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My approach to explaining my allergy to the wait staff at a restaurant and my approach to explaining my allergy to a friend having me for dinner are very different.

Any friend that is brave and caring enough to want to cook dinner for me gets a friendship gold star. So, I try to make it as simple and straight forward as I can. I tell them what I can have. I tell them that regular meat, vegetables and fruit are safe. It is just what you put on those foods to season them that can be complicated. Often my friends want suggestions. I try to arm them with a suggestion for seasoning or marinade they can pick up at any grocery store. When it comes to cookouts, I tell them plain hamburgers are usually safe, and not to worry about a bun (I bring my own because no friend wants to be stuck with seven extra gluten free hamburger buns). I always offer to bring a side dish or dessert, because those are the parts of a meal I find that most of my friends struggle in making gluten-free. And, I always express my appreciation for any effort they make.

When explaining my allergy to restaurant staff, I start general and then go into more specifics. I generally start by telling the server or even a hostess that I have a gluten allergy. Their reaction to that tells you how much detail, and how careful you need to be. If the server gets a baffled expression, it is a good indication to you that you need to speak with a manager or the kitchen staff.  When explaining to restaurant staff, I always make sure to emphasize the word ALLERGY. I have found that they are more likely to go out of their way and ask for clarification if they understand that it is a medical condition, and not just that I am a picky eater. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff what they can do to accommodate you. Sometimes, it is easier for them to tell you what they know has no gluten ingredients, than it is for you to ask about specific menu items, and for them to go back and check the labels on every ingredient that goes into that dish. If a server goes out of their way to help, I give them a generous tip. I want the restaurant and the server to know that making the accommodation is worth their while.

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