Gluten Free at Denny’s: It Can Be Done

Over the holidays, my sister and her family came from Dallas to visit.  Her and her husband wanted to treat everyone to some breakfast on the morning that they had to go back.  Of course, she asked me where a good place to get a gluten free breakfast for Austin was.  Unfortunately, that is not an easy question to answer.  Here in the southern united states, meat, eggs, and potatoes comprise a lot of the breakfast delicacies we are used to.  Omelets, sausage, bacon, pork chops, hash browns, fried potatoes; the list goes on and on.  Meats, eggs, and potatoes are naturally gluten free items, so you would think that eating out for breakfast should be pretty easy.  It has been our experience, however, that breakfast is the most difficult gluten free meal to get at a restaurant.  But as it turns out, my son managed to eat gluten free at Denny’s, so it definitely can be done.

So why is it so hard to manage a gluten free breakfast at most diners?  The answer is pretty simple: cross contamination and lack of gluten free education on the part of the staff.  Most diners cook breakfast items on one of two grills.  You have your grill for meats and potatoes and sometimes eggs.  And then you have your grill for bread items such as pancakes, French toast, etc.  Having plenty of experience in such diners, I know cross contamination is extremely likely.  It is also almost completely avoidable, if you can make the staff understand the need for your food to be prepared separately.  And therein lies the problem.

We visited the Denny’s location in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  And while this is not the first time my son has eaten there, it has been quite some time since we tried it because we did not have great results the last time we attempted to get a gluten free breakfast there.  But it was the best option we could find this time, and after a little research, I found that Denny’s now has a complete allergen list available to anyone who asks for it.  This boosted my confidence a bit, because they are at least aware of serious food allergies.  It’s a start.

There is actually a fairly good variety of items that can be had gluten free at Denny’s.  We have only attempted to eat breakfast there, so I can not speak to the lunch and dinner items.  Most of your omelets and slams can be ordered in such a way as to be gluten free.  Here is a quick list of what you need to do in order to ensure that you can eat gluten free at Denny’s.  Please keep in mind that this is not foolproof, and that you are always taking a risk when attempting to eat “gluten free” food that you have not prepared yourself.

  1. Ask for the allergens list.
  2. “I have a serious food allergy.  Can you please ask that my food is prepared separately from other food?”  This simple statement can go a long way to making sure you don’t get sick.
  3. When asked what kind of bread you want with your meal, say “None.”  Even though it may be tempting to get grits or oatmeal with the meal, be aware that the allergens list notes that those items may be cross contaminated in production.
  4. Cross your fingers and hope.  Unfortunately, there is no way around this step.  You simply can not guarantee that your meal will be safe.

I’m not one to tell you not to let #4 scare you.  I do not live with Celiac Disease, my son does.  So I do not know what it is like to get sick every time you eat something you shouldn’t.  But he doesn’t let it scare him.  He/we take as many precautions as we can and hope for the best.  With all that said, you can definitely eat gluten free at Denny’s.  My son enjoyed a Meat Lover’s Omelet with hash browns over the holidays.  And over the half dozen or so times we have attempted to get him a gluten free meal there, only once did it not agree with his system, and that has been quite a long time ago now.  I personally believe the staff have become more accustomed to dealing with customers with food allergies, whether they be Celiac or something else.

So if you want to eat gluten free at Denny’s, it boils down to this:  They will provide you with the allergens list if you ask for it, and you have to provide them with the knowledge that you have a food allergy and the necessary precautions that need to be taken.  It can be done.

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