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Should gluten-free orders in a restaurant require a doctor’s note?

Roots of Gluten
Roots of Gluten

Forget getting carded for alcohol — if you want to order gluten-free food at the White Moose Cafe in Dublin, you’ll have to provide a doctor’s note.

After a customer inquired about gluten-free pancakes without knowing what “celiac” meant, owner Paul Stenson posted the following on the restaurant’s Facebook page Saturday morning: “From now on, guests who demand gluten-free food are required to produce a doctor’s note which states that you suffer from coeliac [the spelling used in Ireland] disease. Guests following a gluten-free fad, who don’t even know what gluten is, can cop the [expletive] on and eat regular food like everybody else.”

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Stenson is a provocateur who has criticized breastfeeding mothers and vegans in the past, and predictably, the post incited a flurry of angry Facebook comments.

But, tone of the post notwithstanding, it raises valid questions.

Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, said he agreed with Stenson’s policy as long as it could be extended to allow doctor’s notes from those with non-celiac gluten intolerances as well. The reason? Some restaurants have started to take gluten-free orders less seriously, Fasano said, because their employees assume that most of the orders are coming from people who only adhere to the diet due to its trendiness. This is dangerous for patrons who do have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, as inattention in the kitchen leads to a greater risk of cross-contamination.

“On one hand, the popularity of the diet has increased the availability of the gluten-free diet and the cost [of gluten-free products] went down,” he said. “But the price they pay is that they’re not taken seriously. How do [restaurants] distinguish the person who has the medical necessity to be on the diet from one that’s on it because it’s fashionable?”

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Many Boston restaurants recognize this health risk and therefore train their employees to take gluten-free orders seriously. Trident Booksellers and Cafe is one such place. Manager Courtney Flynn said she sympathizes with those upset by Stenson’s policy. Although she said she’s noticed an increase in gluten-free orders over the past few years, it hasn’t been an inconvenience. Trident employees treat gluten-free requests as they would any allergy: The server puts a note on the ticket, a manager lets the cooks know, and the request is taken at face value.

“We train all our servers to take every allergy as seriously as the next,” Flynn said. “It’s a waste of time for the servers to start digging too deep. It’s part of our practice to take everything really seriously, and it’s not too much of a disturbance for someone’s health or well-being.”


Sonia Rao can be reached at sonia.rao@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @misssoniarao.