Tag Archives: restaurant

I Got “Glutened”!

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The term in the community is “getting glutened”. It’s what every Celiac or person with a gluten-sensitivity fears will happen to them. Somehow, someway, either through cross-contamination or mis-labeled packaging, their gluten-free food ends up not being gluten-free. Obviously, this leads to dire consequences on a varying scale for individuals such as Cam. As diligent as we are, both inside and outside of our home, Cam still gets “glutened”. When this happens (probably three times in the past nine months), we joke that the “running calendar” resets back down to zero. We liken it to factories and workplaces and their days without incident / accident signs. So proud when the number gets higher, not so much when it shows single digits.

Well, nine days into my going gluten-free, I got “glutened”. Yep, just nine days. I feel the shame that the factory worker feels when the sign shows “0 days” but what happened was in no way my fault. In fact, what happened is our greatest fear with Cam and we were lucky that this happened to me and not to him.

Cam wasn’t even with us. He was at an amusement park with his orchestra group from school. My wife, daughter and I were out doing some shopping and decided to have dinner at an establishment local to our area. Just nine days earlier (ironically), I had lunch at another one of this restaurant’s locations with some prominent members of the gluten-free community. That location passed with flying colors so I was confident that I would be able to eat safely this evening and continue with my 31 day quest for Celiac Awareness. After we were seated, I asked our server for a gluten-free menu. This was the same server who helped us the entire evening (taking our order, bringing our food) so there was no confusion as to what menu I had in front of me. I do not tell these locations what my goal is or what I’m raising awareness for. My role is that of an every day, gluten-free consumer.

You often find the same menu items on a gluten-free menu as you would the standard menu that the restaurant provides to you. These items are listed with modifications or are naturally gluten-free to begin with. The item listed on the gluten-free menu that caught my eye was the double stacked quesadillas. The double stacked quesadillas were also listed on the regular menu so I made sure to hand the server the gluten-free menu and provide her my order at the same time. Maybe this was my fault in thinking that this server would make the correlation of me asking for a gluten-free menu and me handing her the gluten-free menu while ordering with me wanting my order to be gluten-free. Chalk another one up for that saying about “assuming”.

I don’t know about you but one of the items that we have found hard to find as a gluten-free family is a good tortilla. We’ve tried several brands and while some are ok, none have the same taste/texture as the flour-based tortillas. This is what tipped me off. My quesadillas came cut into thirds and looked really good. Not only did they look good, they tasted good. I gave a bite to my wife and to my daughter and we all agreed that these were the best gluten-free tortillas that we have yet to experience. Curiosity got the best of us as we needed to know the type of tortillas that the kitchen worked with so we could buy them ourselves. I called our server over and let her know that it wasn’t a rush but when she had time, we just had to know the type of gluten-free tortillas that they used.

You know that time when something goes terribly wrong and your insides turn to liquid, you break out into a cold sweat, and all the blood rushes away from your head? I physically witnessed this happen with our server. The look on her face was one of fear, panic, and desperation rolled into one. “Did you say gluten-free?” she asked. I responded “yes” and she turned another shade of pale gray. “Ummm, those are our regular quesadillas. Did you need gluten-free?” Two things went through my mind. First, so much for finding the answer to our gluten-free tortilla dilemma. Second, was it not enough that I asked for a gluten-free menu? I placed the dots out there; did I really have to connect them too? I explained to the server that the reason that I asked for the special menu up front was because I was ordering gluten-free. I did let her off the hook a bit saying that, for me, it was a lifestyle  choice but if my son had gone through the same experience, it would have been drastic. A few minutes later the kitchen manager came out and asked if I was going to be ok. I appreciated her asking me this and also her efforts to explain how they have special treatment for every gluten-free order in their kitchen. But, what happens in the kitchen doesn’t matter if the training isn’t up front as well. She did offer to bring me some gluten-free quesadillas (as she noticed I stopped eating) but I politely told her “no”. A replacement order wouldn’t have been good enough for Cam, it wasn’t going to be good enough for me. Obviously, they thought that I had eaten enough as they charged me full price for my incorrect order. Icing on the non gluten-free cake.

I’m not here to bash a restaurant, a server, or a kitchen manager. I did my best to not mention the name of the facility in this post (but if you were on my Twitter site yesterday around 7:00 eastern time, the cat’s out of the bag). This is just another perfect example of why it is so important that Cam and others in the GF community be their own advocates. Leaving it to another person, especially one responsible for the very thing that can be harmful to you (in this case, food), takes trust. When situations like this happen, that trust level is diminished and the rebuilding starts again. We dodged a bullet. The “days without incident” counter is back to Day 1. I’m just happy that it’s my personal counter and not Cam’s.

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Return to Red Robin

First, I want to extend an apology to my readers. Many of you may have felt that I recently dropped off the face of the earth seeing that I haven’t put a blog out in over a week. This absence comes after me being so diligent in providing 2-3 new posts per week during the months prior. Thank you for caring and my apologies for the delay. I really don’t have any excuses as to why I have not been writing except that during the summer with the kids at home, the schedules and the free time available for me to write has changed. What used to be time spent being creative and advocating the gluten free and Celiac lifestyle through blogging has now been replaced and taken over by transporting children to camps and unscheduled trips to the pool. I know. Many of you are saying, “Oh, boo hoo, Celiac Teen Dad. You have to take care of your kids and you have to go to the pool.” Trust me. I had the same thoughts for 15 straight years and I’m not complaining about having the ability to spend time with the kids now while they still want me around. I’m just saying that it’s an abrupt change that I’ve needed to adjust to. Again, a pretty flimsy excuse for not sitting down and busting out 600 words for the sake of my son’s health. But, I think that I’ve got it under control.  It took me two and a half weeks but I’ve found a groove where I can work on what I need to and also spend quality time with the children. I’ve learned to juggle writing with fishing trips. I’ve become “better than average” when it comes to balancing my work in advocating with my pleasure of parenting. Lucky for me, the opportunity to combine work and play presented itself last week.

My parents still live in the house that I was raised in and, fortunately for all of us, it is only about 25 minutes away from where my family lives now. Last week, since our schedules all happened to coincide, the kids and I arranged to go to lunch with them. My folks are very cognizant of Cam’s condition and what “sets him off” but they still deferred the choice of where we should eat to me. I immediately knew where we were going. There was a restaurant that we had visited just once since Cam was diagnosed and I wanted to go back to it again. That day presented us the perfect opportunity to return to Red Robin.

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Red Robin is consistently chosen as one of the top allergy friendly chain restaurants in the United States. It has been touted by allergy web sites, bloggers, parents, etc. The one time that we had gone to Red Robin since Cam was diagnosed was an awesome experience. We were given a menu binder with the choices that he could have and, most importantly, he didn’t experience any symptoms of being “glutened” after eating there. Recently, based on this one visit and the reviews that I had read during my own research, I recommended Red Robin to friends of ours who were looking for a safe place to eat for their children who, unfortunately, have a variety of food allergies. But after providing this recommendation, I questioned myself for giving “expert” information after only one personal visit. What if we were just fortunate enough to go to a location that happened to be having a good day? How can I recommend a chain restaurant for gluten intolerance when I had only been to a single store? I knew that we had to go back and provide our own, honest review.

I was going to write this review in the style of “Pros vs. Cons” but after our experience during this visit and our past trip to Red Robin, the blog would have read like a commercial for the restaurant. The positives of our meal far outweighed the negatives (in fact, the negatives almost seem nit-picky). The Red Robin chain obviously knows what it is doing when it comes to catering to the needs of specific diets and food allergies. I had my worries when we arrived though. When mentioning Cam’s Celiac and the need for a gluten free menu, the hostess seemed taken aback. We were all seated and we patiently waited for the hostess to bring us something similar to the binder that we had received at the other location during our previous visit. I watched her criss-cross the restaurant a couple of times before she finally approached one of the managers, who happened to be sitting in a booth behind us running receipts and sales numbers. After receiving her instructions, the hostess came back with this.

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If you want to win over a 13 year old boy’s heart at a restaurant (or anywhere for that matter) hand him an iPad. If you want to win over his dad, have that iPad contain ingredient information and pull up safe menu items based on interactive feedback. It was quite impressive. And the chances to be impressed kept on coming. From the option to get a gluten free bun, to our waitresses understanding that Cam’s fries would need to be made in a dedicated fryer, to watching her immediately convey this information to the kitchen staff, Red Robin has obviously done their homework when it comes to staff training and food allergens. My only other concern during our meal was when another manager brought the food to our table. He was not our regular server nor was he the manager who was made aware of our dietary needs when we asked for the special menu. From our experiences when eating at restaurants, the gluten free plate is usually served to us first or separate from the other entrees altogether. There are often gloves used during this process to avoid the possible cross-contamination. Neither happened when this manager brought out our food. He was not wearing gloves and he did touch two other plates, both which contained flour buns, before using those same hands to serve Cam’s. When things like this happen, my dad radar goes off. Cam also noticed what had happened but he put any fears aside and ate his meal. I’m happy to say that he had no ill-effects later that day. Again, it’s nit-picky and maybe (hopefully) that manager washed his hands prior to serving us but the action raised our eyebrows.

What really is the most important part of this visit, though, is that Cam enjoyed himself. So many times when he goes out to eat, his choices are limited. Red Robin, through their diligence in training and educating themselves to other’s special dietary needs, has given him another “comfort” place to go to. Here’s hoping that others follow their lead. For if they do, we’ll make sure that it’s a place of many happy returns from our family.