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.
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.
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…
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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?