Idioma / Language: Spanish

Do waiters know what products are gluten free?

Today I wanted to write about my weekend in Calahorra (La Rioja) – a well known Spanish place for their wineries, part of the Santiago track goes through this region and some typical Spanish dishes – what happened last day I was in a restaurant made me change my mind and decided to talk about what waiters know about food disorders… and if they know what products are gluten free…

Answering to the question on the title… I think many of them don’t have any idea of what is gluten… a lot of others do know about it, but I think everybody working in food service should be trained… not necessary to be an expert, but at least that rings a bell… don’t you think so? This is a very important issue because they are offering food to customers that can be celiac people, or have any other eating disorders that are really worse (people can die of it) like fish allergy, peanuts allergy… and a big etcetera.

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Beyond of that, I think a bigger problem is that they do not know all the ingredients in the dishes they explain in the menu… I will talk about it in a while!
I am completely sure that this happened to some of you: you arrive to a restaurant. When the waiter comes to your table, you aware him about your allergies and intolerances. Reactions I have seen:

  • One reaction is while you explain it to him, his colors and facial expression start changing as if you would talk in a language he does not understand… then he says: “wait a minute, I will ask to the cook.” This is a good answer! And, sometimes, if the cook has time or wants to make sure he understands well your eating disorders, he will come and talk with you. Even prepare something apart from their menu! That’s awesome!
  • Another reaction is while you explain it to him, seems that he understands everything, but he has no clue, and you know it when you ask for a dish and he says: “but, can you eat rice?” or “wait, you cannot eat potatoes!” or “is egg gluten free?”. This is a bad answer… Then you ask him to talk with the cook, or end up ordering a salad that will probably come with croutons…
  • Another reaction is that when you tell him about your gluten intolerance, he brings the allergy card. A table with all dishes in the menu and all allergens marked. This is good because indicates that the restaurant made the effort to look at the European laws about information given to consumers…
  • The best answer is when, after telling him, he says: “wait, I’ll bring you the gluten free menu”. Fortunately, this is an answer that you listen very often.
  • One asked me to leave the restaurant… I was a bit shocked but he was really polite and sincere because their kitchen was not prepared for cooking gluten free and there were many other dishes with gluten so he didn’t want to take the risk. This is I think a very good answer also! Really good!

So… what happened in that restaurant? It was a great place, good typical food, nice decoration, good atmosphere… it had all the ingredients to make customers feel comfortable, except that waiter…
Apart from gluten intolerance, I am also allergic to fish (the only fish I can eat is canned tuna… why? No idea) and some fruits… this is not a big issue and, actually, it is much easier to handle than gluten intolerance because you just don’t eat it. With gluten is different because can be present there where you less expect it. Okay… I ordered “filled eggs”, a hard egg cut in half and with a toping of chopped mayonnaise, chopped vegetables and canned tuna. It is a dish I really like, so I ordered it… she brought my dish first, but because my work mates didn’t get theirs yet, I waited for them… and luckily, I didn’t start…
When I was about to start eating… the waitress came running and shouting: waaaaitt!!! Almost like the film of Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston when he stops the bullet that was for her… when she reached me she told me, sorry, today we added smoked salmon! I felt like… okay… thanks for telling me before eating the first bite! Fish is a big issue for me, because if I eat only a bit of fish, my throat blows up and I cannot breath, and I have to quickly take a pill and… if it does not work, inject an adrenaline shot… so we could say that fish literally can kill me…

Well, this is not the end… after that I ate a great Butifarra de pagès (catalan sausage with baked sweet pepper) that was delicious. The last problem came with the dessert, when she brought me an ice cream with a cookie on it… I looked at her with skeptical face and said… “I am sorry, but I cannot eat this because this cookie is not gluten free, please take me a new one without it…” instead of saying “oh sorry, you’re right! I will immediately bring a new one!”, she took the cookie off in front of me, and said: “it is not there any more…”. Of course, I got a bit angry and asked for the manager. We resolved the problem easily but this is a restaurant I will try not to go again…


Comment how would you react in this situation?



P.S.: Please keep in mind that in this blog I share my trips, anecdotes and experiences about gluten free travel around the world. It is possible that, in any of my trips, I go to some restaurant not trained by the associations where the risk of being contaminated with gluten exists. I kindly ask you to also take into account that the list of references can change. Please, always double check before eating in the restaurants we recommend. Thank you very much!


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Me llamo Santi y actualmente vivo en la provincia de Barcelona. En 2001, me diagnosticaron de enfermedad celíaca… ¡por fin! Además, soy intolerante a la lactosa, la alergia al pescado me mata, ¡literalmente!, y también algunas frutas... Viajar sin gluten se ha convertido en mi mayor hobby y creé Gluten Free Adventures por esta razón. Desde los 8 años, he viajado y vivido en distintos países… ¡aquí comparto mis experiencias viajando para descubrir restaurantes sin gluten, pastelerías sin gluten y heladerías sin gluten por todo el mundo! ¡Espero que os gusten nuestros viajes sin gluten!