I’m naming and shaming: It’s 2018, if you CAN’T cater to my diet, STOP taking my money.

 I can categorically, one-hundred percent say: I have had enough of eating out. Yes, me, the person who is a huge advocate of finding gluten-free restaurants. I’ve blogged about amazing gluten-free dining in London, Birmingham and Cambridge– and on the whole, my experiences have been really positive. But after three bad experiences over the last few months or so, I’ve decided to do something I thought I’d never do in a blog post: I’m going to name and shame.

Why? Because in the past, I’ve tried complaining to the manager, explaining my point, or even tagging someone on Twitter. But an apology is futile-and what those of us who are gluten-free need is not an apology but information on places to avoid in the future; the chance not to make the same mistake. That, and I’m really bloody angry, to be honest with you- so perhaps this will help. Before I begin, I want to make clear that my anger isn’t at those restaurants who CAN’T accommodate, but those who claim they do, take my money and just don’t deliver.  and this is only my personal experiences and events- I can’t speak for others. I hope this helps, do follow me on Instagram and my facebook page for my gluten-free recipes, bargains and experiences.

TODAY: THE FIG AND FAVOUR, HAGLEY AKA ‘WE SERVE GLUTEN-FREE TOPPINGS ON A NORMAL PIZZA BASE’

Today, I went to a place called ‘The Fig and Favour’ in Hagley, Birmingham. As always, to be on the safe side, I called the day before to check if they could cater.

The first person I spoke to was a waitress (I believe)-and to be fair this should have rung alarm bells. She said, and I quote: ‘it’s not my area really but I can imagine it would be extremely limited.’ 

‘It’s not really your area?’ Now, I’m not being a diva here- but I had thought it’s  actually the law that all restaurants have to provide this information to customers. And that restaurant owners have to train their staff (or you know at the very least, perhaps tell them not to admit to the customers they know nothing about food allergies).

However, after persistence, I got through to the manager (I believe, or perhaps another waiter) who was much more reassuring. They said they didn’t offer gluten-free bread but they were very flexible; I was welcome to bring my own and they could do things like salmon and avocado to go with it. Success.

On arrival, imagine my excitement when the menu said they could do gluten-free pizza bases. It was an extra £2.50 (yes, you read that right £2.50) but I was happy to pay it (feeling a bit stupid with my carrier bag of bread and thinking I’d have plenty of leftovers for the evening).  The special of the day was actually a flatbread but she said she’d use the gluten-free pizza base instead for this.

When the flatbread arrived, I knew it was a regular flatbread- because I was set right next to the chef’s cooking area and could see the orders going out. However, if I wasn’t sitting there or didn’t have the ‘question everything’ mindset; then I’d have eaten it I’m sure. So, of course, I asked:’ are you sure it’s gluten-free, to which he replied: No, it’s not-it’s a regular base but the toppings are gluten-free’

The waiter (not the same person who took my order) was very nice but was adamant that I had insisted on a regular base with gluten-free toppings according to what he was told. I’d definitely paid the £2.50 on my receipt; so in the end- it was taken away and a new one issued. 

 

Image may contain: food

So yep, that’s what I paid £11.50 for. Turns out £2.50 only gets you half of a gluten-free pizza base.  I appreciate that the special said ‘flatbread’; but she had said, and charged me for a gluten-free pizza base-so presumably decided to just take half of it off. I ate it-it was nice enough.My stomach feels a little funny but I’m not saying that is there fault-as I do have Crohn’s and I can’t for sure if it was traces of gluten or just my bad luck. A very frustrating experience but I must say the male waiter did try to rectify the situation.

UPDATE:

I have since spoken to the manager who is extremely apologetic about what happened. They’d like to point out that the person who answered the phone was a pot-washer and that their staff are trained. However, because of this incident they will consult Coeliac UK, remind staff about policy and in the meantime make it clear they cannot fully cater to gluten-free customers until the incident is resolved.

On to the next disaster…

Enjoying this? Why not read…

How to get free gluten-free food.            The perfect soup for when you’re glutened.

                   

 

LAST MONTH: EVERYMAN CINEMA, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON AKA ‘WE DON’T SERVE GLUTEN-FREE PEOPLE’

I used to love Everyman Cinema- and their gluten-free menu was amazing. I would eat there monthly and have a gluten-free flatbread, hummus and fries. However, last month, I went again and noticed that there were no longer ‘GF’ symbols on the menu. 

I asked a member of staff, who replied: ‘sorry, we can’t serve gluten-free people any more.’

I literally can’t explain how hangry I was. I persevered, saying surely there was something on the menu I could eat-like the steak or even the salad. But no, they said they actually couldn’t serve me at all due to a complaint about gluten-free.

My husband, knowing I was seconds away from a hangry meltdown; explained we ate there all the time. At this point, another member staff overheard and explained they did do gluten-free flatbread but they just couldn’t legally put it on the menu; the chef had it and it was baked separately from regular bread-so it was no risk; but they just couldn’t advertise it anymore . Almost like a black market for gluten-free bread (my words, not theirs-obviously!)

I’m no stranger to a gluten-free disclaimer so considered myself soothed and went ahead and ordered my black market gluten-free bread. However, when it arrived, I had a suspicion: this was not the gluten-free flat bread I had eaten previously (and it also looked identical to my husband’s regular one)

I asked the waiter and he looked at me like I was mad; and said ‘we don’t do gluten-free bread here’. I did my secret wink and explained that I knew all about the black market bread and he could just wink if it really was the special gluten-free bread. He scurried away to the chef to check-who also confirmed that they didn’t have, nor HAD ever, served gluten-free bread.

So, I was starting to think that I had full on hallucinated the second scenario due to hunger. We got out of our seats and spoke to the manager, who said there wasn’t any gluten-free flatbread and the staff member who promised it would be spoken to. In fairness, they gave us two free tickets to come again, but I still have no idea what I was eating each time I visited in the past! 

LAST YEAR: MALMAISON BIRMINGHAM, AKA ‘IT’S YOUR FAULT YOU’VE GOT ALLERGIES, NOT MINE.

And finally, experience number three. In July of last year, my best friend’s husband was arranging a birthday afternoon tea for his wife. He was actually in hospital at the time and this was to cheer her up. I said I’d happily go but I could just have a drink but he had called about a month in advance and was told there was plenty of options for gluten and dairy free.

However, as I’m cautious, the day before I also called again, just to check I was definitely on the list and they said the chef had been preparing already. It was £25 a person for luxury afternoon tea with a glass of fizz. And this is what I got…

Yeah I know: what an absolute disgrace. For disclosure, this isn’t the full picture. There were a couple of small sandwiches and another of the mini burgers. There was a bowl of walnuts given separately. But yes, apparently this is what the chef had been preparing.

I think this was the angriest I had ever been-because two people had called them on two separate occasions; my friend’s husband was in hospital and they wanted £25 for this absolute shambles of an afternoon tea. I complained but the manager in charge, literally did not care; in fact he said: ‘ it is your problem you have so many allergies, not mine. You can’t expect me to cater for them.’

He gave me 25% off; refusing to compromise further or apologise. If I was alone, I’d have refused to pay-but was conscious of my friend’s special day. I tweeted about this and it Blew Up on twitter- cue a frantic phone call from the manager of the hotel. In her defense, was apologetic and even sent a bunch of flowers. But what I wanted really was an apology from the man in question and I never got it.

So there it is. Three ruined days. Three companies quick to take money and jump on the bandwagon but in the end, treat paying customers like rubbish. Because when it comes to it, we’re not just paying extra for the gluten-free options; we’re putting our emotions on the line: we’re putting our health in someone’s hands, the fate of our digestion tract in a stranger’s control. But what’s the alternative? Stay at home? Never eat out? 

It’s not fair and if it takes continually blogging about this kind of thing to make people take notice, I’ll do it. As most of you know, I have Crohn’s Disease, and I already make huge sacrifices in my life- I have the right to eat out like normal people without having to play Russian roulette with my life every time I do. If you have any restaurants you’d like to warn people about, I’d be more than happy to compile a kind of blog post list of my experiences?

Before you go…

More posts about life gluten and dairy-free here. 

How to get gluten-free food for free or discounted here.

More gluten-free recipes here.

More about IBD here.

Visit me on Instagram. for gluten-free bargains and recipes.

Visit me on Facebook.

 

12 Comments

  1. February 25, 2018 / 7:04 pm

    There are GF restaurants out there needing your custom! Not many , I know, but if you find them please support them. We run Radley’s in Hastings and would love to meet you.

    • February 25, 2018 / 11:00 pm

      I agree with Briony. I own Dottie’s Tearoom in Nottingham. Please support those who provide 100% GF, not those who offer the odd item as a token gesture to get you to buy from them.

  2. Clare
    February 25, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    I have also had a terrible experience at malmaison Birmingham AND malmaison Manchester! I took my daughter GF crumpets for her breakfast and asked for some butter and ham to go on them and asked if they could be toasted- but not in the toaster, under the grill on some foil because of CC. They said there wasn’t time and the chef couldn’t do it for me! The kitchen was too busy!
    Manchester had no chips or pasta so I asked for mash and apparently they make it with flour in and there was no offer to make fresh! I mean I’m no chef but who puts flour in mash

  3. February 25, 2018 / 7:42 pm

    I honestly cannot believe the experiences you’ve had Jenna!!! This is actually incomprehensible to me as Pizza Express are SO GOOD at catering to GF Vegan and Dairy Free!! How can these places carry on serving with attitudes like these? I just cannot believe it Jenna, I am truly shocked! Surely what Everyman said is actually illegal? Like doesn’t every restaurant have to make it clear which dishes are GF V & VE on their menus?! I see ite everywhere these days!! I am so sorry you’ve had to experience such shit from these establishments hun, your dietaty requirements are not your fault babe. I just wish everyone else thought the same.
    Love You
    Sarah xoxo

    • Healthyglobetrotting
      February 25, 2018 / 8:10 pm

      thanks Sarah! I know- I think Pizza Express are great too! Was so shocked with Everyman, I genuinely don’t know what happened there AT ALL!

  4. February 25, 2018 / 11:10 pm

    It literally makes no sense to suggest anyone would order GF ingredients on a normal base! Sorry you had these experiences, and that some people lack empathy (it cannot be that hard to think of creative GF alternatives for an afternoon tea! I’m no chef and I’ve already got a few ideas!). X

  5. Heather Cartwright
    February 26, 2018 / 12:07 am

    I’m afraid I’ve had bad experiences at two different Pizza Express restaurants in a West Sussex. The first one in Horsham I ordered a GF pizza, which arrived on a black plate and was definitely different from their normal pizza bases but within 15 minutes of finishing I was rushing for a toilet, I managed to get to my car but had to stop twice more before I got home.
    The second was in Chichester where I ordered a salad with GF dough balls, again within 15 minutes I was again running down the high street for a toilet and again 10 minutes later.
    Both times the food was delicious and I’ve no doubt they were GF but I feel there must have been cross contamination.
    I am very reluctant to eat at a Pizza aexpress again.

  6. February 26, 2018 / 8:57 am

    Absolutely brilliant post Jenna, I can’t believe the experiences you have had! I must say I’ve always found places pretty good for gluten free, but good old Nandos let me down once…the waiter clearly didn’t understand what gluten or gf was, so just ordered me a burger (I’d asked for butterfly). Cue me overhearing the order being shouted in the open kitchen and RUNNING to catch a poor waiter through the serving shelves crisis avoided, grill was wiped down, food brought to me by a very nice waiter indeed but the THINGS WE DO!

  7. Rachael
    February 26, 2018 / 9:35 am

    I had a negative experience at Eat Thai in Ely. I went there because it wason TripAdvisor’s Top 10 places to eat gluten-free in Ely. When I got there, the menu didn’t look very promising. I spoke to the waiter and he said he could make the dishes on the menu gluten-free, for example by *taking the batter off the battered chicken wings*. When I said that wouldn’t work, he seemed quite angry and said that he was trying to accommodate me and it’s not his fault if I don’t accept it.

  8. Alice
    February 26, 2018 / 12:47 pm

    I had a bad experience with Dominoes in Oxford. My friend ordered over the phone, asking about their gluten free pizza, sizes, toppings etc, and when ordering my pizza specified it had to be gluten free as I’m a Coeliac. The piazza arrived and I took one bite and knew it wasn’t gluten free. When we called back they said it wasn’t gluten free and offered a refund which was great for my pocket but the damage was already done to my stomach. I wrote to their head office immediately to inform them and they offered me a free pizza and assured me they would educate their staff but it still caused me such pain.
    I also had a bad experience in Itsu in Oxford who, when I asked whether food was gluten free and avoided cross contamination they replied “is it a fad diet or are you actually allergic”. Their total ignorance has stopped me eating at their restaurants through fear I’ll get sick again!
    Great places that I fully trust, Bicester Prezzo and Bicester Nandos. So clued up and aware of allergens in their food.

  9. February 26, 2018 / 6:39 pm

    Absolutely agree to name and shame! I’m lacto-free and it’s like the restaurants think you are making it up or exaggerating.

  10. February 26, 2018 / 11:02 pm

    Not sure if it would help, but you could always test to see if you have gluten in your system next time (hopefully there won’t be a next time but just incase) to help deferentiate and know for sure if you’ve been glutened.

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