Telling a Restaurant You’ve Been Glutened
Within minutes of eating the pasta dish at your local gluten-free Italian joint, you feel queasy. And then the stomach pains hit. And you run to the bathroom. You’ve finally figured it out – you’ve been glutened. Since you’re still at the restaurant, it’s easy to point the finger at the dish that did you wrong – or is it? Was it the pasta? The veggies? Regardless, someone screwed up and now you’re paying for it. But when you regain your composure, how do you go about telling the restaurant what went wrong?
There seems to be two lines of thinking once you get sick from a restaurant. The first is “get me the heck out of here and I’m never coming here again!” The second is more along the lines of, “let me help them figure out what went wrong so this doesn’t happen again to me or someone else.” While you might lean towards the first reaction out of anger, disappointment, or even hatred – I would ask you to take a minute and think about my advice.
Pay it forward.
What happens if no one tells the restaurant that they messed up? They will keep doing it again and again and again and others might get sick. If no one takes the time and energy to tell them what went wrong, it can’t become right. Think about how your actions can affect other celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitive people like yourself.
Find a change agent. Find a manager or owner – just find someone who can make a difference in the restaurant and its process. Do not just go to a server – move up the food chain until you reach as high as you can go. If this has to go to corporate because no one is available at the restaurant, you’ll take it there (and on Twitter, Facebook, etc. until someone pays attention).
Go through the entire preparation and ingredient list with them. Use your gluten-free knowledge to think about anything that might be the offender. What about spices? What about sauces? What about toppings? How are ingredients added into the meal (ex. are they just reaching into a big bowl of XYZ with a hand after touching gluten and contaminating it for everyone, etc.)? On what surfaces are they prepared? Along the way, you can point out possible points of cross-contamination (or heaven forbid – using the wrong product) in their process and how they can easily make adjustments to make a future dining experience safe.
Explain the significance of celiac disease. You have to tell them why this matters to them and their bottom line. You have to give the details of celiac disease, and explain just how serious they need to take their “gluten free” menu. If people consistently get sick at their restaurant, people will write reviews and spread the word that their restaurant is not safe. If you explain it to them in ways that could hurt their business, chances are they will pay more attention.
Talk about the FDA ruling. While the FDA ruling doesn’t specifically make regulations for restaurants at this time, the government ruling does hope that restaurants will use the labeling law much like the packaged good industry. At the very least, restaurants need to make sure that the products they are using are complying with the ruling. However, every restaurant should know that the FDA is cracking down on those who are false “gluten free” advertisers. I hope that restaurants use this ruling as a starting point for taking the words “gluten free” seriously.
I wrote in my book that every screw up and mistake that you go through with a restaurant is a chance to educate. We shouldn’t have to live our lives only eating at home, afraid to go out. We should be able to be a part of the American social tapestry – and be able to dine out with friends and family and feel safe. By talking to a manager or owner of a restaurant, you could help weave this fabric for the future of everyone just like you.
How do you handle a bad experience at a restaurant? Have you had a good experience talking to a manager or owner about their gluten-free menu and how to make changes for the future?