Simple tips and advice on ordering vegan and/or gluten-free at fast food restaurants.
Ordering out can get tricky, especially when you are celiac or vegan. With so many hidden ingredients and unclear menu items, it can feel almost discouraging and daunting at times. Worry not, I have listed some of my best tips and advice for ordering food below, in the hopes that it will help to build your confidence when eating out.
Tip #1 - Get familiar with their website
Websites hold great information, and if you know where to look, you'll often find that popular fast food chains upload their menus, ingredient lists, and nutritional info to their websites. This can be a powerful tool when ordering out. It can not only help you build confidence while ordering, because you can see exactly what allergens each item contains, but it also ensures that the responsibility to catch all of the allergens doesn't only fall to the waiter taking your order. Humans make mistakes, and sometimes they may not fully understand your allergy, or forget what certain products contain. Stay ahead of the game by arming yourself with that knowledge.
* For easy access, screenshot the ingredient lists and nutritional info to your phone, then make a separate photo album to keep all of them in. This will make it easier and quicker to pull up when you go out to eat. Plus, you'll be able to access it even if you don't have data or Wi-Fi.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Companies will often use different ingredients in different countries. Make sure that if you visit a different country, you pull up the correct ingredients used there.
Companies change their ingredients all the time. Keep up to date on the proper ingredients by checking back every few months to make sure nothings changed.
Tip #2 - Be clear and concise when explaining your allergies
Celiac disease and veganism are becoming more and more well known, but there are still plenty of people who are unaware of what these actually mean. Describe your allergy fully, instead of just saying "I'm vegan" or "I have celiac disease". Instead, try "I'm allergic to dairy, and eggs, and don't eat any animal by-products" or "I have a gluten and wheat allergy".
Using this type of language catches their attention, and ensures that they are able to fully understand your allergies.
* Even if you are vegan with no allergies, saying this can help notify the waiter that it is a serious issue and they will take more care when preparing your food. Sometimes if you don't explain it as an allergy, they may not be as cautious when it comes to using new gloves or cleaning their utensils first.
Tip #3 - Understand Cross Contamination
There are plenty of places cross contamination can happen during the food making/preparation process. Understanding these 'hot zones' can help you identify which foods are safe for you to eat, and to know what to ask for when ordering your food. Common hot zones are;
Ask if they have a separate/dedicated fryer they use for allergens (V/GF). If not, depending on your allergies and preferences, it won't be safe to eat.
Ask if they have a separate fryer for fries (if yes, and fries are V/GF, you are good to eat those)
Ask them to clean the grill first before they cook your order.
If the place you are ordering from has croutons, or other topping mixes that contain gluten/animal products, ask your waiter what kind of process they have for the salad/topping station. Often, like at Subway, they will have all the bins out in front of them and don't change gloves in-between toppings. This can lead to each bin being contaminated due to cross-touch and possible crumbs falling in.
A lot of pizza places that offer a GF crust, prepare and bake it on the same surface as regular crusts. Ask if they have a dedicated GF prep area, or ask them to clean their surface and change their gloves before making your pizza. When cooking, ask that they use a parchment sheet to keep your pizza safe if they do not have separate cooking equipment.
Tip #4 - Get Creative
Part of being V/GF means that your options are limited. This is where creativeness comes in! Now that you are familiar with their menu, ingredients, and hot zones, you can start to make modifications based off that. See below for examples of some substitutions.
Get your burger in a lettuce wrap instead of a bun (if no V/GF option available)
Substitute the bun on a breakfast sandwich with two hash browns
Opt to get your wrap/burrito made as a bowl
Ask to get your protein grilled instead of coated and deep fried
Tip #5 - Take Your Time
I get it, when you have a list of allergies that could fill a small novel and you now have to list those out on top of making sure they are preparing your food safely, it can get quite nerve racking. With the line building up behind you, and your waiter giving you small eye rolls (hopefully you don't get someone like this), it's easier to rush through it. Believe me, it's not worth it.
The more you worry about how you may sound, or the people around you, the more you may forget to ask certain things or double check if you can have certain items. TAKE YOUR TIME. You don't want to mistakenly forget something, so go slow and stay calm, collected, and confident when giving your order.
Tip #6 - Make it Easier on Yourself
If your prone to anxiety or forgetfulness, there are certain things you can do to make ordering out easier on yourself.
* Try pre-writing your most frequented orders out on the notes section in your phone, almost as a small script. Now, when you place an order, all you have to do is pull up the notes and read from it. This will ensure you don't forget anything, and in turn, will ease your state of mind.
Go Forward and Order with Confidence
I hope that some if these tips were able to help you with the next time you place your order. Did any of these surprise you? Are there any that you use all the time? Let me know in the comments!