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Eating Out On Paleo


Ahhhh… Here is where Paleo in the UK has TOTALLY different things to say than most of the resources you’ll find online.

It is now remarkably easy for Americans to eat out, and be understood, when they say Paleo, or ‘gluten-free’ or ‘dairy-free’.  In fact, the ‘dietary restriction’ market in the US has become so crazy that restaurant servers often ask the question, “What restrictions are we dealing with this evening?” whilst seating the guests.  If you’ve read anything else on this site you will be aware that at Paleo in the UK we’re not fans of encouraging disordered eating, so this (to us) seems a step too far.

However, we are aware that the negativity in the UK (even from health professionals who become those popular, blogger ’nutritionists’ or ‘dieticians’) means that we rather lag behind the US in the area of honouring people’s food preferences – whatever their reason for requesting them.

Paleo Restaurants

In the UK there is literally no point in having a separate section for this because as far as we’ve found the restaurants that adhere to the food selections PLUS the quality recommendations of us here at Paleo in the UK simply don’t exist in the UK… yet.

However, if you know of an amazing Paleo restaurant that we can recommend, let us know by emailing us today and we may consider adding a “Reader-Approved Restaurants” section to the Resources alongside the Food Suppliers and Household, Supplements & Personal Care Sections.

Instead, we present to your our invaluable guide to Eating Out on Paleo: where to go, what to ask for, what to look out for and how to ensure you get what you need.

The first thing to recognise is that you can, absolutely, eat out whilst following Paleo – providing you sacrifice all desires for quality, uncontaminated food.  If you are following a Paleo regimen without any health concerns or fears of intolerances and allergies then any restaurant will serve you some protein with sides of veggies, providing you ask nicely and aren’t too rude about ordering off menu.

But if you are following Paleo ‘fully’ (i.e. you are prioritising quality – particularly of proteins and oils) then you cannot eat out easily on Paleo, so forget about finding a restaurant that serves a menu from which you can select ‘plain’ foods.  The reason for this is down to the world of practices in restaurants which are tricky to avoid.

Let us explain…

All restaurants do something called ‘mise en place’ – which is basically prepping things beforehand, and often part-cooking or at least pre-marinating and pre-preparing proteins so that dishes leave the kitchen quickly once they are ordered during ‘service’.


If you are avoiding generalised seasonings (which you will be on Paleo or AIP, especially if you’re sensitive, because they may contain gluten) then you are at risk of an exposure here.

If you’re avoiding things being cooked in vats full of reused processed oils (which you should be because they are full of rancid and oxidised fats, and almost every restaurant uses these oils) then you will also struggle.

And if you’re avoiding dairy, including butter (which is completely individual depending on your sensitivities, or if you’re following AIP, where you’ve got to with reintroductions)… then everything that’s in the mise en place is likely to be ‘off’ your plate of possibilities.


Now obviously, how fussy you want to be will largely depend upon why you’re following a Paleo diet, and whether these ingredients will really negatively effect your health in the short- and long-term.


To be clear, rancid and oxidised fats are really unhealthy, for everyone.


However, the occasional exposure whilst eating out, surrounded by a lifetime of care and using good quality fats at home, may be the compromise that is on your ‘reasonable’ list.  Likewise with the gluten in packaged spice mixes or seasonings.  If you have coeliac and/or real intolerance symptoms with gluten then you are probably unwilling to risk gluten exposure.  However, if you’re somebody who chooses to avoid gluten because you feel your body just ‘feels better’ without it then the amount of gluten in those spices or herb mixes is highly unlikely to cause you any real issues.

Therefore, where and what you can eat when eating out depends on the following things:


  • How fully you need to stick to the Paleo principles – and the AIP principles if you’re in that phase of healing


  • How capable you are of authoritatively asking for what you need from the restaurant staff


  • How much you trust the restaurant staff (FRONT & BACK of house – remember that messages must be relayed from your waiter and then order requests must be followed)


So – if a restaurant is somewhere that you trust and you feel able to confront this challenge, the next tips will come in handy.


  • Be aware you may need to wait a little longer for your food.  If the mise en place rules out the part-cooked proteins they may have to cook you something from scratch


  • If you’re ordering something like a steak, remember it’s highly, highly unlikely it’s grass-fed which means that whilst it’s quick to cook, the fat will contain the toxins of the animal and this is one time where you may wish to judiciously avoid that fatty edge.  Again – personal choice applies as to whether this is important to you


  • You may wish to state, up front, that you will tip the waitress more… see the first of our ‘Sentences to Say’, below


  • Be polite, stick to recongiseably whole foods on the menu


  • The chef may appreciate you more for NOT trying to rework one of his menu meals to suit your needs.  He probably will appreciate you FAR more for being specific, off-menu and just sticking to whole proteins that you know they must have in supply and the vegetables that you can see in their ‘sides’ section (just remind them that sautéing in butter equals using dairy).
Sentences to Use for Your Waiters


“I am going to be your fussiest customer tonight, for which I apologise, but please be aware that I do this not because I’m actually fussy but because I have real health consequences from eating certain ingredients and I need your help so that I can avoid them tonight and enjoy this meal with my loved ones.  You should know that I will tip you for your patience and efforts in helping me out.”


“When your ____ is cooked, can I just ask you to double check with the chef themselves that no spice mixes or dairy fats are used?”


“I really would love just simple protein and vegetables cooked in olive oil as the fat.  I know it’s an interruption to the normal flow of things, and I’m super-happy and prepared to wait until the chef has the breathing space to prepare this for me.”


“Can I just say to you that your normal portions of vegetables are probably half of what I need so be liberal with the veggies and charge me whatever your kitchens think is reasonable for my order, given this is all I really want to eat.”


“If your salad is normally waiting to be served with the croutons already in it, please don’t serve me one with simply with the croutons removed as it even the crumbs remaining will make me ill – even if you think you can’t see them.  If getting fresh, untouched leaves is impossible then I will leave the salad, thank you very much.”


For those on AIP who can’t do Black Pepper:


“This is a bizarre thing but on top of the needs I’ve already mentioned just need to let you know that I’m also super-sensitive to pepper – as in black pepper the spice.  I know this is a pain, but can I ask you to double check with the chef that no black pepper has been used in making my food?  I know he’ll hate me because it’s a great flavour – and you can let him know that I 100% agree and I wish I could eat it, but I just can’t.”

Things to Remember


  • Whether you lie is up to you – but be careful.  The supply of sentences above should help you out – but always ask to speak to someone in the kitchen if the restaurant seems quiet and you’re unsure whether the waiter took you seriously.  Allergies are serious, restaurants will respect them, but if you claim you have about 14 allergies they’ll be suspicious and assume you’re lying.  Be self-effacing and respectful and they should treat you with the same level of respect.


  • You are paying them money.  You are asking for a service.  You have already committed to paying above average to compensate them for their efforts.  You are a nice person.  You deserve to eat out.  Everything we have just said means that if you get attitude from the staff, if you get flack and/or if you get the sense that you’re being bitched about or made to feel uncomfortable… you have the right to refuse to tip (and even take the ‘included gratuity’ off the bill if necessary).  You also have the right to complain (formally, informally – whatever).  You can also not go back.


  • If you do get a reaction that evening that you can guarantee is associated with the food that you ate, feel free to return to the restaurant during the daytime on another occasion and just make them aware that your needs weren’t met.  Don’t be harsh, don’t be angry – just gently point it out and thank them for trying but explain how your reactions meant that they can’t have followed your requests.  If this happens to us – we don’t do this to ask for anything.  Most of the time, the restaurants really tried and you aren’t due a free meal or any compensation.  What they do need is to know that they aren’t doing well enough for those with allergies and that next time the result of their neglect might be a lot more serious.
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