Is Lying Okay? What Do YOU Tell Your Server?

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The comment section strikes again.


The blogger who wrote an article “How Not to be Obnoxious at Restaurants If You Have a Food Allergy” recommends lying and telling servers you have an allergy – regardless of your condition.

However, the readers (aka the comment section) say it’s not okay to lie…even when you have celiac disease.

I disagree.

Why? Most servers don’t understand the complicated biology between an autoimmune reaction when the body ingests gluten with celiac and how a food allergy works. If an “allergy” is all they are trained to know, and you don’t have a spare 30 minutes to explain all the intricate details of how celiac and gluten ingestion works, I SAY LIE! If you have to use THEIR terminology to get the point across, do it! I say “I have a food allergy. I have celiac so I cannot have gluten.” Their ears hear ALLERGY and they perk up. I love my food allergy community and I think we all need to keep our health first, even over proper scientific language if it gets our point across.

Disney even lists celiac as FOOD ALLERGY on the ticket. So does my local Mexican restaurant when I order the corn tortillas on my fish tacos. “ALLERGY” is just the lexicon for “WATCH THE EFF OUT WHEN YOU’RE COOKING THIS.”

What are your thoughts?

Any servers out there (well, those that weren’t familiar with celiac and/or food allergies). What do YOU need to hear that sounds the alarms in your head to make special notes?


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Comments: 19

  1. Casey April 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm Reply

    I totally agree with you. I always say that I have celiac disease and specify that I can’t have gluten. If they give me blank stares or don’t appear to get the message, though, I’ll use “allergy” as a metaphor to get the whole gluten-will-cause-me-massive-pain message across. We aren’t responsible for teaching everyone we meet the exact biological definition of celiac disease. In this context, we are just responsible for teaching waitors/waitresses what they need to do to keep us, and our food, safe.

    I just talked about eating out with celiac disease a few days ago when I reviewed my early Easter dinner at Outback. I was super excited to not have to use the allergy metaphor! Baby steps!

  2. Jennifer April 22, 2014 at 5:34 pm Reply

    I usually say I have a “severe food allergy”. That way they hear, lawsuit if we mess this up. They pay more attention that way and are much more careful. 🙂

  3. Adina | Gluten Free Travelette April 22, 2014 at 6:24 pm Reply

    I totally agree with you Erica. It’s important to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe while eating out and that means explaining your needs to the server/chef with whatever words they understand.

  4. Diana April 23, 2014 at 9:03 am Reply

    Sadly no one understands the word intolerance, and no one knows what Celiac disease is. (Ok some people do) But seeing that it’s near and dear to us, we assume everyone should know and understand, but they don’t. But say “Gluten Allergy” and everyone goes “OMG They can’t eat gluten!” So yes I’ll say allergy cause people know what food allergies mean. Even If I’m not anaphalxic – I still get majorly sick and pass out from gluten exposure, so I will continue to say Allergy.

  5. IrishHeart April 24, 2014 at 12:31 pm Reply

    I say use whatever term it takes to get the message across to a server or kitchen staff, (but I am in the camp of celiacs who does not like the phrase “gluten allergy” –when referring to the disease itself . ) I always say “I have celiac disease and need (and I emphasize the word need in dramatic fashion ) to be gluten free.”.

    Whenever I have contacted a chef or spoken to the manager of a restaurant, or server, I have not had one person say “what’s celiac?” Fortunately, they seem to know that “gluten free” applies to me.

    This is good because I hate to list all the ways gluten will attack my body and take up 15 minutes of the poor bastard’s time while I prattle on and on. He’ll need a chair and possibly a shot of booze while I give him the “talk”. lol

    Does that distinction make sense? That IMHO, it’s ok for “ordering” –but not for referring to what we really have? Hope so.

  6. Kristle April 30, 2014 at 10:58 am Reply

    I say allergy too. Most people have zero clue what celiac or gluten intolerance even is.

  7. Kaila April 30, 2014 at 11:09 am Reply

    Great question! I have other allergies, so I always say I have Celiac Disease and the following allergies. Then, a manager or chef always comes over and if they don’t know about Celiac Disease then I’m weary about eating at that establishment anyway. Instead of using the word allergy, I always ask about cross contamination/contact to explain gluten free. But, it does significantly limit where I can eat out. I love reading everyone else’s answers to this question too, learning so many different strategies and stores!

  8. AmandaonMaui April 30, 2014 at 11:26 am Reply

    Having gone to culinary school, and worked in both front and back of house, I can tell you that the term allergy will get you more attention and is better understood. Staff ears can hear the word allergy. In culinary school we spent five minutes on food allergies and cross contamination. It might have been less had I not pushed the topic. When I was a teen working foh I got not training in this area. So, I always say allergy.

  9. Kirstin May 2, 2014 at 4:29 am Reply

    I completely agree with you. I think the range of reactions to eating gluten and the many different reasons people are going on a gluten free diet further complicate things so if your health depends on your being on a gluten free diet it really is important to stress that you have an “allergy” rather than using any language that might convey I am choosing not to eat something. So, in my experience “I have an allergy to gluten” or “I’m allergic to wheat” (when the person I’m ordering doesn’t speak English. I’ve had food arrive with a piece of bread on top all the time over the years so I’ve learned the hard way about this. It’s getting/easier better.

  10. Melissa May 2, 2014 at 4:54 am Reply

    I usually just say I can’t eat gluten and I let the server fill in the blanks. They usually respond and ask if it is a dietary choice or celiac or an allergy. Whatever ensures that my food will be 100% gluten free. If at any point I have to spend more than a minute talking about what gluten free is or the severity of it, I leave. If the server is confused, I leave. I’m not chancing getting sick at the hands of someone else. I’ll take my business elsewhere where they are keeping up with the times and safety procedures that are involved with all food allergies/intolerances/diseases.

    • agatha November 4, 2014 at 11:14 am Reply

      I am a server, and I spend time talking with people about it. Sometimes I spend a few minutes talking to people about it. It’s your health, and you don’t have a minute or two to talk to a server about it? It changes how things work in our kitchen, and that’s why I have to ask questions. For a very severe allergy or celiac, we have to sanitize a huge portion of our kitchen, ensure our grills, pans, and knives are sanitized prior to using them (which often means you will at least have to wait one or two rounds for our dish sanitizer), and that everything is prepped on a gluten-free surface (or milk free or whatever). We don’t use anything already prepped, we prep everything right there. We are totally happy to do it – if you actually have an intolerance that is that severe. If you are gluten free by choice (as in, you probably won’t respond to cross contamination in the way someone with celiac will), it is obnoxious to lie to restaurant staff about it, and it’s rude to the other patrons. Food allergies always – always – slow down everything in a kitchen, and I think it’s so rude and inconsiderate of the time of both the staff and the other patrons to lie about it.

  11. Sasha May 12, 2014 at 10:23 pm Reply

    I’m a server with 2 autoimmune diseases so when someone orders from the gluten free menu, I never ask questions and always make sure their food is handled properly. Being a Server with Celiacs can be very frustrating and tiring. Not only do I have to worry about eating out at other restaurants, I have to listen to the Celiac/Allergy lecture while at work even after I tell the guest I have Celiac as well. It’s frustrating when people act like servers are complete idiots. I get it, for obvious reasons. Having gluten is very painful for a Celiac but when I tell you I am a Celiac, too, lay off the lecture. For the love of god, I have to live with it, too.
    Our restaurant’s servers are better educated than most on Gluten Intolerance and Celiacs because I am sure to inform them. I know our gluten free menu like the back of my hand and I am pushing our corporate office for more gluten free options and a better menu. I have noticed in the 8 years of working there, the number of times I get asked for a gluten free menu has increased about 150%. The demand is growing significantly meaning more and more restaurants will be educating themselves and offering better options. We just really need to give them a push and I can’t do it by myself… In order for these restaurants and corporations to listen, more people need to demand better options. If you aren’t speaking up, you aren’t helping anything. Speak up to a manager, write corporate, publicly tweet them… anything!

    • Kelly May 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm Reply

      Sasha, I hear you, and I can totally understand that it’s frustrating for you, but not everyone with Celiac knows what they’re talking about. I have a Celiac coworker who eats gluten intentionally all the time. He tells people he isn’t strict about it, so my coworkers think I’m being high maintenance when I try to make sure my food is safe for me to eat. Also, I have gotten sick twice at a restaurant with a manager who says he has Celiac and the food is totally safe. He says he eats it all the time, and he’s fine. The first time I thought it was something else I ate because a fellow Celiac wouldn’t steer me wrong, but I was certain it was that place the second time. Try not to be offended if someone questions you to make sure you are trustworthy and knowledgable. After you provide a great experience, that person will return thanking you and trusting you completely! 🙂

  12. Brittany May 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm Reply

    I honestly don’t use the word gluten anymore. I say I am allergic to barley, rye, and wheat. It’s practically the same thing but I get sick less. That gets me such a better reaction than gluten free because those are buzz words for snobby rich white chick that thinks wheat is below her. Allergy to some people means “Get this girl an Epipen” if we mess up. I mention cross contamination of course but leave the gluten out. If they know that means gluten (which surprisingly a couple waiters asked if I was celiac and they understood) than that’s great. I have my favorite places that take care of me well every time. But I still lie I guess, because “gluten free” means choice to many people but allergy means “we have to be careful”. Sadly lying with celiac is sometimes a necessity. There just isn’t that much awareness.

  13. Christine May 31, 2014 at 8:56 am Reply

    I have to tell the truth and say that I have Celiac. Celiac is not an allergy (I don’t develop breathing difficulties from ingesting wheat or other dangerous gluten like someone with a peanut allergy might), so they need to rephrase and be more specific when they deal with Celiac Disease. Management and staff need to better familiarize themselves with what happens when someone with Celiac eats something we can’t, so we don’t HAVE to gross everyone else out when we describe our symptoms. I’ve had a couple of experiences where the staff were really ignorant (made me feel like a leper because of the Celiac), but the second time the waitress gave me a snotty attitude, I gave her snot back (figuratively and literally, lmao :D–read the anecdote below). I tell the wait staff that I can’t have wheat (and I emphasize can’t), and most of the time, haven’t had any issues. But when I tell the waitress I can’t have wheat or regular bread and she cuts me off mid-sentence, brings me a contaminated order and tells me I never told her (when I told her twice but she ignored me!!!!!!), I insist that she needs to take it back to the kitchen and get me a new order with no bread. I had one incident where the waitress tried to get ME in trouble with her manager for HER ignorance, but I explained to the manager that her waitress ignored me and brought the problem on all herself, which sat well with the Manager. I don’t take nonsense from anyone, so I thoroughly emptied my nostrils and left the snotty waitress some open (dirty) Kleenex art to admire. This might sound gross, but the waitress deserved it (hence my saying, “I gave her snot back (figuratively and literally”.) I could have left the restaurant in tears, but the offending waitress would have gained the upper hand. I was with my family for Mother’s Day when this happened, so my brother and I laughed so hard about it, we had tears on our cheeks. There is, indeed, more than one way to do things.

  14. Felicia September 22, 2014 at 1:08 pm Reply

    I am too in agreement with the tern “severe allergy to gluten’. Also, be very aware when you receive your order. Inspect it BEFORE your server leaves the table. One incident I experienced was dining out at Lone Star Steakhouse in Alabama, I SPECIFICALLY said NO croutons on my ceasar’s salad when ordering. Well, lo and behold there they came sitting on my salad. I asked him to take it back and again said “I have a severe allergy to bread, no croutons!” Well he brought it back and had very OBVIOUSLY just “picked” off the crouton cubes leaving very visible crumbs!! My husband (now fuming) Shouted, “What are you not understanding?? She has a SEVERE allergy to gluten!” Of course everyone else stopped to look to see what all the commotion was about…including the manager. The apologies rolled out (blah blah blah) and we received the entire meals at no cost. I did not want things like this to happen every time I went out for dinner., because this was the FIRST time dining out after being dignosed with Celiac. It took me a VERY long time to venture out again 🙁

  15. Felicia September 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm Reply

    Another experience (when I did venture out again) was 2 years ago at Outback Steakhouse in Texas. My dietician gave me a list of “safe” places to dine out and Outback was on the list, so I was very excited! My daughter and I ordered sweet tea with our meals. The tea came out with lemon wedges on the rim. I pulled mine off because I literally hate lemons. Halfway through my drink I became VERY nauseous and with waves crashing throughout my gut (and very audibly I am embarrassed to say) I flushed what I believe to be half my body weight 🙁 When I got back to the table my daughter said, “Ya know mom I was thinking that I do believe you got sick from the LEMONS (???!!!) She (a bartender) said she saw the waitress grab the lemons from the bar and put them on the glasses. Mom, the bartender’s hands are completely CONTAMINATED with beer…wheat, barley, hops!! They have their hands all over the lemons, cherries and other fruit sitting there!” Well, we had to take the food to go, because I had to strength or appetite to enjoy my meal there. Another reason for me to HATE lemons even more.So beware of the lemons! The tiniest missed detail can prove to be very sickening,

  16. @celiac January 25, 2016 at 8:03 pm Reply

    I will tell a server I have an allergy. Servers hear “allergy” and they know that I really mean (I’m not kidding) I can’t eat gluten or anything coming in contact with gluten. The times I have told servers I have celiac most give me puzzled look or some will say they know what that is (but then I get a feeling they are lying because they don’t want to say they don’t know what it is!). Every once in a while I will say “I have celiac and have a severe reaction to gluten. Can you help me find something that would be safe for me to eat?” It depends on the situation.

  17. Jhoei July 13, 2019 at 1:53 am Reply

    I think using technical or medical terms are not so common to everybody so we should not use it to someone we don’t know just like the servers in the restaurant. You can simply say no to the food and use allergy as an excuse.

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