Monday, August 27, 2012

BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse: Not So Gluten Free Experience

Fool Me Once, Shame On You.  Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me.

I took a chance this weekend.  I went back to the BJ's Brewhouse in Orlando across from Mall at Millenia.  We went last year and I had a very bad experience that I wrote about here. 

The kitchen staff made my gluten free salad and left the tortilla strips on it.  The manager caught it and had them redo it.  I was also given a supposed Gluten Free Pazookie.  I don't know where exactly I was glutened, but I was.  About 10 minutes out of the restaurant I began getting very dizzy and a canker sore popped up in my mouth.  It was the fastest pop up I have had and it strangely disappeared 4 hours later.  The fastest one to go completely away.

I had decided that I would not be going back there to eat.

Instead a year later I did, but I went to one in the Houston area.   I had a good experience with no mistakes and no ill feelings.  I had ordered the Garden Medley Salad which contains no gluten and needs no modification.  I asked the server to make sure the blackened salmon that I ordered with it was cooked on a clean surface.

Fast forward three weeks later.  We decided to go to Mall at Mellinia to go shopping and my husband asked if we could go somewhere else besides Crave.  Just to note I have always had good experiences at Crave.

I went against my better judgement and said I would try BJs again.  I would order the same salad I had in Houston as it should be easy for them to "Not Mess Up". 

I ordered, I told our waitress to make sure to notify the kitchen staff that I have a gluten allergy and can not tolerate any and that I needed the salmon cooked on a clean surface or on foil.  I was assured that I would be taken care of.

Our food came out and my salad had some lagniappe.  For those of you not from Louisiana this means a little something extra, a treat for free, bonus points on the house, etc.  Well, being gluten free we don't want Any Lagniappe unless you happen to be a completely gluten free restaurant don't give us surprises. 

The kitchen staff had given me a strip of seared Ahi tuna on the side of the bowl.  I asked the waitress why it was there, that I had not ordered it and I had no idea if it was gluten free, but I wanted to know and speak to the manager. 

I was being very polite, doing my Lamaze breathing and staying calm. 

Our waitress apologized and took my salad back.  I sat and waited and watched my family eat.  Deja Vu I did this last time I was here....

My salad came back and I could see where they had wiped off the tuna.  I told the waitress that this would not work.  I still did not know if the tuna was gluten free or not and that I wanted a completely new salad and new bowl.  

I'm getting high maintenance now I'm sure.

I got my salad eventually.  My family then sat and watched me eat.

I did not enjoy my meal.  I was stressed and feeling very much like I was very stupidly playing Russian Roulette.

The Manager did come out, she was very sweet.  She had googled the seasoning on the Seared Tuna and all she came up with was "Monosodium glutamate".  I told her no, that was fine. 

I thanked her, I also told her that adding extras to an allergy meal is not ok, wiping off a dish is not ok and she was very apologetic.  I was trying my best to be extra kind. 

I made sure I grabbed one of the paper allergen menus that they handout when you are ordering.


The row for Seared Ahi Salad has the following allergens:  Egg, Fish, Milk, Soy, Sulfites and Wheat.


The salad itself may be the issue rather than the Ahi - as it contains crispy wonton strips and wasabi which could or could not contain gluten.  But when you see the Gluten Free Menu it makes me have serious doubts.

Here is the Gluten Free Menu selections no where is the Seared Tuna listed as an option nor is the Seared Ahi Salad an option.  Some salads such as the Santa Fe can be modified, but for the Ahi Salad you are NOT given that option to do so.  Also, Seared Tuna is not given as a choice to add onto your salad.

All of this just gets me super fired up.  I am irritated with myself that I took a chance with this restaurant again.  I am irritated that I decided to eat at a restaurant that prides itself on it's gluten free menu yet does not in any way train their staff to know what they are doing.  From the management to the kitchen staff. 


It is almost a moot point to ask me if I had any symptoms at this point.  As the restaurant is just Over the Top Careless, but I will talk about how I felt as I did stupidly eat the salad.


So did I have any symptoms?

We went to the mall after we ate.  Within about 30 minutes of being there my leg and arm muscles starting feeling very weak and shaky.  It is now Monday and I am still dealing with this just run down feeling.  Like I need to eat a lot of protein.

Saturday night my legs began twitching which woke me up.  I took an extra 250 mg of Magnesium and a benadryl and went back to bed.  My legs still are twitching a slight bit this morning.

Foggy headed - yes, it is here too. 

Yesterday I also felt more than slightly nauseated all afternoon.

My recommendations:


1.  Do Not eat at BJ's for gluten free in Orlando at the least.

2.  BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, you need to educate all staff.  I realize I am taking a chance every time I enter a restaurant, but the mistakes made last year and this year are over the top unacceptable and could easily be taken care of with education.

Outback Steakhouse was smart enough to go through GFRAP.  I have heard that they had someone in upper management affected by Celiac Disease, but regardless they have earned the respect of most of the CD and Gluten Intolerant community.  I for one have never had a bad experience there.

3.  Eat at restaurants that have become certified through GIG.  Or do extensive homework about any restaurant you choose to dine in.

4.  If you don't feel comfortable ~ Don't eat the food.  This is advice I should have run with upon receiving my salad back with the wiped off tuna.

5.  And my final advice given by a wonderful Gluten Free Friend:  Sprinkle pepper over your plate where the questionable food is located.  This way when the plate comes back you can see if you did indeed get a new plate of food.

It is said that only a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man from the mistakes of others.
- Anonymous

Lord, deliver me from the person who never makes a mistake, and also from the person who makes the same mistake twice.
- Mayo William James


Tommi (gototallycrazy) said...

I have had mixed experiences with BJ's as well (in the Houston area anyway). The one in The Woodlands has made me sick twice (shame on me for going back), but I have been to the one in Willowbrook with no problems ... They certainly should not add extras to an allergy free meal, they should know better!
Feel better!!

Tommi (gototallycrazy) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wendy said...

Tommi - the Willowbrook location is the one I had a good experience at as well. Nothing extra given to me then.

Today is somewhat better. Thank you!

Amanda on Maui said...

I kind of wish that restaurants couldn't offer gluten free menus without going through certification or training of some sort. But, even with the certification and training there will always be someone who didn't pay attention in training, or who is new and hasn't gone through it yet.

I'm sorry that this happened to you. Sometimes you want to give a restaurant an opportunity to change, to grow, etc. but it doesn't always work out that way. That's why, when a place glutens me once, I usually just don't go back again until I hear from someone else that they've changed (or until I hear from the business itself).

Dougie (aka GFDougie) said...

OMGosh! I'm so sorry you've not went thru this experience not once, but twice! I so understand the title of this blog, as I've done the same for myself in the past in regard to gluten ingestion. It does take "lesson learned," doesn't it? Especially if the lesson takes more than once to learn? Bless you, and feel better soon. Thank you for sharing such a potential humiliating story others may learn with.



Wendy said...

Amanda - I totally agree with all. I generally don't do second chances. I did have a good experience in Texas at a BJs. I was hoping if I did not need modifying to my meal that would make it better. Unfortunately they could not even get that right. I feel this was a huge mistake on their part. Hope that my experience saves others from getting sick.

Wendy said...

Thank you! It is a lesson learned. Not so much humiliated.... Just pretty Teed off. I was trying my best to be more responsible this time vs. even last year where I was not speaking up for myself as well. Where I went wrong was eating the salad after they wiped off the tuna.

One reason why we should always carry back up food. I was hungry at this point and if I would have had some bars and a banana or such I would have ditched the salad for sure.

icmn91 said...

It is so important that experiences like yours are documented somewhere on the web. So many chefs and catering teams are absolutely careless.

I had an absolutely awful time at a fully catered university residence owned and managed by a top university here in Australia and I too am documenting my GF experiences and interactions with the residence.

Well done for exposing this!

Wendy said...

It is important to share to keep others safe and to hopefully get the restaurants to realize how they are putting us in danger and losing our business.

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