Is PF Chang’s GF Menu Really Gluten-Free?


Marsha Delaney: Posted on Monday, March 12, 2012 11:12 PM

It pains me to say anything negative about a business, particularly a business that is making an attempt to cater to its gluten-free customers, but, as a family, we have eaten at PF Chang’s exactly twice. Both times, my daughter had days of a gluten reaction after-the-fact.

I know, I know, why try a second time when the first time didn’t work? We were desperate. We’d been out to eat perhaps four times in the last two years. It was a Monday holiday, my husband was off work, the kids were off school, and we just wanted to have a nice, relaxing afternoon and go out to lunch. Since two of the previously-mentioned ventures out to restaurants had been to the Olive Garden in Fremont, we opted to try the only other restaurant offering gluten-free options in the area again: PF Chang’s.

I should have known when ordering our food that my daughter was going to be in trouble. Our waiter didn’t have any idea what gluten-free was. He thought it was related to sugar. How, I ask, can a restaurant that boasts a gluten-free menu, actually be a gluten-free place to eat when your waiter or waitress knows nothing about it? When I asked if the iced tea had gluten, he said, “No, not unless you order it with sugar or add sugar yourself.” Huh? I questioned the waiter’s response briefly, but my husband looked at me as if to say, “No, please don’t.” I held my tongue as we finished ordering our drinks. (Their iced tea has gluten in it, by the way.)

I couldn’t do the same, entirely, with holding my tongue, when it came to ordering our lunch. I tried, mind you, but at one point during my questioning of the menu, the waiter straight out asked me what gluten was. Are you flipping kidding me? What I should have done right there was speak to the manager about the ineptitude of his/her staff, or simply round up the kids, the hubby and head home. Instead, I politely went into my speech about what gluten actually is. The kids were excited to be out. I didn’t want to ruin their day, so after quickly attempting to educate our waiter about what it was he was (or wasn’t) going to be serving us, we ordered. I hoped for the best. I reasoned that perhaps it was just the waiter who was oblivious. Certainly the kitchen staff had to know what they were doing.

A while later, we received our food. It was good enough for us to enjoy. The kids thought it was spectacular. I thought it was okay. (I think my gluten-free Chinese food at home is better, but let’s keep that between us.)

At one point, my son came out with something like, “This is the best day ever.” I wasn’t sure if I should have felt pleasure in his saying this because he was obviously enjoying himself, or if I should have felt sad for him that simply eating out anywhere at all was in his mind, the best day ever. Either way, we got back in the car, satisfied and happy that our lunch had been a success…until later that day. My daughter turned into her gluten-reaction alter-ego. She transformed before our eyes into a gluten-induced beast. This lasted for the usual 4 days. She didn’t get violently sick, so it stood to reason that she had just had cross-contamination, not outright gluten.

I suppose I don’t have to say that we won’t be eating at PF Chang’s again, ever, but I do have to say that I think it’s an abomination when a restaurant advertising a gluten-free menu doesn’t have the conviction to actually train their staff in how to deal with it. Staff members need to be told to use different work surfaces for preparing gluten-free food, they need to be told to change their gloves between touching items containing gluten and touching items not containing gluten, but most of all, and I believe this is crucial: they need to tell their staff what gluten is. Is it really that hard?

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