If you have special eating needs, how do you navigate the business lunch, as well as other noshing and networking events? What are the best tips and practices for enjoying a gluten-free business lunch? Today’s guest poster, Valerie from City|Life|Eats, tackles this very issue. Valerie is an old friend to Corporette, having posted here before about makeup and a favorite shirt. Enjoy! – Kat
It can be difficult to manage dietary restrictions with the demands on being a professional woman. Learning that certain foods are off-limits, whether because of Celiac disease, other autoimmune conditions, food allergies, food intolerances or sensitivities, means a lifestyle change that takes adjustment. When I learned I could not eat gluten, dairy, eggs and a host of other foods, I was concerned about how to manage these new restrictions, particularly with regards to my professional life. As an associate at a law firm in Washington, DC, I was acutely aware that business entertaining was only going to be a larger part of my life moving forward, as would business travel and conferences. It has been a couple of years now, and along the way it has gotten a lot easier. I do not hide the requirements of my restrictions, but manage them in such a way that the way I eat does not become a focal point of interacting with me either.
The Big Picture
I have an abnormal immune reaction to eating gluten, which means I must avoid all forms of wheat, barley and rye. When eating out, this means both avoiding foods containing gluten and exposure to gluten through cross-contamination. Anything less than 100% compliance with avoiding gluten is not an option, nor is eating other foods I should avoid. My goal is always to minimize the number of opportunities of being exposed to foods that would cause a reaction but also not let that get in the way of business situations that require dining out.
The Business Lunch
The key with business meals for me is being able to order a meal without my dietary restrictions turning into a conversation piece that detracts from business at hand. I have a short list of restaurants that I know from past visits have procedures in place where they can feed gluten-free diners safely. I always call ahead to go over my dietary restrictions and, if I am not going to a go-to place, ask questions about cross-contamination. I also remind the host when I arrive at the restaurant to let the wait staff know. Setting expectations repeatedly and going to the same restaurants has generally worked, though I am lucky to generally have at least a day’s notice for such meals.
Another option is to order “off-camera” – this is helpful at restaurants without gluten-free menus where I need to order a dish with several substitutions/modifications. When I call ahead, I essentially place my order, such that by the time I am actually sitting at the restaurant, all I have to do is reconfirm with the waiter/waitress what I am ordering, rather than go through it from scratch. This is also a good strategy if you foresee the lunch being time-constrained for any reason. I also encourage you to check out these good tips on eating out when following a gluten-free diet, or these for dairy-free dining out.
Other Business Obligations That Involve Food
Business lunches and dinners are generally the setting where I have had to manage my dietary restrictions. There are of course many other settings, such as:
- Socializing with Colleagues: My office does not have a culture of lunch with colleagues, so I generally I bring a lunchbox which includes a meal and snacks every day I am at the office. However, there are a couple of lunch places within a few blocks of work where I can eat a gluten-free meal also suited to my other food restrictions, which also comes in handy for the occasional lunch with colleagues.
- Networking Events/Receptions: I usually stick to not eating in these situations, but make sure that I have something to drink so that my hands do not look obviously empty.
- Conferences: At conference luncheons, I tend to just ask for a plain salad without dressing and/or steamed vegetables and supplement those with nuts and other snacks that I bring with me.
- Business Travel: I have not had to travel much for work, so am including these links on traveling to a conference, business travel and Celiac disease, and a gluten-free blogger’s resort experience.
Valerie is an associate at a law firm in Washington, DC and intent on thriving in all aspects of life – professional and personal. She balances the demands of her work and long hours with her interests in food, healthy and mindful living, and a love for lists and planning, all of which you can find at her blog, City|Life|Eats. You can subscribe to City|Life|Eats via RSS or email or connect with Valerie via Twitter or Facebook.
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