Get recommendations. Ask others with coeliac disease on social media. There are good coeliac disease Facebook groups or used hashtags to connect with others on twitter. Others with coeliac disease will understand the issues and people love to share recommendations.
- Check the menus online. Is there a gluten free menu you can check out; If there is, this is a good sign. Of course, not all places will have online menus so don’t let that put you off straight away.
- Ring ahead of time and ask to speak to the manager. Explain that you need to have a gluten free meal for medical reasons, rather than as a lifestyle choice and that you have coeliac disease. This can be very helpful as it will alert the manager that they need to be extra cautious.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions. Whilst on the phone check out the menu choices and ask a few questions about how the food is prepared. A good question is “How do you ensure gluten free meals are not cross contaminated”. For example: Do they have a separate area for gluten free meals? Do they use clean utensils and pans each time? Do they have a separate fryer if they offer fried food?
- Remind staff when you arrive that you need a gluten-free menu for medical reasons and explain you phoned ahead. Check that they seem confident dealing with this, if not it is worth chatting to the manager.
- Take time to talk through your meal choice, checking the sauces and the way things will be kept. It may seem like you are being picky, but you must be!
- Leave a tip to show you appreciate the extra time and care that was taken and leave a review on their Facebook page or similar.
- If eating a snack at a cafe look for a pre-wrapped gluten free item. If choosing something from a cabinet, then do check they are using separate tongs and that cross contamination is not an issue in the preparation stage.
Just because an eating place has a gluten free menu does not mean they are experts on gluten free eating or even that it is suitable for coeliac. Gluten free meals are now eaten by a variety of people for a variety of reasons, so be clear that you have a medical reason that means you need a completely gluten free meal.
Do not be afraid to ask questions and then more questions! Your health is important.
Read any small print. Some gluten free foods will say something like “we cannot guarantee this food has been prepared in an area free from gluten” in which case it is not suitable for a gluten free coeliac diet!