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Dining out gluten free: How to avoid an allergic reaction

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Recently, I had lunch at PF Changs in Irvine.  Unfortunately, my lunch did not go as planned as I ended up having an allergic reaction after dining there.  This was quite unfortunate, considering about a year ago I gave PF Changs a glowing review for their committment to catering to food allergies and developing a gluten-free menu that would be free of any cross contamination. 

It’s inevitable that every now and then when dining out you will run into something that may cause a reaction, so the key is to take as many preventative measures as possible to reduce the risk.

#1.  Let your server know about your condition before ordering any food.

When we sat down to lunch at PF Changs, I immediately scanned the menu and decided I wanted to order a chicken salad.  When I asked the waiter what was exactly in the salad, I got this response: “umm, just salad.”  I firmly explained to him that I had an allergy and would need to know EVERY ingredient in the salad and dressing.  It’s a good thing I was firm because the salad contained wonton strips which were a big no-no.

#2.  Understand how your food is prepared.

Just because it says grilled chicken, does it mean there is anything else on the chicken? (glazes, marinades, etc.).  Is your dish being prepared in an area free of cross-contamination?  Will your food be in contact with other dishes?  This is where I might have tripped up at PF Changs as I did not get into that much detail.  However, if a restaurant is aware of your allergies, especially more severe ones such as gluten, tree nuts, or soy, they should be taking preventative measures to ensure their patrons do not get sick.

#3.  Don’t be afraid to send food back

If something doesn’t look right, taste right, or you feel may have come in contact with an allergen, don’t be afraid to send it back, and ask for the dish to be prepared the way you need it to.  Your body will thank you later.

#4.  Talk to the manager or head chef (if there is one)

I’ve been in situations before where I felt our server was not fully understanding the importance of my meal request, and as a result, I had to send a few dishes back.  Ask to speak to a manager, or a chef so they can fully understand what exactly you need.  Again, the server should be able to convey this, but do not be afraid to speak up when necessary.

Yes, having allergic reactions is unfortunate, and I have second thoughts about returning to PF Changs anytime soon, but follow some of the steps above and hopefully you will have a great dining experience and meal minus the bad side effects.

Author Information: Allison Hecht, Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Gluten-Free Examiner
Email Allison Hecht
My twitter username is: @socaliallie

About Allison Hecht

Allison is a Southern California native who is on a mission to find tasty and affordable food for people with gluten and food allergies. Email her with your gluten-free ideas at or follow her on Twitter: @socaliallie.
  • Amy says:

    It’s interesting that you had such problems at PF Changs. I went to one in Dallas recently, and had a great experience. They had a specific GF menu on the back of their regular menu. After I ordered from it, the manager came out to ask me if I had any other allergy concerns they should be aware of. They even had special plates to indicate what was GF.

  • Amanda @ Gluten Free Detroit Metro says:

    I’m surprised too. We have eaten a PF Chang’s a few times (different locations) and been thrilled with the service and knowledge of Celiac or gluten-free foods. The servers were all very nice and everything came out on a labeled plate. (White plates = gluten, plates with logo’s = gluten-free)

    We will happily eat there again.

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