Finding Celiac Friendly Restaurants can be the difference between a happy, active social life with celiac disease or feeling super isolated. While it requires a little work behind the scenes, these tips will help you successfully find restaurants that fit your needs. Whether 100% gluten free destinations only or in-a-pinch while traveling, we have tips for you!
This post contains:
> Celiac Friendly Restaurants Apps
> How to pick Celiac Friendly Restaurants
> My strategy for ordering celiac-safe meals when not at a 100% Gluten-Free Spot
> Tips for Tricky Situations >> No online menu, Vegan/Vegetarian, Ordering in a Foreign Language
Celiac Friendly Restaurants Apps
Find Me Gluten Free
I love this app, especially while traveling! It has search filters for dedicated gluten free facilities, dedicated gluten free fryers, and celiac-safe options.
One important note is that the free version of the app does not allow you to filter the “celiac-safe” option. You can, however, still use the celiac-safe filter for free on the website.
Dedicated Gluten Free
This new app offers lists of 100% Gluten Free restaurants only. I like this app so far, and there is promise of new features and additions coming soon.
How to pick Celiac Friendly Restaurants
There are three ways I find celiac safe restaurants:
1. Use the apps to find a dedicated Gluten Free restaurant.
If I get to choose, I prefer 100% gluten-free restaurants. This means I have more meal options, I don’t need to ask a million (sometimes embarrassing) questions, and I support other people in the gluten-free community!
2. Use the celiac-safe filter on the Find Me Gluten Free App (or website).
After applying the filter, I choose nearby restaurants (you can search by location) that are voted celiac-safe by app users. I try to find ones that have a 100% success rate by celiacs.
The lowest celiac success rate I’m willing to consider is 75% and I carefully read through the comments to learn why the success rate is less than 100%. Usually, I only eat at restaurants with a 100% or very near 100% success rate.
Important Note: Be aware that some non-celiac gluten-free eaters will mark “celiac-safe” on restaurant ratings. While some of these are valid, I read comments carefully since they can be overly optimistic about the severity of cross-contamination.
3. Consult gluten-free facebook groups, forums, blog posts, and internet search engines.
Most of my restaurant planning is solved with the apps. However, sometimes the apps have fewer options than I need or nothing at all!
In this case, I turn to blogs, social media, and internet forums to find safe options. Bloggers like Legal Nomads and Becky Excell have extensive restaurant lists and safe foods for gluten-free travel destinations. Note that Becky Excell does not have celiac disease but often notes if a place is 100% gluten-free or prevents cross-contact with gluten.
How to order celiac safe meals in restaurants that are not 100% Gluten Free
I get lots of questions from readers asking “would you eat at _____________ ?” I do not stick to 100% gluten-free restaurants all the time because sometimes they just aren’t available. Often, there are plenty of other safe spots around.
Whether or not you will eat at a restaurant that is not 100% gluten-free or known to be celiac-safe is a personal choice. I encourage you to do what makes you feel safe, no judgement whatsoever.
We all have different tolerances to gluten and you know your body best!
I make my own determination about the safety of a restaurant based on these steps:
1. Inspect the menu online.
There are often celiac-safe options with grilled meat and fish, steamed seafood, steamed or roasted vegetables, or fries in a dedicated fryer.
Do the salads have croutons? If so, the salad bar may be at risk for cross contact with gluten.
Is there a gluten free menu? Is there a tiny disclaimer about cross-contamination somewhere on that menu? If so, proceed with caution.
2. Call ahead.
Sometimes twice, and avoid busy meal times if possible. Explain that you have celiac disease. Tip: In many cases, it’s more successful to explain celiac disease as an allergy to wheat or gluten.
Then use your knowledge of the menu to ask specific questions about items you are interested in ordering. Ask:
- Do you have a gluten-free menu?
- Do you keep croutons at the salad bar?
- Do you have a dedicated gluten-free fryer?
- Are your sauces/seasonings/spices gluten-free?
- Is there a dedicated area for gluten-free food prep?
- Are all of your chefs and servers familiar with gluten-free?
My trick: I ask probing questions but never use the words cross-contact or cross-contamination. If they can come up with these terms for you, there’s a good chance this is a safe place to eat.
I’m also satisfied if they can explain the process for preventing cross-contact without using the official term.
Helpful hint: Make sure restaurant staff change to new gloves before handling your food.
3. Ask questions in person.
When I arrive at the restaurant, I generally know what I’d like to order because I checked the menu online and called ahead.
I once again explain that I have celiac disease (or a wheat or gluten allergy) and ask the same questions I did on the phone in person.
It’s also good practice and highly recommended that you ask to talk to a chef or the manager in addition to your server. This works really well in upscale sit-down restaurants and you may find less success in more casual restaurants.
4. Inspect your food.
When you receive your meal, take a very good look at it. Do you see crumbs? What about sesame seeds that are only found on wheat buns in the restaurant (I had this happen at Five Guys)?
Are there any unexpected sauces or spices? Other signs of cross contact with gluten?
As uncomfortable as it can be to send a meal back, it is not worth eating the food anyway and harming your body.
When you advocate for your needs, you not only help yourself, you spread celiac awareness for all of us. It helps if you are with a friend or family member who understands and supports you.
Tips for Tricky Situations
What if there is no online menu or you can’t call?
On the rare occasion I visit a restaurant without information online (usually while traveling), I ask to see the menu before sitting down and ask questions to the host or manager.
Without prior confirmation that a restaurant is celiac-safe, I never order complicated dishes with sauces, broths, or other flavorings where undetected gluten may slip in. I would consider these dishes only if they seem very knowledgeable about gluten-free, cross-contact, and celiac disease specifically.
These are the types of meals I’ll consider in this situation:
- Salads with no dressing or oil and vinegar
- Plain fish
- Plain meats
- Steamed seafood
- Steamed or roasted vegetables without sauce
- Fries in a dedicated fryer
I found success with seafood restaurants around the world and even several upscale restaurants in rural South Africa. Sometimes they have no knowledge of gluten-free. However, the combination of translation cards and sticking to simple options like those above worked well!
Gluten-Free Vegetarians and Vegans
It is my personal choice to eat meat, eggs, and some dairy, especially while traveling, because they are often reliably gluten-free options.
Vegan/Vegetarian readers tell me they often find safe options at Indian and Thai restaurants around the world. Personally, I do not feel safe eating in these restaurants with all the sauces and possibly contaminated spices. I would recommend looking into the Nima Sensor if you would like to eat these types of meals, especially while traveling.
Ordering in a Foreign Language
This can make any gluten-free eater freeze in place! But don’t despair – there are many resources available to you. You can learn more in my How to Travel Anywhere with Celiac Disease & How to Order Safe Gluten Free Food in a Foreign Language posts.
With love and gratitude,