When I was new to this whole Gluten Free/Food Allergy adventure and even now, it was occasionally overwhelming to try to navigate how to eat out with food allergies. I remember sitting at the Outback Steak House in Jackson, MS and was figuring out how to better communicate what I needed as I was sitting there with my husband and kids. I came up with a few strategies of how to communicate how to order my food so it was prepared properly and I wouldn't get sick throughout the process.
Step 1. Ask for a gluten free menu. Some restaurant chains have this available online, some like Red Robin offer you an ipad where you can punch in what your allergies are and it tells you what is safe for you to eat. Other places its kinda a guessing game. (I tend to avoid those places....)
Step 2. Ask to order your food with the manager. In theory, they should have the training to understand what you are asking for and can communicate this back to the kitchen OR just go back and make your food themselves.
Step 3. When ordering your food, you want to make sure they clearly understand that the risk of cross contamination needs to be minimized as much as possible. To do this I ask for the following:
Please pull the ingredients for my meal from the prepped food in the back and not the line. The reason for this is that things often get a bit messy on the line and the cross contamination risk is very high.
Please use a separate pan and not the flat top to make my ______ (insert whatever you are eating here...)
Please use clean and sanitized utensils/cutting board/pans/etc.
Whatever you need to avoid, you need to clearly tell them what to avoid and what they could be using - ie - butter/dairy or croutons/wheat, etc. Also give an alternative like veggie oil in place of the butter so your food isn't really dry.
Communicating your way through these few things can go a long way toward making sure the meal is safe to eat. Is it going to be perfect 100% of the time? No, unfortunately not. Since we're all human and humans make mistakes, you'll want to verify that your food was made the way you requested and make sure none of the things you are trying to avoid didn't sneak onto your plate or bowl. Also, if things aren't completely perfect, let them know but also be gracious through the process. Many people get angry, throw a fit and that just isn't called for.
I also recommend communicating how grateful you are when your food is made properly and give their restaurant a shout out on social media so other folks know about your good experience. That is the best compliment you can give when you have a good experience!
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