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Gluten-free backlash?

Posted on April 1st, 2013 by Alison Read 9 Comments - Add Your Own »

The other night I went out with a group of people to a new restaurant called Salito’s in Sausalito, California. I hadn’t looked at the menu ahead of time, but rarely do I have a problem eating out gluten-free these days (unless it is a Chinese restaurant). Restaurant awareness has grown tremendously since I was diagnosed with celiac disease 10 years ago, and especially in the last few years. If you haven’t heard of gluten-free by now, you are living under a rock. But after this dining experience, I wondered for the first time if there could actually be a backlash happening in some places.

First of all, they brought big bowls of house-made bread. No big deal, I’m used to that. I drank my wine while everyone stuffed their faces with bread and butter. Then appetizers were ordered and plates of tuna carpaccio arrived smothered in ponzu sauce (which contains soy sauce, which contains wheat). Okay, my fault, I was chatting while someone else ordered. Still not a big deal – I would order my meal and be fine. I motioned the waiter over and said, “Hi, I need to eat gluten-free” and when I saw his expression I added “and I’m not just being trendy, I really need to be gluten-free.” He responded, “Oh, so your not gluten-free?” as he made air quotes with his fingers. “No, I am not gluten-free” I said, making the same air quotes, “I am gluten-free.”

From there, we went back and forth about the dishes on the menu and he went back to the kitchen and checked on something. When he came back, he said “So… that [the thing he checked on] is totally…NOT okay for you.” Thanks buddy. “Okay,” I said, “Then just tell me about the fish… I see a lot of kinds here with several different preparations. Does that work for me?” And then, the quote of the night:

“Those dishes come with pasta, and they are the only thing on the menu that we will substitute… for four dollars extra.”

FOUR DOLLARS? To get potatoes or vegetables instead of pasta? Are you F-ING kidding me? How much will you take OFF my bill if I order NO pasta? Or if I order something that includes your fancy house-made kettle bread and local organic butter, but ask you not to bring it, because that would just be wasting it? Forgive me, but doesn’t it sound like I am being punished for not being able to eat the pasta? I have to pay MORE because I can eat less?

I wish I had said all that at the time, instead of just now, while writing this blog post! But then again, I just wanted to enjoy the company and the night.

In the end, I ordered a plate of prosciutto (hold the bread), a side order of potatoes and a side order of brussel sprouts. It was all really delicious, and I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant, but unfortunately I had a bad taste in my mouth when I left.

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  1. I think the owner of the restaurant needs a little note from you.

  2. i’m so sorry you experienced such horrible service! i would definitely call the manager and chat with them. i’m sure they will be mortified to hear about what happened.

  3. It always amazes me when servers are rude &/or arrogant… Glad you enjoyed a night out with friends (the real reasonfor the night) and maybe a note to the owner will get you an invite back?? :)

  4. I think you should send them the link to this post.

  5. I don’t know if this is as polite as saying “gluten-free”, but I like to say, “I’m gluten-intolerant, would you be able to help me navigate the menu, please? I’m mainly interested in the _________.” It really helps if the restaurant shows up somewhere online as “gluten-free friendly”, “food allergies accommodated” or if someone on tripadvisor mentioned that food allergies have been accommodated. I like to tell the restaurant that that’s why we picked there to dine that evening. As far as paying extra, I have noticed that if the restaurant offers a gluten-free bread or pasta, they usually charge extra for it. That makes sense because they likely order it in small quantity, it’s expensive, and they likely have to throw some away if demand doesn’t occur. The restaurant you went to sounds like their substitution policy is plain stingy to anyone who wants a substitution for any reason at all — gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan, food allergies, watching carbs, etc.

  6. I agree that I think you should send a note or call the owner/manager and let them know what happened.

  7. I am beginning to notice that- often- people who react this way are actually (secretly) having ‘those problems’ that come with gluten sensitivity themselves and are in BIG denial and angry about it! Thus, whenever anyone brings it up- they react like jerks.
    But, no matter what – the manager does need to hear this story. Gluten intolerance is just too important a health issue.

  8. Thank you for all your great information. I am gluten sensitive and do not have celiac, but do have multiple food allergies and sensitivies as well as chemical sensitivities. I started to feel strange vertigo and light headed after eating french fries from In and Out. So I did a search based upon your great information that they cook their french fries in cottonseed oil. It turns out there are people who have allergic reactions…sometimes severe.. to cottonseed oil as it is made from genetically modified cotton plant seeds! Thankfully it is a fairly mild reaction. We learn something new every day.

  9. This happened to me, too, with pasta. I asked if I could substitute potatoes (which were part of another special) as my side. The server got very irritated and said that was not possible. I finally pulled him in a little bit and said, ‘look, this is a food allergy and I don’t think you want me to call the manager and let him know how unhelpful you are being.’ That seemed to do the trick, but I felt bad about the whole thing (who wants to make a scene when you are out with friends?). I finally went back 6 months later and they had a gluten free menu. Finally.

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