The Complete Guide to Eating Out Gluten Free

The question I get most often from readers is how I find safe gluten free restaurants at home and when I’m on the road. My detailed gluten free travel guides are a collection of the restaurants I’ve found over the years, but they leave out the important information about HOW I find them. I wrote this guide to eating out gluten free to give you an exact blueprint for how you can do your own research when I don’t have a city guide for the place you’re visiting.

In this guide, you’ll find my philosophy for dining out gluten free, a process you can use to make a list of safe gluten free restaurants wherever you’re going, and what to do and say when you arrive to set yourself up for an amazing gluten free dining experience. 

Sound like what you’re looking for? Great! Off we go. 

eating out gluten free in Portland, OR
Pollo Norte – a 100% gluten free restaurant in Portland, OR

My Philosophy for Eating Out Gluten Free

Before I get into my step-by-step guide for finding safe gluten free restaurants, I want to lay out my philosophy for eating out gluten free.

I have two auto-immune conditions – Celiac Disease and Eosinophilic Esophagitis – which means I need to be particularly vigilant about maintaining a gluten free diet or I might end up in the hospital with food stuck in my esophagus. Which happened three times in my first year of being a Celiac, the first of which led to my diagnosis.

My needs might be different than yours – you might just be avoiding gluten because it makes you feel terrible when you eat it, which is great and I’m glad you’re here – which is why I want to take a second to outline exactly what my needs are. 

When it comes to gluten free dining, I prefer eating out at dedicated gluten free restaurants when possible for a couple of reasons. 

First, the risk of cross-contamination is significantly lower than eating at a place with a mixed kitchen. For me, the peace of mind is worth the extra money that you’re usually going to be spending. 

Second, I want to support the restaurants that do the right thing for the Celiac (and wider gluten free) community. A lot of times, the story behind these restaurants goes something like this: “I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease / gluten intolerance, and looked for a good gluten free {insert thing they make here} and couldn’t find one I liked, so I made my own.” That’s a super cool story, and we should support those gluten free businesses to incentivize others to do the same, so we get more amazing gluten free beer, bagels, pizza, and all the other things a lot of us miss. 

So when you’re eating out gluten free, make sure to support the dedicated gluten free restaurants.

I will still eat at restaurants that are not dedicated gluten free, but not just anywhere. I do extensive research, including reaching out to them directly, to make sure they can serve me a safe meal. This is a personal choice, and I completely understand the impulse to avoid this category of restaurants, especially if you are newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease. After all, it’s scary to put your health in the hands of a server, line cook, and manager who may or may not know what Celiac Disease is. 

I trust the process – if a place has processes in place in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination, I trust the people to follow them. Yes, there’s always the risk that someone forgets to change gloves or something like that, but if they have the processes in place in the kitchen, that’s good enough for me. Of course, I always tell them I have Celiac Disease and everything – more on what to do when you get to the restaurant below.

If they don’t have those processes, or can’t articulate them to me, I’m out. 

A good example of a process that I trust is In-n-Out Burger on the West Coast. If you tell them you have a “gluten allergy” (yes, I know, it’s not an allergy, but that’s what they call it so that’s the term to use), they will immediately call it out to the manager and prepare your burger on a separate grill in the back (always double check!). I trust the process at In-n-Out, and will happily eat a double-double protein style with sauce in packets on the side and a side of fries. 

Here are some other semi-random thoughts on eating out gluten free in mixed kitchens. 

  • No shared fryers. This is often the first question I ask. If there’s any doubt, avoid fried food. 
  • No mixed bakeries: to me, the risk of cross-contamination is too high with mixed equipment, utensils, etc. 
  • Ask them to cook your food in a clean pan with clean utensils. For example, an omelette, fried potatoes, etc. 
  • I’m always skeptical of gluten free pizza in a mixed kitchen, but I will eat there if they have separate pans, utensils, topping tubs (cross-contamination when they reach into a tub of cheese or mushrooms with a flour-dusted hand), etc. Basically, a separate part of the kitchen, and ideally a separate oven. I will consider eating at a place that puts my pizza in a shared oven on a dedicated gluten free pan, but the risk is higher. 
Waffles at a 100% Gluten Free Bakery in Marin
Waffles at a 100% Gluten Free Bakery in Marin – Flour Craft

Exactly How to Find Celiac-Safe Gluten Free Restaurants

My philosophy for finding safe gluten free restaurants boils down to “make your list, and check it twice.” 

Making Your List of Gluten Free Restaurants

Want to know EXACTLY how I make a list of restaurants to check out when I’m traveling? This section has an exact step-by-step process that I use to plan my trips in terms of gluten free food.

It boils down to this: Make a list of potential restaurants, then check it twice by reaching out to places directly. More on both of those steps below.

The Best Tools for Finding Gluten Free Restaurants

By far the best tool for finding safe places for eating out gluten free is FindMeGlutenFree, but there are a few VERY important caveats with that. 

Because the reviews on FMGF are crowd-sourced, there’s often a lot of information that is straight up WRONG. Or they conflate “I didn’t get sick” with “it’s safe for Celiacs,” which is a terrible leap to make. 

For example, there’s a place in Seattle that I’ve been to, talked to, and they told me “if you have Celiac or a severe allergy, DO NOT EAT HERE.” Lo and behold, that place has good reviews on FMGF. That’s why it’s important to leave reviews on FMGF, ESPECIALLY if they’re bad. Help your fellow Celiacs and make it easier to eat out gluten free by calling out when the reviews don’t match reality!

The lesson here is that you can’t trust the online reviews you read as gospel. You need to always double check for yourself directly with the restaurant, bakery, etc. It’s also worth noting here that things in kitchens change ALL the time, so you need to double check that nothing has changed that might make it less Celiac-safe. 

FindMeGlutenFree is the best place to start compiling your list of gluten free restaurants, but it’s not the only option. The second place I also regularly turn to is other restaurant review sites that are not specifically gluten free, like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Zomato (in Australia I found this one super useful), but I use them in a very specific way. Their “gluten free options” tag is hot garbage, so don’t even bother with it. Read on to find out exactly how to use these tools to find places to add to your list.

Last, but certainly not least, I turn to other gluten free blogs. If you type “gluten free {city}” and “gluten free restaurants in {city}” to Google, you’ll usually find some good resources from bloggers like me who have gone to the place you’re going, and have some valuable insight. The same caveats apply here though – don’t take anyone’s word for gospel – even mine! Always always always double check for yourself. My needs and expectations are different than yours, and you need to make sure the places I, and others, recommend are suitable for you. As an example, let’s go back to that place in Seattle I mentioned above – there are countless blogs that list it as a good gluten free option if you search for “gluten free Seattle.” Again, double check for yourself. 

Psst! You can find a list of my favorite gluten free blogs to turn to on my Travel Resources page in the “Gluten Free Travel” Section. Check it out, and give them a follow. 

Note: I’m going to focus on how to use these tools on your phone, which is the tool I’m using 99% of the time when I’m looking for gluten free restaurants. You can also do these processes on a computer, but it will be slightly different in terms of where buttons are, etc. 

How to Use FindMeGlutenFree to Find Dedicated Gluten Free Restaurants

One of the best parts about FindMeGlutenFree is that it makes it SUPER easy to find dedicated gluten free restaurants if they exist in the place you’re traveling to. 

Like I mentioned above, I prefer 100% gluten free restaurants because there’s a much lower risk for cross-contamination in the kitchen, and I believe in supporting those restaurants that are doing the right thing for the gluten free community. 

Here’s exactly how to find them. 

  1. Download the app, duh. 
  2. Open the app and click the search icon at the top of the screen.
  3. Enter your destination in the bottom address bar, and leave the top search bar blank.
  4. Hit “Filter” in the top left, and toggle “Dedicated Gluten Free Facility” on (under “most popular filters” section). 
  5. Hit the filter button in the top right again to bring up the list of dedicated gluten free restaurants. 
  6. Voila! You’ve got a list of dedicated gluten free restaurants. Go through and read the reviews of each restaurant, and if it seems like a good option, add it to your list. 

Pro tip: Make sure to check the location to make sure it’s not too far outside the city you’re going to. In step 4 above, you can also add a filter to be 1, 3, 5, etc miles away from the place you entered. 

How to Use FindMeGlutenFree to Find Celiac-Safe Gluten Free Restaurants

Remember what I said above about FindMeGlutenFree being a good starting point, but being flawed as a crowd-sourced resource? Here’s where that part comes in and becomes important. Finding Celiac-safe restaurants that are NOT dedicated gluten free is going to be a little trickier. 

The lesson is this: Use FindMeGlutenFree and other apps as a starting point, and always double check directly with the restaurant. More on that below. 

Here’s how to find restaurants to add to your list that you’re going to reach out to. 

  1. Download the app, duh. 
  2. Open the app and click the search icon at the top of the screen.
  3. Enter your destination in the bottom address bar, and leave the top search bar blank.
  4. Hit “Filter” in the top left, scroll down to the “Sort By” dropdown and select “rating.” Then, in the “Distance” section right above that, select 5 miles to make sure you’re getting places that are ACTUALLY in the place you’re looking for.
  5. Hit the filter button in the top right again to bring up the list of gluten free restaurants. 
  6. Voila! You’ve got a list of potential gluten free restaurants sorted by rating. Focus on places with lots of reviews, and make sure the reviews and recent. You need to go through and read the reviews of each place. Focus on the ones that are rated as 95+% safe for Celiacs, and make sure to pay particular attention to negative reviews. Look for reviews that mention cross-contamination, and disregard anything that says something like “I didn’t get sick, so it’s probably fine.”  
  7. If it seems like a good option and passes the sniff test, add it to your list. 
Safe fish and chips at Erik’s – Gluten Free New Zealand

How to Use TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. to Find Celiac-Safe Gluten Free Restaurants

While they’re not specifically designed for people looking for gluten free restaurants, these restaurant review apps can be a goldmine for finding safe places to eat. 

There is one big caveat here – their “has gluten free options” tag is universally a hot steaming pile of garbage because it doesn’t take into account cross-contamination at all. That makes it worthless for people who seriously need to avoid gluten. So I’d just ignore it. 

So, knowing that, here’s how to use them to serve your need to find restaurants with gluten free options that are also safe for Celiacs. 

Trip Advisor

  1. Download the app, duh. 
  2. Open the app and click the search icon in the upper right hand corner.
  3. Search the word “celiac” in the destination you are looking for.
  4. You’ll get a list (hopefully) of restaurants whose reviews have the word “Celiac” in them. 
  5. Click into a restaurant that looks promising, and scroll down to the reviews section where you’ll find a search bar. To find reviews specifically about the gluten free options, search “Celiac” in the search box and read the reviews. 
  6. If it passes the sniff test, add it to your list of restaurants to reach out to (more on that in a second).
  7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 for each restaurant on the list that came up when you searched Celiac. 

Yelp

  1. Download the app, duh. 
  2. Open the app and click the search icon in the middle of the screen.
  3. Search the word “celiac”, and enter the destination you are looking for.
  4. You’ll get a list (hopefully) of restaurants whose reviews have the word “Celiac” in them. 
  5. Click into a restaurant that looks promising, and scroll down to the reviews section where you’ll find a search bar. To find reviews specifically about the gluten free options, search “Celiac” in the search box and read the reviews. 
  6. If it passes the sniff test, add it to your list of restaurants to reach out to (more on that in a second).
  7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 for each restaurant on the list that came up when you searched Celiac. 

Checking Your List Twice

You should reach out to each place on the list to check in and confirm that you’re going to be able to get a safe gluten free meal. 

There are a few ways to do it, and you might need to try a couple to get a place to respond to you. 

This step is particularly important for mixed facilities in order to understand their processes for minimizing cross-contamination. Below, you’ll find the best ways I’ve found to reach out, along with an exact script that I use. I usually tailor it to the place I’m reaching out to – for example, I’d ask a pizza place about shared toppings, and a Mexican place about their chips and a shared fryer. 

Here are four ways to reach out: 

  1. Email: Find the contact page on their website, and write to them that way. 
  2. Facebook: Send a message through Facebook Messenger. Sometimes, places have an option to send an email through Facebook too. 
  3. Instagram: I’ve had surprising success with Instagram DM’s, especially with smaller businesses, like the local gluten free bakery or brewery. This might be a little tougher to pull off with a bigger chain like In-n-Out. 
  4. Phone: This is the most hit-or-miss method. Like a true millennial, I hate talking on the phone. For it to work, you’ll have to speak to a manager, because the person who picks up the phone probably doesn’t have the answers to your questions. Plus, this means you have to ask the questions and navigate in real time, which can be hard for someone newly diagnosed or nervous. I usually only do this if the other three fail. 
Arancini at Ester’s Enoteca – Gluten Free Seattle

The Script: What to Say

Here is the exact email that I usually start with, and then I tailor it to the place I’m reaching out to. It’s important, I think, to be polite and thank them in advance for their help 

Hey there,

I’m visiting [place] soon and your restaurant looks amazing.

I am reaching out because I have Celiac Disease, and I need to eat 100% gluten free. It is not a lifestyle choice – even a crumb of gluten will make me sick for days.

While I was researching places to eat, I came across your restaurant. I am hoping you can help me find something that I can safely eat at your restaurant.Thank you in advance for your help in making sure I have a great dining experience.

When you prepare my meal, can you prepare it in a way to ensure that there is no cross-contamination with gluten? For example, if something is fried in oil that was also used to fry something with gluten, it is not safe for me to eat. If something is prepared on the same surface or in the same pan that was used to cook gluten without a thorough cleaning, it is not safe for me to eat. 

Thank you in advance for your help – I really appreciate it. 

Cheers, 

{name}

Safe gluten free Pizza in Colombia – Gluten Free Medellin

What to Do When You Arrive

Your trip is finally here! You’re finally going to get to use all the great research you’ve done to eat some incredible gluten free food! But what you do when you get there will set the tone for your meal, and go a long way towards 

First, if you make a reservation, put that one of you has Celiac Disease and needs to eat gluten free. This will tip the restaurant off to be prepared for you in advance. I’ve had servers say “which one of you has Celiac Disease?” before I get the chance to tell them! What a great feeling.  

When you get to the restaurant and are seated, the first thing you need to do is tell your server about your needs

I usually say something like this: 

“I have a question for you – I have Celiac Disease, and need to eat strictly gluten free. I talked to you all beforehand and you said that was possible, so I’m hoping you can help me figure out what is safe for me to eat on the menu. Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it.”

Then, the server will either walk you through the menu, which is when you should feel free to ask questions like “do you have a dedicated fryer” or “is that made on the same surface as something like toast?” Or they will find a manager who can help. 

When you order, ask them to confirm with the kitchen that what you ordered is, in fact, safe. This should never be a problem, and will give the kitchen a heads up that you’re serious about eating gluten free. 

Doing those two things – telling them your needs up front, asking for their help, and asking them to confirm with the kitchen – will set you up for the best possible gluten free dining experience. 

If there’s a language barrier and you’re not sure you can say that in the local language, I recommend having a gluten free restaurant card on hand. You can find free ones around the web, but they almost always are missing any mention of cross-contamination, which is like 95% of the battle, isn’t it? I’m more than happy to pay the $9 for a card from Legal Nomads, which mentions cross-contamination and is translated by local speakers. Think about the overall cost of your trip – $9 is more than worth it to have a less stressful dining experience. 

Final Thoughts on Dining Out Gluten Free with Celiac Disease

There you have it! I’ve covered my philosophy on eating out gluten free, the exact process you can use to find gluten free restaurants when you’re traveling gluten free, and what to do before your trip, and when you get there. 

What other strategies do you use for eating out gluten free? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a note at matt@wheatlesswanderlust.com and let me know. 

Hungry (I usually am) for more travel inspiration, guides, and tips?

First, connect with me on Instagram to follow along on my yearlong worldwide adventure.

Next, check out my favorite travel resources to travel cheaper, faster, and better.

Finally, head over to read my latest posts to stoke your sense of wanderlust.

Similar Posts

2 Comments

  1. Hi Matt, thank you for this very informative piece. I’m newly diagnosed and recently found your blog while doin a preliminary search on eating gluten-free in Paris for a trip I’m taking next year. This piece has a lot of helpful steps & specific things to ask about with restaurant managers & servers as I get used to this new way of eating.

    Maybe that’s a freebie or something you’d like to create at some point, like the foreign language guides, but for people who get nervous about asking these questions here & don’t want to miss something.

    1. Hey Kate! I hear you – definitely an issue that you, me, and every other Celiac has dealt with when traveling internationally. My best recommendation is to use translation cards from Legal Nomads because they SPECIFICALLY mention cross-contamination. They cost $9, but to me, it’s worth the peace of mind. I have the German and Latin America versions and used them for trips to Germany, Mexico, and Colombia when my own language skills weren’t up to the task, and they work great. A lot of the free versions you find online don’t mention cross-contamination at all, which to me basically makes them useless since cross-contamination is more than half the battle. Thanks for the comment! P.S. I am in fact working on a free guide to gluten free travel with detailed info on how to find restaurants, what to ask, etc. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.