About this section

This page contains mostly information about the legal framework within the EU that regulates the declaration of allergens for restaurants. In case you are merely interested in a link list pointing you to gluten-free restaurant databases across Europe, skip ahead to the penultimate paragraph. 🙂 Since it is fairly easy to find something in Europe and in Germany if you are just adhering to a vegetarian diet and don’t have to pay attention to gluten, I’m not including any information on eating out as a vegetarian. 🙂

Given the length of this section, feel free to skip ahead to the specific information that you may require.

Eating Out Safely in the EU and Germany
The Limits of the EU Food Labelling Legislation Lie at Contamination
How to Still Feel Welcome If You Want To Eat Out Gluten-free Safely
How to Deal with the Currenty EU-Allergen Declaration In Restaurants
Finding Safe Gluten-free Restaurants in Europe
Finding Restaurants that Prepare Gluten-free Food in Germany

Eating Out Safely in the EU and in Germany

The food-labelling law decribed in the grocery shopping section in theory also applies to any commercially sold non-packaged food (e.g. in restaurants, at food stalls, etc.) since 2014. With the exception of private persons selling food on occasion (e.g. food sold at a school event or by children at a flee market), anyone who sells food on a regular basis for a profit is required to either declare allergens in all their meals on their menu or to have at least one person within their business who is knowledgeable on the subject of allergens within their meals and can give you accurate information at all times.


Restaurants are required to document the allergens contained in their meals in written form, too. How they do so is entirely up to them. I’ve seen anything from very neat and easy-to-read excel tables to thick folders, containing pages upon pages full of food labels peeled off plastic containers or tins, glued to a piece of paper in random order.

Since we are all human and our work can be prone to errors regardless of how much we try to provide accurate data, I suggest reading any allergen tables with a critical eye. Most restaurants do a great job with declaring allergens once they have actually gone through the trouble of compiling such a list. Overall chain restaurants are great place to contact when seeking an allergen table (it can often be found on their website, albeit the downside is that the staff is usually badly trained and there is no information on contamination unless you ask and can even worry from store to store; so you essentially still have no idea whether you can safely eat there or not regardless of how many times you download the information from their site).


I suggest to read allergen tables with a turned on brain, watching out for information that seems to make little sense. I’ve already found non-declared gluten in brownies at a frozen yoghurt bar. The showed me the package – of course they were not gluten-free! I then made them show me every single thing I planned on eating there, because I felt that if they made such an obvious mistake, who knows what else they may have done wrong!? (I obviously also have ulterior motives: no need for anyone to get the impression that the declaration of allergens is something no one cares about and can therefore be taken lightly).


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The Limits of the EU Food Labelling Legislation Lie at Contamination

The main criticism citizens with allergies make of the current regulation is that it does not take into account contamination. While some restaurants do an amazing job at customer service (e.g. the Hard Rock Café has a wonderful allergen card that even includes information on contamination), a lot of restaurants are simply not bothering to create an allergen declaration of their menu at all. This is because the EU does very little to enforce this particular law. Theoretically non-compliance can result in a monetary fine for the business involved. However, the entity carrying out the controls is regulated by the local municipality, and the amount of personnel available to carry out controls ranges from very little to none.


In practice this means that restaurants are not controlled, and only get fined on a by-complaint-basis (currently the fines are still being determined, so at the moment you don’t even get fined, just a letter that suggests you declare your allergens).

Also, very little is done to show restaurant owners how declaring allergens can benefit them. At this point they are offering massive resistance to the existing law by simply not declaring allergens on their menus. Some go a step further though. Here are some examples from within Germany (I know of similar cases in Austria).

The following stand-up display is  sold by the German Hotel and Catering Association, DEHOGA, which along with its counterparts within the EU did quite a bit of lobby-work to soften the original proposal for the restaurant labelling law. The original draft of the law was much more consumer-friendlier and much more binding than the current version. Their argument is that studies (conducted by their own association, what else) concluded that hardly any guests at their member restaurants care about the declaration of allergens. Whatever!Picture of HOGESA Stand Up by Heiko Bernhoerster

The stand-up display says something along the lines that the guest shouldn’t be surprised that their food is taking so long, because the cook is currently busy writing down information about the allergens contained in the menu. It yaps on about other bureaucratic inconvenience brought on by the government, such as requiring the staff to take *gasp* their well deserved break after having worked for a certain amount of hours! (Yeah, it really sucks you can’t exploit your workfoce even more than you already do, I’m right there with you. Bring back the 1800s – and the whip! Do it! Do it now!).

I should clarify that this picture was taken by my friend Heiko, who found it at a restaurant where he obtained the most excellent gluten-free food (exemplified by the menu pictured beneath the DEHOGA-flyer which shows a flawless allergen declaration).

A few restaurants and chefs have even gone as far as posting notes in front of their restaurants or on their Facebook pages, stating guests with allergies are not welcome and should just eat at home.


This picture was taken by my friend, German gluten-free baking Guru Trudel Marquardt. It’s from the front door of a restaurant in Stuttgart, run by a famous cook. Trudel also found excellent gluten-free food inside this restaurant.

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How to Still Feel Welcome If You Want To Eat Out Gluten-free Safely

While this state of affairs is worrisome and sad on a human level, I suggest not getting discouraged by a few unwilling cooks and restaurant owners. Many businesses are simply overwhelmed with the amount of work and required knowledge that goes into creating a proper allergen declaration – mainly because they have no information on the subject, suddenly realize that using a lot of processed products in their kitchen can be a curse rather than a blessing.

If have never bothered to read a label in their entire life much less thought about the aspects of contamination before, the task ahead can be daunting – especially when I don’t actually do a whole lot of cooking in my kitchen, but spend my time opening packages with convenience products.

I sympathize: when I first went gluten-free I had no idea what gluten was and where it could be found. I can’t expect it to be any different for them. Even if they work in the food industry, gluten is probably not the first and foremost thing on their mind. While it would be much nicer if the other restaurants owners would chose to be part of the solution and perhaps asked for help instead of engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, I’m sure acceptance of the new-ish law will be much wider in years to come.

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How to Deal with the Currenty EU-Allergen Declaration In Restaurants 

In my own experience being friendly goes a long way. Most restaurants are very accommodating when you ask for information about what goes into their food, and are even willing to show you opened jars, bottles and packages upon request. I’ve had cooks carry heavy containers of vinegar so that I could see the label.

I have made mostly excellent experiences in talking to staff though and I think it has got a lot to do with being both friendly and flexible. I have also found that if restaurants cook from scratch and have a good working atmosphere among their staff, they are much more likely to be willing to help. They consider doing so a part of their job description, after all one of their most important tasks is to get guests to a) purchase food and b) spread the word and c) come back.


My non-empric research has also concluded that my gluten-free needs are much better catered to in restaurants that offer vegan meals: they seem to have a much higher awareness of gluten and gluten-free than those restaurants that don’t “buy into” the vegan “trend”.


I’ve found that not wanting to give you information has a lot do with helplessness. A waitress once handed me a package of cocoa powder underneath the table so that I could make sure it was safe for me to drink. She wanted to help me, but her boss didn’t want her to show anyone the package, because then they would automatically know what brand cocoa they used. It’s silly, but I also understand. I’m also very greatful the waitress was so nice to help me out anyway, plus I got to order that cocoa (meaning business for them and a treat for me).

I’m also not one to complain about the current state of the law, because knowing where gluten isn’t contained in the first place, makes selecting a meal and asking questions about its preparation much easier.glutenfreepastanpizza

In general though, I try to stick to restaurants where other people with celiac disease have already had good experiences or at least call ahead prior to eating out.

If it can’t be helped, and I have to go somewhere I can’t find anyone giving information about gluten-free meals (e.g. a wedding catered by an unknown company), I ensure to call ahead, during not so busy times, and negotiate my meal for when I will go there. If you want to be certain that you are understood, you could always take a restaurant card with you and hand it to the cook.

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Finding Safe Gluten-free Restaurants in Europe

I find addresses through a diverse range of networks, mainly groups on Facebook. To find them I search for the term “gluten-free” or “celiac” and the country (in English) or find a translation of these terms in the corresponding language and then look for groups. From experience I know that the French (Sans Gluten ni Lacotse!), German (e.g. Glutenfrei Leben or Zöliakie Austausch (their website: www.zoeliakie-austausch.de), Italian and Spanish (Viajar Sin Gluten) celiac communities are extremely active on Facebook and if they don’t have a restaurant list (in their file-section), then members will be happy to point you to safe adresses (particularly if you ask very specifically and even more so if you do in their language).

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Finding Restaurants that Prepare Gluten-free Food in Germany

Disclaimer: If a restaurant is listed on one of these search engines, please still ask questions about the preparation of the food you will be eating. Recipes, the circumstances under which a meal is prepared, the restaurant owner and cook can change overnight and no longer be gluten-free without anyone updating the database. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

In Germany, long before Facebook, there was an independent forum called Zöliakie Treff. They still have one of the most comprehensive restaurant lists (sorted by postal code). There are also databases such as glutenfreeroads.com (operated by Italian gluten-free food manufacturer Dr. Schaer; this site isn’t too reliable though, I suggest double checking the entry with the restaurant before travelling there just to be sure they are still open, still serve gluten-free food, etc. – it has information about hotels, shopping possibilities and restaurants for all of Europe and even the world) or gfgermany.de. glutenfreeondoorgourmariFor the Netherlands, check out the livaad.nl database (in Dutch) and for Italy Ristoranti per Celiaci (they also have search engines for gluten-free hotels, pizzerias and gelaterias) or Viajar Sin Gluten for Spain.

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I hope you found this information helpful! If you are missing anything or have any questions, get in touch! 🙂