No Gluten, Please

Dear Los Angeles Restaurants,

Celiac Disease is real. It’s not a fad or a preference. It’s an auto-immune disorder where the immune system attacks gluten, and in doing so, damages the small intestines. If the sufferer ingests gluten it could lead to stomach pain and inability to absorb nutrients.

In my husband’s case it could lead to much more. He’s also a Type 1 Diabetic. If he doesn’t absorb nutrients his ability to control his blood sugars is compromised.

Now I don’t expect every restaurant to be an authority on all of the food allergies, but if a customer says they can’t have gluten, which is wheat, barley or rye, please don’t give us gluten.

I bring this up because my husband and I had such a bad experience at a restaurant recently. We went to highly recommended spot for a rare night out without our kids.

I told the waiter that my husband couldn’t have any gluten and asked if the dish he ordered was okay. The waiter said it was. After my husband took a few bites of the dish he realized that the stuff sprinkled on top wasn’t nuts or cornmeal, it was barley.

When the waiter came back, he said, oh, it’s roasted barley and took the plate. I asked him for a new plate and to please not just take the old meal and scrape off the barley and give it back to us. I’ve heard of some Celiac’s refusing to give up their plate until a new meal comes, but I didn’t think it was necessary.

I was a server in a restaurant for many years and I know people make mistakes. I thought he either didn’t know what gluten was or didn’t tell the kitchen to make it without gluten. I get that, but what happened next was inexcusable.

After my husband finished the meal we looked at the plate and noticed that there was still barley on it. And underneath a piece of chard was the half eaten piece of meat that my husband had eaten before.

When I pointed it out to the waiter he said it was impossible because he gave our plate to another customer and he pointed to the guy sitting in the table next to us. So he either gave our plate to someone else after we’d eaten food off of it or he had the kitchen scrape off the barley. Either scenario is bad.

Needless to say, we’ll never go back there. But there are restaurants that care that their diners have a good experience.

After an awful first half of the evening, we tried to salvage the rest of it and went for dessert at Bouchon in Beverly Hills. We talked to the bartender about what happened and he pulled the chef over to tell us about the desserts. The chef knew exactly what gluten was and told us what we could and couldn’t have.

Again, I don’t expect restaurants to know about every allergy, just listen when we tell you we have one.

Note: When I tell servers that my husband can’t have gluten, I say “no gluten, which is wheat, barley, or rye.” At dinner that night, the waiter stopped me after I said “no gluten” and said that he understood because his mother is gluten intolerant. I mention it because a few people have asked.

4 Replies to “No Gluten, Please”

  1. As someone who has some food intolerance issues, I can only even barely imagine what you went through. The fact that people can die from eating something they are allergic to should really cause restaurants to institute better procedures for their waitstaff to communicate with the kitchen.

    And why the heck do servers always say, "there is just a "little" of _____" in the dish. As if they have sized you up and decided your allergy tipping point and the "small" amount won't send you into anaphylactic shock?

  2. Yvonne – does the same thing happen when you are very specific about ingredients, rather than just saying "gluten" ? I know a lot of people think that gluten is only present in wheat, although obviously that's not correct. Just curious.

  3. I don't think that enough people really understand the consequences of their actions. They kind of brush it off and act nonchalant because they see these things as minor when oftentimes they aren't.

  4. Erika,
    It does, unfortunately. In this particular situation, I said gluten and the waiter stopped me and said he knew all about it because his mother is gluten intolerant. In general, I say 'no gluten, which is wheat, barley, or rye.'
    But sometimes it takes a while for people to get from wheat to bread. We've had it happen where a dish will come and I'll ask if they're sure there's no wheat in it and they'll say yes, but then find bread crumbs in the dish.

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