This particular wedding ceremony and reception was held at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, Maryland. I was familiar withe Martin's from many years ago, as I lived in and around Greenbelt for much of my youth. It is a large banquet center with several large ballrooms and in-house catering services. Looking at the main website for Martin's, my wife and I were excited to see this statement:
"Our award-winning chefs are happy to accommodate every taste, including vegetarian, gluten free and kosher."
After the ceremony was over and pictures were taken, my son and I made our way back into the ballroom for dinner. A few minutes after sitting down, the Event Manager stopped by to make an accurate head count of children's meals. There were 4 children at our table and, obviously, his initial count was 4. My wife interjected that our son's meal was to be gluten-free. His reaction spoke volumes to how our meal would go. He immediately jumped on his walkie talkie, spoke for several minutes, then returned to ask my wife "What its Gluten? No rice?"
"No. No wheat. Nothing with bread, nothing breaded, fried, or containing wheat or Gluten."
When the kid's meals showed up, we were left shaking our heads: Four identical breaded chicken strip meals with french fries. Obviously not Gluten-Free by any stretch of the imagination. My wife asked the waiter to return it to the kitchen. My son, seeing his meal sent back, asked my wife "Why can't I eat that? I wanted to eat that." My son understands Gluten and how it hurts him, but taking food away from him is still rough to explain. He remembers liking chicken fingers that look like that. What we give him is Gluten-Free so he assumes anything given to him is Gluten-Free.
Fortunately, we packed a dinner for him (just in case) and my wife recently saw (and copied) a snack box idea (we call them Snackle Boxes) that kept both our kids occupied and well fed. Still, the blatant disregard of our input was disheartening. We wen't expecting a Gluten-Free kid's meal, just a Gluten-Free meal.
|Snackle Box: The Aftermath|
On the way out, the Event Manager (who we hadn't seen since his confidence-inspiring "What is Gluten" question) stopped my wife (with a content smile on his face) to ask how the Gluten-Free meal for our son was. "Breaded chicken strips and french fries are not gluten-free. We told them to take it back." He was perplexed. "Why didn't you come get me?" My wife simply told him that we had a hungry child and had brought dinner for him in case this situation came up and didn't want to wait for whatever they sent next. My response would have been "Your website says you have a Gluten-Free menu. I shouldn't have had to come get you."
Gluten-free is a buzz word right now. Unfortunately, lots of people in the restaurant business don't seem to actually know what it means and how it can actually hurt some people, like our son. The lesson is, even though someone may advertise that they have gluten-free food, do your research and prepare as if they don't. If you get lucky, it makes for a pleasant surprise.
We didn't get lucky. But at least we got to see our friends get married and celebrated with some pretty great people.