Share Your Gluten-Free Horror Story

Do you have a gluten-free horror story? Let’s face it—from ignorance to misinformation to cross-contamination, people who have to avoid gluten also face daily obstacles to stay healthy and eat safely. But you are NOT alone! In fact, for every nightmarish experience you’ve had to endure, there is another person out there who’s gone through something similar. And we want to hear from all of you! Below, read a horror story from Kaitlin Kiely, Brand and Communications Marketing Associate for Bakery On Main, who took every step to ensure a safe meal out for her husband’s birthday, only to be unapologetically glutened and—even worse—humiliated and disrespected.

If you have your own horror story to share for possible inclusion in a future Gluten-Free Living article, email it to editor@glutenfreeliving.com—be sure to include your first name and state.

Kaitlin’s story

My husband and I had traveled to a local casino for a weekend to celebrate his birthday. Saturday morning we were doing research (as we always do when eating away from home) on where we could go for lunch that had safe gluten-free options to avoid my being contaminated and getting sick. We found a restaurant that seemed to have an esteemed gluten-free menu from all of the reviews we saw online. We went to the restaurant for lunch that day and I realized quickly that the menu was fairly vague. I felt so terrible having to send the waitress back to the kitchen with questions about five or so times but after all the answers that I received, I felt comfortable placing my order. Lunch arrived and as we were eating, my husband and I both noticed that something didn’t seem right with the rice included as a side with my meal (and that was on the menu as a side for most of the gluten-free dishes). It looked like it had various grains besides just rice. With a quick Google image search, we learned that it was a wild barley rice, which was not disclosed on the menu or in any of the numerous conversations I had with the waitress.

I became instantly upset and called the waitress over and asked her to go to the kitchen to double check the rice. When she returned from the kitchen, she did confirm that it was, in fact, a barley rice that had been served with my “gluten-free” meal. She left the table and out came her manager. This is where things took a very ugly turn. I had started to cry because I knew what I was about to deal with, despite trying to be so careful—the sickness, the incredible pain, the brain fog, the exhaustion…the ruined birthday weekend for my husband. Upon seeing how upset I was, the manager made no effort to be apologetic or comforting but instead laughed directly at me and then nonchalantly said she had called an ambulance. An AMBULANCE!!

I immediately told her that my reaction did not call for an ambulance and since it was not necessary, to not bring in the paramedics. I also let her know that after already feeling embarrassed enough at being a spectacle in front of everyone in the restaurant because I was upset and crying, and now having management lurking over our table, the last thing I needed was a table-side visit from paramedics on top of everything else. She walked away for a few minutes and the next thing I see is her allowing the paramedics to walk right into the dining room, directly toward our table with a wheelchair. Infuriated and mortified, I told her to get them out and reminded her how I had, just moments earlier, told her that they were not needed. She could have intercepted them but she made the choice to go against what I had requested and caused a scene, making me even more of a spectacle to an entire restaurant.

She then made no effort to have any other contact with me. Her manager simply approached my husband and I as we were walking toward the exit to offer us a lackluster apology and tell us that our meal was free—as if that was what we cared about in that situation.

It was the worst feeling I have ever been made to feel, being so disrespected and mocked due to a condition I have no control over. This story is a shining example of not only the lack of knowledge about gluten and how it affects certain people but also how this ignorance can lead people to be incredibly insensitive, causing the pain already felt in this type of situation to go far beyond just the physical.

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  • Angelbug

    Just a suggestion. Try not to cry if the restaurant can’t comply with your GF requests. That drew more attention than anything. As a precaution. Don’t order any kind of grain and you’ll be safer. Don’t put the responsibility on the restaurant. If you are GI then you need to look out for yourself, be calm, and don’t cause a scene. You have to protect yourself from gluten. You can avoid scenes like that by ordering just plain meat, or fish and vegetables.

    • peppery422

      Gosh, why not just suggest never eating out and simply carrying your own pre-packaged foods everywhere you go. Because, you know, the proper treatment for celiac disease is actually the social isolation required to never hold anyone else accountable for their actions. Sorry, but “don’t cry” doesn’t help anyone – would you say the same thing to someone who realized they were about to be punched in the face? Hey, I know this is going to hurt, but don’t cry. *That* would be a real problem.

      • Jess Locke

        Agreed. If a restaurant is trying to sell GF to our community, and is informed by their customer of it’s integral importance as she did, they do hold a responsibility…particularly after multiple assurances of their best efforts to provide a safe product to a consumer that they had sought after by broadcasting a GI menu. We all are aware of the possibility of cross contamination. But to make the egregious mistake and then attempt to belittle and insult their paying patron is shameful. If it had been that manager’s own mother mis-served at that table he would have reacted differently, with some humility and humanity. Because it’s not even on the same scale of a vegetarian finding themselves eating “vegetarian soup”…only to find out that beef broth was used. That’s not a medical condition. Unfortunately, many of these people confuse celiacs with some sort of lifestyle choice. They might gain some perspective after experiencing the very real pain of this disease when contaminated. Moral of the story–any food establishment needs to become better educated about this if they want to serve us under the guise of Gluten Free Friendly, Because like many, I’ve been hurt too many times by eating the “plain meat or fish and veggies” off the GF menu at restaurants that I rarely ever go out now…plus my family of five, who thankfully do not share my disease…in the event these proprietors think that our kind is too rare or insignificant to matter, they have effectively taken five consumers out of the mix…we eat better at home anyways.
        P.S. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with crying…particularly when looking down the shitty barrel of a bunch of pain that life slings at us!