The single most infuriating thing that happens to gluten-free people at restaurants.

It’s been exactly two years since my doctor told me I was gluten intolerant.

In that time, I went from gazing longingly at food courts filled with sandwiches, pizzas, wraps and chicken schnitzels to becoming that annoying gluten-free person in the office.

The person that gets more excited over a refined sugar-free protein ball than a box of donuts with chocolate chunks and syringes of gooey stuff literally attacking the icing.

This is my life now, I get on with it.

Restaurants and cafes have come a long way too. Many have “GF” marked on their menus. Many go out of their way to substitute – whether it be gluten-free bread, a different sauce, or a salad instead. This, I have no trouble navigating.

But there is one thing that is the single most infuriating thing that happens at restaurants for a gluten-free person. I’m going to call it the “Pay The Same Price For Less Food” rule.

You see, some places still like to make us irritating gluten buzzkills feel like the second-class foodie citizens that we apparently are.

It’s the moment when you order a breakfast and ask if they have gluten-free bread to substitute and the waiter says, “No sorry, but we can do it without bread”.

Like, you’d get poached eggs and a lump of sad smashed avocado on a plate.

salad lettuce green healthy
Yum this is gluten-free. Yay. Image: Getty.

It's the moment you order a burger and the restaurant says the gluten-free option is a meat pattie with a few lettuce leaves and sauce. Sounds…real appetising huh? And for the same price too. Ah, the generosity.

On the weekend, I experienced this phenomenon at, of all places where fussy foodies might feel safe, the Sydney Good Food & Wine Show.

At one restaurant pop-up (representing a restaurant in Sydney's Glebe, which has two My Kitchen Rules stars as its chefs), I ordered the "12-hour wood smoked brisket with pickled cucumber and jalapeno cream".


I'd spent a while assessing the different options around me and felt this seemed the safest, not feeling like having to make the "I'm gluten-free" declaration up front (which frankly becomes tiresome).

I was given a burger (wheat bun and all). There was no prior mention of said bun on their menu. On their website it's even listed under "Large/Share/Plates".

My face at this very moment:


I mentioned this to the server and asked if they could do it gluten-free, to which he grunted, "You can eat it without the bun". Can I really? Thank you for the privilege!

I'm so glad I paid $15 to get a good 40 percent less food than my partner, who ordered the same thing.

Right behind him I could see a bunch of plates with coleslaw and asked if they could supplement the bun with coleslaw. No deal.

If this sounds very First World Problems, it is, I know. But having a food intolerance or allergy isn't something you choose (although certainly there are plenty of people out there who aren't coeliac or gluten-intolerant who do).

It's a stigma that can isolate you in social situations. Parents see it all the time when taking a child with an intolerance or allergy to a kids' party. No party pies, hot chips or jelly babies for you, gluten-free kid – but the carrot sticks and hummus are OK.

When catering to GF people, restaurants either have the attitude of "that'll do" or "let's go above and beyond".

Yes, gluten-free obviously costs more because it's not as easy to produce and less people want it. But the people that do will pay more to get quality. Or gluten equality.

The "Pay The Same Price For Less Food" (does it need its own acronym now? PTSPFLF is… not catchy) option is not equal. It's bad value for the customer.

Last year, I wrote to an upmarket Australia-wide rib and burger chain asking why they didn’t stock gluten-free buns.


I'd happily pay extra for that privilege, so I could get the same experience as the person or people I'm dining with.

It was a polite plea for them to just TAKE. MY. MONEY.

man eating a burger
GIMME. Image: Getty.

Their response was that they were unable to find the right quality to be consistent across all of their chains. Instead, they offer a "naked" burger presented in a loving lettuce cup. Same price.


One of their top dogs did give me a personal call to hear my feedback, which was impressive.

He even said he'd get a bag of gluten-free buns especially for me to be stocked behind the counter at my local store, and let me know when they arrived.

This never happened.

Well, a quick fix for one customer isn't exactly going to do much for the hundreds of thousands of gluten-free people out there being deprived of a great burger.

But wait. The burger chain I go to every week, Grill'd, has not one but two gluten-free buns to choose from (a regular gluten-free bun and a "Low-Carb Super Bun"). I pay $1.50 extra, eat an amazing burger with a delicious bun, and the business walks away with my gluten-free dollars. No feelings of second-class GF citizenry here.

Sure, businesses have a lot to consider nowadays to stay viable. But customers also have a lot of choice, and will put their money where their mouths are.

Of course, not all customers want to, or can, spend extra.

Substitution is fine if the item that's being substituted is of similar value. In burger land, thin air – or even just a thin lettuce leaf – will never compare to a big thick golden bun, however nutritional.

It's food for thought, isn't it?

What are your experiences eating gluten-free in restaurants? Tell us in the comments section below.