Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Don't Eat" Menus

Don't get me wrong...I *seriously* appreciate restaurants that have gluten-free menus, as they show the restaurant cares about feeding me and others like me in a way that won't make us sick.

Nevertheless, many restaurants offer what I call "Don't eat" menus. My reaction is always about the same: "If I wanted to not eat, I would have stayed home" or "Why am I paying so much money to not eat?"

Counter example: Legal Seafoods has one of the best gluten-free menus I've ever seen. They have a number of items on the menu that are modifications of their regular items. For example, the regular item has a main dish with broccoli served on a bed of noodles. The gluten free menu offers the same dish served on a bed of rice. YESSS! Thank you, thank you! I feel important. I feel valued. I feel hungry! and eventually I feel full, and taken care of.

(In addition, the manager at Legal comes over to discuss your food needs with you, and assures you he/she knows all about cross contamination and how they prevent it. But this post is about menus!)

Contrast this to Outback.

First, I went to one Outback restaurant once where they had a menu but no salad arrived with croutons on it, for example, and I ended up getting sick from something they served me.

Second, when you do read the Outback menu, it reads like this: Steaks: order without sauce. Salad: Order without croutons. Special #1. Order without bread. Don't eat this, don't eat that. (And moreover, we don't take any responsibility for your food. If you eat something that makes you sick, it's because you ordered wrong.)

Big Bowl has a gluten free menu, Yay!
The regular menu has 6 pages.
The Gluten-Free menu has: Pad Thai. (Order one of four ways.)

I can't tell you how discouraging it is to go out to eat when one must eat gluten-free. One often ends up with just salad. Guess what guys, salad is NOT a meal.

A restaurant doesn't even need to buy gluten-free bread: I could eat all sorts of things if you would just:

a) not thicken everything with wheat flour. If it's corn soup, thicken with corn starch. If it's potatoes au gratin, thicken with potato starch.
b) Have a bottle of wheat-free soy sauce on hand. (It's really not all that expensive! If I remember, I bring my own bottle to sushi restaurants, but come on guys: you can buy one too!)

Honestly, I wish all restauranteurs would have to eat a food-allergy meal for a month. I think you'd understand I'm not trying to be difficult.

Menus: Yes, it's true, when restauranteurs search for "gluten free", they see a list of instructions what the patron cannot eat. It's important for you to learn what I can't eat, but you don't have to teach me "don't eat bread, pasta, noodles, anything with breading, soy sauce, gravies, etc."...I know that and live it every day of my life.

Instead, please try to translate what I can't eat into what you have that I can eat. Look down your menu from the point of view of someone whose body will get sick from the things on the list you found, and see what that leaves.

THEN PLEASE, try to adjust a few more things so I can eat them. Maybe have some corn chips on hand to replace the pita points that come with your spinach-artichoke dip. Maybe have some all-rice noodles to cook for me instead of the rice/wheat combo noodles you make everyone else. Pasta lasts forever, it's not like you'll go broke making me something I can eat.

Finally, if you ARE aware of gluten issues, please don't be offended if I question you and your people. Many less-aware restaurants have offered me toxic food and assured me I could eat it. I *HAVE* to question you. No, I cannot eat the salad after you pick the croutons crumb of crouton means a month of autoimmune hell, really. And it feels really punishing to be served a dry breast of chicken when everyone else has a yummy looking sauce...whip out that bottle of wheat-free soy sauce and it makes all the difference.

Thank you in advance for making it possible to accommodate me, and the up-to-1% of people who cannot process gluten. We are a market specialty for Legal Seafoods. I hope we can make you money too.


  • Yay! Hurrah! Someone who puts voice to my concerns and complaints. Thanks!!!

    By Blogger Terina, at 6:47 AM  

  • I think ability to serve a safe gluten free meal varies greatly from one Outback to another. I have had excellent experiences at the Outback in Germantown, Maryland. I never order the salads, so I can't comment about the croutons. I always get the chicken on the barbie, which they tell me they wrap in foil and cook separately. I love their chocolate thunder dessert too. All the servers have been familar with gluten free when I request and write down that and to cook separately.

    I wish there was a difference on menus between no gluten added and gluten free - I wish people would understand likely cross contamination is not gluten free!

    Have you been to P.F. Chang's - their gluten free menu is written well and there are no withouts.

    Check out my new blog -

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:02 AM  

  • i agree with a lot you said in regards to what i call an "unvitation" to eat there... but i must say i was okay with outback the one time i've eaten there since going gf. on the other hand, we went to legal last valentine's and i was utterly disappointed. it mostly has to do with the fact that there was basically no seasoning whatsoever on anything i got. it's a similar experience everywhere with a pre-made gf menu- gf=no seasoning or flavor. i can't have soy, so the gf soy sauce wouldn't work, but at least salt and pepper! even legal's calamari was pretty awful- it was heavy cornmeal batter that had no flavor. rice flour would be a better option at least, and i'm actually planning on writing and making some recommendations since they already put in that much effort. best gf menu meal i've had so far is roy's in baltimore. fantastic food without sacrificing the flavor at all. and they are really knowledgeable. oh- and cafe atlantico in d.c.

    By Blogger noosh., at 10:12 AM  

  • I totally agree! I went to Outback and my steak didn't taste very good since I couldn't have any of the seasoning. I liked how it had hamburgers on there and then say don't eat the bun, why would I want a hamburger w/o a bun? I don't want to pay for nasty food and I get tired of having to choose from only 3 items. Like every good American -- I want a CHOICE!

    By Blogger Tiffany & Albert, at 7:54 AM  

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