Can a celiac go to a restaurant?

Going out to eat at a restaurant can be difficult for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, abdominal pain and more. The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet, which involves avoiding all foods and products that contain gluten. This includes avoiding most restaurant foods, since gluten is commonly used as an ingredient. However, with care and planning, those with celiac disease can safely eat out at restaurants. Here is an overview of tips and strategies for celiacs dining out.

Call Ahead and Ask About Gluten-Free Options

Before heading to a restaurant, call ahead to ask about their gluten-free offerings. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free menu options and protocols to avoid cross-contamination with gluten. Ask to speak with a manager to get the best information. Key questions to ask:

  • Do you have a separate gluten-free menu?
  • What gluten-free menu options do you offer?
  • Do you have protocols in place to avoid cross-contamination?
  • Are your staff knowledgeable about gluten and celiac disease?
  • Can meal preparations be modified to be gluten-free?

The manager should be able to walk you through what they offer for gluten-free diners. If they don’t have experience accommodating celiacs, you may want to avoid that restaurant.

Stick to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods

Focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as:

  • Fresh meats, poultry and fish
  • Vegetables and salads
  • Fruits
  • Dairy products
  • Rice and potatoes
  • Corn and corn tortillas
  • Beans, legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Avoid breaded, fried, floured or sauce-laden items which are more prone to cross-contamination. Opt for simply prepared grilled, baked or broiled meats, fish and poultry. Ask for dressings, marinades and sauces to be served on the side.

Verify Ingredients in Menu Items

Carefully review the menu and ask your server about how each dish is prepared. Ask about all ingredients and prep methods. For example, chicken breast on its own may be gluten-free, but if it is breaded, floured or sautéed in a wheat-based sauce, it could contain gluten. Verify every component of a dish to ensure it is safe. Also check on how side dishes like vegetables and rice are cooked, as butter, seasonings or shared cooking pans could introduce gluten. If in doubt, ask the kitchen to modify and avoid concerning ingredients.

Request Dedicated Fryers and Utensils

Since gluten can stick to surfaces, request that gluten-free fries and other fried foods be made in a dedicated fryer only used for gluten-free cooking. Also ask that new utensils, pans and gloves be used to prepare your meal to avoid cross-contact. Servers may need to notify the kitchen staff to ensure proper protocols.

Avoid Cross-Contamination from Surfaces

Gluten can transfer from surfaces like tables, kitchen counters and shared service utensils. Request that your table is wiped down first and use a clean cloth placemat if needed. Avoid self-serve buffet lines where cross-contamination is high. Carefully review how dishes are served and plated to minimize exposure to potential gluten sources.

Bring Your Own Food

If a restaurant doesn’t offer safe gluten-free options or you still have concerns, consider bringing your own gluten-free meal. Many restaurants will allow you to bring your own gluten-free pasta, bread or other items. Some may even be willing to warm up your meal. Just provide any instructions needed so they can safely handle your food.

Let Others Know You Have Celiac Disease

Inform your server and any staff involved with your meal that you have celiac disease and can’t have gluten. Explain the severity and impact of exposure. Oftentimes, increased awareness and education helps restaurants provide safer accommodations.

Tip Appropriately

If staff is attentive and makes an effort to accommodate your needs, provide a generous tip. Positive reinforcement goes a long way towards improving gluten-free offerings and protocols at restaurants.

Try a Gluten-Free Restaurant

Many cities now have dedicated gluten-free restaurants, bakeries and pizzerias. These establishments cater specifically to gluten-free diners, using protocols to avoid any cross-contamination. While gluten-free restaurants may have limited menus, they provide peace of mind for celiacs. Search online directories to find gluten-free restaurants in your area.

Pick a Restaurant with Strong Gluten-Free Reviews

Research restaurants that receive positive gluten-free reviews online and in the celiac community. While any restaurant with gluten on premises carries some level of risk, ones with glowing recommendations suggest they accommodate gluten-free diners well. Search restaurant review sites and celiac blogs for top picks.

Stick to the Same Trusted Restaurants

Over time, celiacs usually find a handful of restaurants they trust to eat at safely and consistently. Building relationships with specific restaurants that understand your needs well can make dining out easier. Reliably safe picks become go-to choices.

Know the Major Allergens

Beyond gluten, those with celiac disease need to also avoid rye, barley and malt. Here are some other common allergens and ingredients to watch out for on menus:

  • Soy sauce (contains wheat)
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Malt vinegar
  • Wheat starch
  • Flour tortillas
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Udon noodles
  • Einkorn
  • Farro
  • Semolina
  • Food starch

If an item has an ambiguous ingredient or sauce, always verify it is gluten-free.

Know Which Cuisines are Safer

Certain cuisines rely more heavily on gluten-containing ingredients than others. Here is a rundown of cuisine types ranked from safest to those that require more caution:

Safer Cuisines

  • Brazilian
  • Indian
  • Thai
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Mexican

Higher Risk Cuisines

  • Italian
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Burgers
  • American
  • Greek

When opting for cuisines that frequently use wheat, soy sauce and other glutenous ingredients, take extra precautions.

Avoid Busy Meal Times

Try to dine during off-peak hours when kitchen staff may be less rushed and better able to take precautions. Busy Friday night dinner services often carry more risk of mistakes happening. Opt for weekday lunches or early dinners when it’s calmer.

Travel With Gluten-Free Cards

When traveling, bring along translated gluten-free dining cards to communicate your needs in different languages. Celiac organizations provide cards with key phrases for many destinations. Presenting the local language helps servers overseas understand and accommodate your diet.

Learn the Terms for Gluten-Free

Knowing how to ask if a meal is gluten-free in other languages aids dining abroad. Here are helpful phrases:

  • French – sans gluten
  • Spanish – sin gluten
  • Italian – senza glutine
  • German – glutenfrei

Research celiac-friendly terminology for any vacation spots you visit.

Pack Gluten-Free Snacks

When traveling, pack plenty of gluten-free snacks, treats and backup meals in case you have trouble finding safe options. Protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, shelf-stable meals and other portable options help tide you over if needed.

Download Gluten-Free Dining Apps

Apps like FindMeGlutenFree, Gluten Free Restaurant Menus and Yelp can help locate and review gluten-free-friendly establishments near you. Apps provide on-the-go searchability when deciding where to eat.

Consider Potential Language Barriers

In foreign countries, language and cultural differences may make communicating your gluten needs more difficult. Travel to more tourist-friendly and westernized destinations to reduce communication issues.

Visit Local Markets and Grocery Stores

Abroad, shopping local markets and grocery stores for gluten-free fruits, vegetables, meats, rice and potatoes can stock up safe meal components. Produce and unprocessed foods avoid language label issues.

Research Destinations Thoroughly

Research the gluten-free friendliness of any destination thoroughly before traveling there. Support organizations like maintain gluten-free travel lists for many popular vacation spots.

Consider All-Inclusive Resorts

All-inclusive resorts often cater to various diets and allergies. Their buffets may offer gluten-free options. Travel companies like SPIRITJOURNEYS plan gluten-free group trips and excursions.

Try Gluten-Free Cruises

Gluten-free ocean and river cruises cater specifically to passengers eating gluten-free. They offer gluten-free meals, snacks and excursion meals. Cruise lines like Oceania, Windstar and Azamara accommodate special diets.

Pack Gluten-Free Instant Meals

Packing instant oatmeal, cup noodles, cakes, flours, biscuits and other just-add-water meals ensures you have breakfasts, snacks and quick gluten-free options while traveling.

Stay at Hotels with Kitchens

Hotel suites or rentals with kitchens allow you to safely prepare some of your own meals while traveling. You can isolate ingredients and prevent cross-contact better.

Visit Countries Known to be Gluten-Free Friendly

According to, the most gluten-free friendly travel destinations are Ireland, the UK, Argentina, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Opting for these locations can ease dining concerns.

Table of Gluten-Free Friendly Travel Destinations

Country Notes
Ireland Many awareness programs. Markets carry gluten-free products.
UK Leading gluten-free regulations. Many gluten-free offerings.
Argentina High awareness. Empanadas and meat dishes are safer.
Finland Strong celiac community. Dairy and fish dishes preferable.
Norway Gluten-free products are more available.
Denmark High percentage of gluten-free offerings.

Join Celiac Travel Groups

Connecting with celiac travel groups on social media can provide destination tips and advice. You can learn from others’ experiences.

Consider Gluten-Free Tours and Vacations

Gluten-free tour operators plan trips, excursions and itineraries designed specifically for gluten-free lifestyles. These can simplify travel logistics.

Bring Your Own Gluten-Free Condiments

Packets of soy sauce, salad dressings, mustard and other condiments ensure you always have a safe flavoring option for meals.

Download Gluten-Free Scanning Apps

Apps like Gluten Free Food Scanner and Find Me Gluten Free Barcode Scanner let you scan product labels for gluten-free verification on the go.

Learn to Spot Hidden Gluten

Learn tricks like watch out for words like flavoring, natural flavors, spices, starch or thickener which could signal hidden sources of gluten. Vaguely labeled or processed foods raise red flags.

Join Gluten-Free Loyalty Programs

Chains like Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, Red Robin and P.F. Chang’s offer gluten-free loyalty programs with special menus, incentives and perks.

See a Dietitian Well-Versed in Celiac Needs

Dietitians specializing in gluten-free diets can provide personalized counsel on eating out strategies, label reading, travel, hidden sources of gluten and other aspects beyond basic diet guidelines.

Consider Gluten Detection Devices

Portable devices like Nima and SCiO Food Sensor can test foods for gluten on the spot. While not foolproof, they provide added assurance when uncertain.

Advocate for Improved Restaurant Training

Politely speaking with restaurant managers about the need for better gluten-free protocols and staff celiac training helps move the needle for broader change.

Give Praise When Restaurants Get it Right

Writing positive reviews, thank you notes and feedback when restaurants provide a stellar gluten-free experience encourages them and others to follow suit.


Dining out with celiac disease requires awareness and effort, but with caution and planning it can be accomplished safely. Following tips like vetting menus in advance, verifying ingredient lists, avoiding cross-contamination and knowing specific cuisines’ risks helps minimize exposure. While home-cooked meals are still safest, celiacs need not fully forego eating out. With some care and adaptation, those with celiac disease can also enjoy restaurant meals.

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