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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Tips for gluten free holiday restaurant dining

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Ask the Nutritionist: Tips for gluten free holiday restaurant dining

Guest blogger Rachel Begun, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian specializing in gluten-related disorders and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  To learn more about Rachel and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest, visit www.rachelbegun.com.

We tend to eat out at restaurants more during the holidays - office party lunches and dinners, catching up with old friends, and celebratory traditions with family.  Large parties, family-style service and prix-fixe menus are the norm, making it more difficult for the gluten free to eat safely...but by no means impossible.  Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the celebration gluten free:

•  Whether an office party or get-together with friends, someone is in charge of calling the restaurant to make a reservation and/or plan the menu. As soon as you receive the invite, contact the planner to let them know about your special needs.

•  No one can communicate your gluten free needs better than you. Offer to make the reservation or call the restaurant manager. Better yet, be the party planner.

•  Speak to the restaurant manager/event planner well in advance of the celebration. The holidays are a hectic time for restaurants. You don’t want your server to first learn about your needs while you’re ordering. It’s best to have a conversation with the restaurant manager during a slow time of day, either before the lunch rush hour or between lunch and dinner.

•  Whether the regular menu or a special prix fixe party menu, review the selections prior to calling, so you can have a focused discussion and determine which dishes can/cannot be made completely gluten free.

•  If after the conversation you are still concerned you cannot be served gluten free, then you know to either eat something before you go or bring a snack with you.

•  Remind yourself that just because a restaurant has a gluten free menu, that doesn’t mean the staff is educated about cross contamination. You still have to be vigilant about asking all the right questions. Restaurants that focus on attentive service and proper restaurant protocol are the ones that successfully serve gluten free, regardless of whether they have a dedicated gluten free menu.

•  Big parties are difficult to serve. It’s best to catch the server prior to the party ordering to remind them of your gluten free needs. Don’t hesitate to pull the server aside to ensure he can hear you and understands your needs.

•  Be friendly in your dialogue and interactions. Communicate clearly, assertively and graciously, without trivializing your condition or need to eat gluten free.

•  If you have been given good service, be courteous and gracious. Let the staff and manager know and tip well.

•  Spread the word. The gluten free community wants to know which restaurants provide a safe eating environment and the restaurant you had a good experience at should be recognized for their attentive service.

If after all precautions have been taken and you still don’t feel comfortable with the safety of your meal, sit back and enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine while enjoying time with friends and/or family. After all, that’s what the holidays are really about. 

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