“I hate eating out! I mean, I love the social aspect of dining with friends and family, but the amount of times I’ve gotten sick from food prepared with ingredients I can’t eat is more than I can count. I literally have to cross my fingers every time I order a meal and hope that the cook understands that yes, breaded chicken does have gluten.”
If you’ve ever sympathized with the above claim, you know the frustrations of eating with dietary restrictions: the awkward explanations to mealtime companions, the inevitable mistakes (and the even more inevitable consequences), the endless baggies of just-in-case-I-can’t-eat-anything-here food, and worst of all, the nightmare that is dining out. Whether at a restaurant or a friend’s home, not having control over the ingredients that go into making your food can make even the most experienced of us anxious. Here are a few tried-and-true tips for making the process a little bit easier.
Scope out the menu ahead of time. This one’s a no brainer. If you’re allergic to dairy, steer clear of the local pizza joint (unless you know they have cheese-free pizza). If soy is your problem, avoid your friend’s favorite noodle bar. Communicate your restrictions with your dining companions-chances are they want you to eat with them and will be happy going somewhere where all of you can eat something, even if it is not exactly what you are looking for.
Keep it simple. You may know the ins and outs of your diet, but your server won’t. Rather than inundate her with a flood of “I can’t eat [blank]”, find something simple that you can eat, modify it accordingly, and then ask the server if she could inform the chef of your specific restrictions so that no accidents happen. It’s way easier to start off with what you can eat than to list all the foods you can’t and expect the waiter or waitress to find something for you.
Be friendly to the wait staff. A smile can be the difference between a server who barely pays attention to your detailed explanations of your dietary restrictions and one who listens attentively and informs the chefs accordingly. Make sure to thank them for their time and efforts-it’s not easy to accommodate your complex requests.
Pull the allergy card. I’m not one to advocate lying, but allergies are far easier to explain, and even if your dietary restrictions aren’t life threatening, dealing with the consequences of mistakes is never fun. “I’m allergic to onions and garlic” can have far more impact than “Can you hold the seasoning on that fish?”
Dine for the company, not the food. Realistically, whatever you order will not be the best meal to ever cross your taste buds. Focus on enjoying the atmosphere, not the food. You can always make yourself a delicious gluten-free/dairy-free/vegan mug cake for dessert!