Monday 19 January 2015

An Open Letter to Restaurants with a Gluten Free Menu

An Open Letter to Restaurants Who have a Gluten Free Menu,

Or Gluten Friendly or Gluten Easy or Gluten Sensitive menu or whatever your lawyers wanted you to call it so you wouldn't get sued.

I have Celiac Disease and I'm sorry about that.

I know that sucks for you. I know that it used to suck for me when I was a server and a manager at various restaurants over 20 years - insert obligatory Flintstone joke here..... It's annoying. It's tedious and at times, it feels like a total waste of your labor (and certainly, food) costs. I know that some of you think, I am, at the very least, being dramatic and at the most, a complete raving hypochondriac.

I know some of you think it's fake.

I know you hate it when I come in.

But, and trust me on this one, I hate this disease more than you do.

I hate the way the servers roll their eyes at me. I hate the way the new shift manager, who is barely out of diapers, saunters up to my table, (reeking of Axe Body spray) assuring me that my meal will be gluten free. I know for a fact, that this kid has never been in the store at 8am to witness the prep team do their work, doesn't know who your suppliers are, and certainly has never put on a set of whites and watched anything be prepared on the heat of the line. I hate dealing with him and his 'I know my shit' attitude because he doesn't know his shit and it terrifies me that I am getting the same 'trust me' line that he gives to the rookie hostesses just before he tucks them into his mom's Corolla. I hate telling every staff member who approaches our table that I have Celiacs, prompting everyone eating with us to have a long and involved discussion about my intestinal health.

I hate talking about my disease more than you hate cooking for it.

And here's the thing. I, unlike some of my Celiac compadres, completely understand cross contamination. I know that on a Friday night, asking you to wash your tongs repeatedly or change your gloves, or deal with my meal when you have 57 open tables seems like cruel and unusual punishment. I understand how much of a challenge my food is to cook and therefore, I am ALWAYS prepared for cross contamination. I know that it might happen, not because your BOH staff are lazy shits but because they are busy. They are busier than most employed people are on any given day of their careers. They are so busy that they want to punch their accountant friends in the face when they claim to be 'swamped' at work. You don't know 'swamped' until Mother Day Brunch.

I understand cross contamination so don't insult me by explaining it to me again.

What I don't understand is a restaurant not educating your staff on what gluten is and what foods it is in and what foods it is not in. I don't understand the times when I have ordered something off of your gluten free menu, checked with the server, who checked with the manager, who had the sous chef expo the food to then be served something WITH flour in it. I am willing to risk my gluten free bun touching a regular bun in the craziness of the rush but I will never understand having a glutened item on your gluten free menu. This is completely unacceptable and irresponsible.

I don't expect a Celiac Association stamp of approval meal, I expect, at the bare minimum, one without flour in it. I expect you to know that the tiniest bit of flour makes me very ill. I expect you to understand that there is no such thing as 'a little bit of poison' to you and therefore, no such thing as 'a little bit of flour' to me.

I expect your servers to know the ingredients of the food they are serving. I expect cooks to know that gluten is not a germ nor can it be killed by wrapping the food in plastic wrap for ten seconds.

These are my expectations and I don't think that they are unreasonable. By opening a restaurant, you have agreed to serve the general public and like it or not, I am a member of the general public.

I don't expect you to be experts on my disease, but I expect you to be able to serve me food without flour in it. I expect you to educate your staff on what foods those are. I expect you to have a process in place for handling Celiac food and I expect you to follow that one hundred percent of the time.

I expect this much like a person with a peanut allergy expects to eat something without peanuts in it. Because like it or not....that is how serious Celiac Disease is. Just because I don't have an epi pen, and don't react right away, doesn't mean it's not serious.

I know that Miley Cyrus and the rest of the Hollywood idiots have turned my disease into a joke. The Atkins of the decade. I know that confuses things and if I had a magic wish and  by some cruel twist of fate, was no allowed to wish away my Celiac Disease, I would force everyone who can eat gluten to start eating gluten again. But I can't. So I am leaving it to you, good servers and managers and back of house staff to sort through it all.

I know it's a lot to ask. On a night when you are completely in the weeds and two bartenders are late (and - let's be honest, possibly high), your bussers don't understand the word 'bussing', your lounge servers were just sexually harassed by a skeevy regular and the line just informed you that you are out of fries. FRIES. I come in and start asking questions about your Gluten Free menu.

I hear you. I get it.

And dear God, please know that I am so sorry that you have to deal with this garbage disease with me.

I want to thank you for taking the time you do to make my meal safe. I know it's not always perfect but I truly hope you will try your best.

As a matter of fact, I'm counting on it.

With great respect and a high tip percentage,
I am...
A Freaking Celiac

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