoid any of the following when dining out gluten-free at restaurants:

  • Breaded items 
  • Wheat flour 
  • Croutons 
  • Sauces 
  • Thickeners
  • Broths and soups
  • Soy sauce 
  • Spice mixes
  • Flour dusting
  • Salad dressings
  • Battered foods 
  • Fried foods
  • Vegetables prepared in pasta water

Many cuisines are known to have gluten-free dishes including: 

  • Thai
  • Mexican 
  • Vietnamese
  • Indian

Show Sources

Beyond Celiac: “Dining Tips.”
Coeliac Australia: “Eating Out.”
National Celiac Association: “Find a Restaurant.” “Eating out tips for a safe dining experience.”

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