No Time To Be Shy

I was really shy in high school. One day I was trying to get through the cafeteria, and there were two young ladies from the popular crowd standing in the middle of a choke point, blocking any traffic from getting through. It wasn’t a terrible problem in the eyes of the teachers, though, because I was the only one trying to get past them.

I stood politely to the side, trying not to be a bother, and said, “Excuse me, please. Can I get through?” They completely ignored me and kept talking and tossing their hair. The nerve!

I waited a few more moments and then pushed my way through them since they obviously weren’t listening to a polite request. They had the gall to look shocked, and called me rude names as I barreled past them.

Looking back on it now, I realize that I had probably spoken so softly that they had no idea I was even standing there. They were caught up in their conversation, and my request would have been barely above a whisper. In a cafeteria. Full of high school students. No wonder they thought I was rude! From their perspective, they weren’t aware of me until I was shoving them out of the way.

The funny thing is, I see this behavior with a lot of adults too. We want or need something so much, but we don’t speak up for ourselves clearly in order to get it, and then we get mad when we don’t get what we need. This is especially true when it comes to trying to eat out while staying safely gluten-free.

We need to be crystal clear in communicating our needs in order for them to be met. There’s a balance point, somewhere between being so quiet and polite that nobody hears you, and so loud that you push everyone else out of the way. You want to find that middle point where you’re friendly and firm.

? The best option is to choose a restaurant that you already know can handle your needs. My favorite resource for finding restaurants is findmeglutenfree.com. If you come to the conversation armed with an idea (or a list) of places that are safe for you, you’ll have an easier time convincing the folks you’re with that feeding you safely is doable and worth a little extra effort.

? If you can, call ahead to the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager or chef. You can ask questions about your options and also find out what precautions they take against cross-contamination. You can also give them a heads up that you’re coming, so that they can prepare for you, which may speed up the process, since restaurants frequently need extra time to clean their space for allergies.

? As soon as you get to the restaurant, ask the host for a gluten-free menu. Sometimes they have a separate menu, and sometimes the menu is marked with gluten free options. The host or server will be able to show you how to locate the food you can eat. You can also ask to speak with a manager or the chef to confirm what you discussed on the phone and to make sure they are aware of your needs.

? Once your server comes to your table to take your order, tell them you have a gluten allergy. (I do this even if the manager said they would make sure the staff is aware. It’s better to be repetitious than to get glutened.) What I have is technically a sensitivity, but most servers don’t know what that means. If I say that I have an allergy, they know to take that seriously. Some places also recognize the term Celiac. Since I have strong reactions, even to cross contamination, if they know what it means, I do ask for Celiac levels of precautions. 

??NOTE: Please DO NOT do this, if you do not adhere strictly to a gluten-free diet. People who say that they have Celiac for the main meal and then eat cake for dessert are training the staff to not take precautions seriously, which can cause problems for other gluten-free patrons. Be clear with your server what your needs actually are so that we can all eat safely.

? Be prepared for your food to cost extra. Certified gluten-free food costs more to purchase and to make–and especially to make safely. We want the kitchen staff to be careful and use foods that are safe for us. This means it will take them longer, and they’ll have to use ingredients that are not cheap. Don’t grumble that it costs more. Be grateful they are willing to help us, despite the extra time and effort. 

? Work to be the best customers your server has that night. Be cheerful and understand that gluten-free takes longer. If you make their lives easier, your server will watch out for you. I’ve had so many experiences where my meal took what I felt was way too long, only to find out that the reason was that someone in the kitchen missed the GF flag, and the server caught the mistake before the food made it to my table. The server then sent it back to the kitchen and asked them to make it again, this time safely. I doubt they would have bothered, if I had been rude and dismissive to them. Seriously, this has happened multiple times. Being nice pays off.

? Tip well. As you are by now aware, making gluten-free food safely takes extra time and effort, especially when multiple people are involved. Be sure to acknowledge the extra work. (This will also help you build positive relationships with the staff, not only in case you come back again, but for the entire gluten-free community.)

Remember that it’s okay for you to speak up loud and clear (and politely) to get the service you need. That’s literally the only way it will happen, is if you speak up. Even if you’re shy.

Sometimes everything involved in going gluten free can be overwhelming, and you just wish someone would help you figure it all out. If you feel this way, send me a message and we can take a look at your situation together.

Stay strong and keep reading your labels!