While vacationing this past summer, I discovered the “Find Me Gluten Free”app. Here's my take on it:
The app comes in handy when traveling or even when searching for gluten-free offerings in your own neighborhood. Its “Search Near Me” feature gives users the option to include chain locations in their search and/or to include restaurants that may not have a dedicated gluten-free menu (in these cases, the usual caveats for celiacs apply i.e. just because a salad is served without croutons doesn’t mean that the dressing is gluten-free, etc.). There’s also a “Popular Chains” tab that lists comments from fellow users on just that, popular chain restaurants. Users can also search for restaurants by address or name and can even make suggestions for a particular restaurant to be included. The app’s home page is a combination of news reports, ads and various blog posts pertaining to the gluten-free diet.
Though endorsed by a registered dietitian, I do see a slight issue with the app‘s “Dining Card.”
At first glance, it looks like something you might wish to present to your server or a restaurant manager before ordering; however, upon closer look, it may just overwhelm the staff. Its primary focus seems to be a list of what celiacs cannot eat, and at the very bottom there is a small paragraph about what is safe to eat. In my opinion, it helps to start with the positive, for example, “I’d love to talk about what’s gluten-free on your menu” rather than, “Here’s a list of EVERYTHING that I cannot eat.” In the first paragraph, it lists “wheat, rye and barley” as unsafe (which of course, is true) but later goes on to include oats, which, if we’re talking about non-contaminated, pure oats, these are actually considered to be gluten-free. It also lists beer as a “no-no” under Mexican and South American cuisine and while most beers are not gluten-free, there are some that are, and more restaurants are carrying them these days, e.g. Redbridge. Again, lead with the positive: “What gluten-free beers do you carry?” rather than, “Does ALL your beer have malt?” An inexperienced server may just answer, “Yes,” unknowingly.
As an alternative to presenting this app’s Dining Card to a server who may not be entirely familiar with the gluten-free diet, I would suggest arriving a few minutes before your reservation or desired dining time to speak to the manager, or, better yet, call ahead and ask for the manager to be available for a few moments when you arrive and explain why you wish to speak with him or her. This worked out quite well for my family when we dined at Texas de Brazil (a chain restaurant). I put in a special request inquiring about gluten-free options when making an online reservation and upon our arrival, the manager gave my daughter a tour of the salad bar, pointing out which items were gluten-free. He also pointed out that the dinner bread (served at the table) was gluten-free. My daughter would have ordinarily avoided the dinner bread had we not spoken to the manager first.
Overwhelming restaurant staff with potential misinformation can be confusing and actually work against the gluten-free community, making restaurant staff wary of gluten-free diners unnecessarily. As celiacs or those with gluten sensitivity, we all know how difficult dining out can be, so it helps when we work together to make dining out a stress-free experience for all involved.
Overall, I do think this app can prove helpful when searching for restaurants that cater to the gluten-free diet, even if the restaurant itself is simply pointing out which menu items are gluten-free without having a dedicated gluten-free menu. I would say try it and see how it works for you while at the same time, continuing to be your own best advocate for locating safe, gluten-free options when dining out. As a celiac, the best education you can receive is the one that you can give yourself by consistently learning with each new experience.
The app is free for iPhone and Android users via the App Store or Google Play.
This review is based solely on my own use of this application. I was not contacted by Find Me Gluten Free prior to writing this post, nor did I receive any compensation from them for this review.
(A related post titled, “Gluten-Free? Yup, There’s an App for That” was posted on this blog on
December 5, 2012.)