McLean, VA (written by Barbara De Lollis/USA Today) -- What do you do for breakfast when you follow a gluten-free diet and your budget requires you to eat at the complimentary breakfast buffet? Can you navigate the buffet without getting sick?
TripAdvisor tackled the issue, citing a question from a business traveler who said she'd recently been diagnosed with celiac disease. People with celiac disease are advised to avoid products that contain gluten or have touched it. That's not always easy to do at a free breakfast buffet.
Complimentary hotel breakfast buffets - offered at chains such as Residence Inn (Marriott), Staybridge Suites (IHG), Country Inn & Suites (Carlson), Hampton Inn (Hilton) and Hyatt Place - have been improving over the last couple of years, incorporating more acceptable gluten-free alternatives such as fresh fruit.
But you'll still be presented with loads of pastries, toast, cereal, breakfast wraps and other items that may have been contaminated by gluten.
TripAdvisor's column suggests calling a hotel before you book it, and/or talking to the general manager about your situation. But phone calls are time consuming, and a hotel's top-level executive won't always know what's going on in the dining area.
TripAdvisor also suggests trying to talk to your boss or human resources department about your situation, so you can possibly get extra money in your budget to eat at a regular restaurant. But in today's economy, who wants to do that?
So, Hotel Check-In did some checking and also asked knowledgeable friends on Facebook.
The best tips:
Search the buffet for trustworthy items. Some cereals are gluten-free, as are most breakfast meats, Hotels Magazine editor Jeff Weinstein says on Facebook. He'd also recommend eggs and bacon, and breakfast potatoes as long as it's "cooked simply in a clean pan and fresh oil."
Facebook friend Dawn Barclay, who avoids gluten, often eats apple slices with peanut butter or has an omelet or eggs - without toast.
But don't trust what you see. Talk to a front-line employee about the food options if you have any doubts and don't want to risk getting sick, an article on celiac.com suggests. A batch of sausages, for instance, might have been warmed up in a container that previously contained gluten, or seasoning salt used in eggs might have wheat in it. "Always explain your diet the best you can and let the staff know that you have a special diet and that they have to be very careful with your food," the article says. "Tell them you get very sick and you must be extra careful."
If this isn't working, Facebook buddy Brad Douglas says his wife explains her gluten-free need to the staffer "and then says 'If I eat it, I will die.'" Usually, that gets results, he says.
Travel consultant and Facebook friend Mary Jo Babiar says that if she's traveling out of the country, she translates her food allergies onto a card with an explanation, so she can hand it to the chef.