Today I am sharing part 2 of a 2-part blog series on living with dietary restrictions. These posts are co-written by nutrition student volunteers Nalani Balasupramaniam and Isabella Gregov. Part 1 focused on the social and emotional impacts of eating out, and shared some personal quotes from individuals with dietary restrictions. This post focuses on dining out with dietary restrictions, and has tips for making your dining experience as safe and enjoyable as possible! Social occasions are often centred around food. Instead of skipping these occasions, use these tips and enjoy spending more time with your friends and family. While this post focuses on restrictions due to gastrointestinal disorders, I acknowledge that there are many other health issues which can lead to dietary restrictions.
Living with dietary restrictions can be tough. If you are facing problems when eating out, take a look at the tips below. These tips are helpful for both people with dietary restrictions and food staff that must accommodate them.
Tips for the Diner with Dietary Restrictions
1. Do your research, call ahead.
If you are travelling or are not sure what local restaurants may be able to accommodate your dietary needs, do your research before leaving for a meal out. Look at the menus of places that interest you – many of these are available online. You can always call ahead for extra assurance. Calling ahead can be especially helpful if you experience any anxiety or are less likely to speak up about your dietary restrictions in-person.
2. Don’t assume anything.
While the wait staff may seem to understand your dietary restrictions, make sure that they are clear on the specifics. For example, there may be smaller elements in the dish, like a sauce or garnish, that could be unacceptable to someone following a low FODMAP diet. This is also true for many other food allergies, intolerances and restrictions. If you follow a gluten-free diet, ensure that they do not serve a bun on the same plate – this is easily overlooked by staff and happens all too frequently!
3. For those with CD, remember that “wheat-free” and “gluten-friendly” do NOT equal gluten-free.
With the rise of the latest gluten-free fad diet, more and more companies and food establishments are offering “gluten-free” products. However, it is important to remember that terms such as “wheat-free” and “gluten-friendly” do not equal gluten-free. The dish may contain no wheat or gluten itself, but it may be prepared in the same area as gluten-containing foods. Products labelled “wheat-free” may contain other sources of gluten, such as barley or malt. If you see either of these terms on a restaurant menu, make sure to ask for clarification and explain that your meal must be completely free of gluten.
Note: if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and not Celiac Disease, you do not need to worry about gluten cross-contamination.
4. Don’t be afraid to send the order back.
If you notice something on the plate that you cannot tolerate or otherwise should not be consuming, be bold! Send the order back and ensure that the issue is made clear. Remember that you are not being a burden or overly picky. GI symptoms can be highly unpleasant and slip-ups, in cases such as the elimination phase of a low FODMAP diet, may hinder your success. Standing up for yourself and explaining your dietary requirements will also increase awareness and help staff to serve future customers with similar requirements.
5. Eat with those who are supportive and understand your dietary needs.
By surrounding yourself with love and support, you won’t feel the alienation and isolation that can occur while dining out. A strong support system is vital in coping with the challenges that come from having food intolerances. Having friends and family to back you up can also help if you ever need to make a complicated order or send an incorrect order back. Support can also be found online through various Facebook groups for individuals with different GI conditions and food intolerances. For example, Low FODMAP Recipes & Support, Low FODMAP Canadians and the Canadian Celiac Association Facebook groups can be great places to learn, get recommendations, and receive support from others with the same dietary struggles.
Tips for the Staff
As a server, it can feel overwhelming trying to accommodate all of the different dietary restrictions customers may have. Here are some tips to help your customers have a happy experience.
1. Ask the customer for clarification.
If you do not understand the substitutions or modifications the customer is requesting, don’t be afraid to ask questions! It is your responsibility to ensure that their order is taken correctly and that their dietary restrictions can be accommodated. Do not avoid asking for fear of offending the customer; after all, many with dietary restrictions experience feelings of distrust and/or isolation when ordering out. Asking for clarification shows the customer that you care. This may put their mind at ease, and it will help to ensure that you serve them a safe meal!
2. Educate yourself.
Managers should provide proper training on how to handle food allergies and restrictions. However, if your employer has not provided proper training or you feel that you need more training with regards to food restrictions, request more training or talk to the Human Resources department (if applicable). Also, if you encounter a customer with a dietary restriction that you have never heard of before, show that you are eager to learn! Don’t be embarrassed about not knowing the answers; the customer is likely very used to explaining their needs and will respond positively to your willingness to learn more.
3. If you don’t know if a certain ingredient is included in a dish, ask the cook.
As a server, it is very difficult to know every single ingredient in a dish. With diets like the low FODMAP diet, the customer may need to know exactly what is going into the meal. If your food establishment does not have an ingredient list for each menu item, ask the cook! Also make sure that the cook/kitchen staff are aware of your customers’ needs and are able to accommodate them. For those working in the kitchen, make sure that you understand the requests of the diner. If you feel that your do not have the proper training for handling dietary allergies and restrictions, such as avoiding cross contamination, refer to the step above – ask for more training.
4. Be patient and try not to get frustrated if they need to send the order back.
Recognize that it can be very difficult for an individual with dietary restrictions to eat out. There are various psychosocial impacts that come from negative experiences when eating out, such as embarrassment, isolation, and feeling like a burden. On top of that, there are also unpleasant physical symptoms that often result when individuals consume something they are not supposed to – even if it’s a small amount! If they need to send an order back, apologize to the customer, but do not do so profusely! This may embarrass them. Instead, apologize once and then direct your attention to correcting the order. Be patient and listen carefully to their requests. Make sure the kitchen staff fully understand the issue and are able to correct it.
More Information and Support
If you are looking to connect with others with dietary restrictions check out these facebook support groups:
If you are looking for more information on the Low FODMAP Diet, check out this introduction to the Low FODMAP Diet page and other blog posts:
If you are looking for more information on Celiac Disease check out the Canadian Celiac Association website:
Are you looking for support with managing digestive symptoms and/or the low FODMAP diet? My nutrition counselling and coaching services are available across Canada (via video messaging or phone). I am a registered dietitian with a Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition who specializes in digestion and practical healthy eating tips. Learn more about my services by clicking here.