Don't underestimate your server

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I had two INCREDIBLY positive restaurant experiences lately. Seriously. Mind blowing.

Most times if I go out to a restaurant, I have to choose between a very "north American" type chain, in which I will have almost nothing to eat (because of the crazy amounts of wheat in everything) but they will likely have a chart listing all the allergens- including dairy and gluten. This is helpful, but meh- boring.

On the other hand, I LOVE a good curry, or an awesome bowl of Tom Kha Gai (sp?) soup or something else of that nature. LOVE it. However, in the past I've found that the servers either looked at me with disdain when I asked questions about wheat, or simply didn't know. I'd say that at least 50% of the time, soy sauce has wheat in it. The reason for the "only half" part, is that there would be the 1% gluten free tamari, and the 49% soy sauce like this one, which is essentially made of water, salt, sugar and MSG. No wheat, but certainly NOT good for you.

So although I love going to Asian, Indian, Thai restaurants, I am constantly fearing the soy sauce angle (among other contamination issues). I ate somewhere about a week ago at one place and ended up feeling like I was drunk for about 18 hours after I left...I am guessing it may have been something wheat based, or completely unrelated, but let's just say I have no desire to go back to that. Anyways, I also visited two Thai restaurants over the last week (unusual for me, but a welcome change from bringing my own lunch) and here's what the conversation looked like:

Me: Um, uh, I have a wheat allergy [this is the easiest way to describe it- otherwise people take you about as seriously as if you just said "mushrooms give me gas"] and...
Server: Oh, no problem. So any of the soups are fine, you just choose the rice noodles rather than x or y noodle.
Me: Um, but usually the soy sauce has wheat...
Server: Yes, but we have a gluten free one for your use, and those dishes are safe. We have someone with Celiac who works here so she makes sure....

Me: Dumbfounded. No speech.

Second restaurant experience:

Me: [thinking hey- why not] Um, I have a wheat allergy...
Server: Oh, okay, let me just check with the kitchen...
After pause - Server: Yes, that's fine. Totally safe.
Me: Wow, that's amazing, thank you!!!! What about the soup that comes with the lunch special?
Server: Hmm...not entirely sure. You might be best not to choose it.
Server 2 (emerging from kitchen): You Celiac?
Me: [again, simplifying] Yes! Yes I am. Do you know if I can have the soup?
Server 2: Soup is okay. No fish sauce, no oyster sauce, no soy sauce. It okay for you.

Mother of pearl. Honestly. This woman knew all the hidden sources of wheat. Bless her buttons!!!!
Later, after I receive my pad thai:
Me: Um, I noticed there were no peanuts on my dish.
Server 2: No, I afraid.
Me: [smiling] That's totally fine. Thank you so much.

As much as I hate to always be the one asking, sometimes it REALLY pays off. Some servers are conscientious, good workers and really know their stuff. Others have just been at the right place at the right time, and still others may have had similar gluten-free folks tread that path before. Moral of the story: stop assuming the server will a)be annoyed, b)spit in your food, and c)have no clue how to produce gluten free food. They just might surprise you, but it's certainly worth it to ask. :)


Daniel Bingham said...

My girlfriend's mother and sister both have pretty bad celiac disease. Michelle, my girlfriend, shows some of the symptoms of it (really bad eczema) so for about 6 months while still living in New York we tried to go gluten free.

When we first started it was really hard. But, over the course of the six months we were on the diet, the word on celiac seemed to get out.

When we just started, if we asked about wheat allergies most server's hadn't a clue. Six months later most of the places we went to seemed to have a gluten-free menu, or the servers could easily reel off the gluten free options. Our favorite natural pizza place (which also produced amazing salads, the reason we went there) even invented a gluten-free pizza dough while we were on the diet. And it was better than the regular pizza dough. Hallelujah!

That was six months ago. I imagine its even better there now, given the trajectory it was on. Being on the diet didn't seem to make any of Shel's symptom's better so we gave up on it. And have since moved to Thailand, where it's less of an issue anyway.

But I definitely remember having to ask, and the gratitude that came from having a server who knew.

Kirsten said...

Yes Daniel- even reading your experiences I can FEEL your gratitude. It's crazy how much I want to stand up and hug a server who can guide me to how one eats without (as my sister says) signing up for some "killing me softly"

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