If there is one trend that has come to the forefront of the restaurant industry in the past few years it is that consumers are more aware of the health effects of food on their bodies. They what to know where their food is being sourced from, if it is organic, and how is it being prepared. There is a whole market of people that struggle to find places to eat out that coincide with their food restrictions. Those who for health reasons or personal reasons have chosen to go gluten-free.
There are two types of gluten sensitivities. Those caused by Celiac disease and those caused by non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people don’t experience the same kind of injury and irritation to the small intestine as those with celiac disease, but gluten intolerance can still cause physical and mental problems. Celiac disease itself presents with four different types of varying severity.
Gluten is a substance that is present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of the dough and is a mixture of two proteins. Currently, about 3.1 million people across the U.S.A. follow a gluten-free diet.
It is an entire market of people that you can open your doors to by making some changes to your current systems. Expectations are higher than ever, and your restaurant might be missing out on profits that you aren’t even aware of.
Changes in Your Kitchen
If you are going to offer gluten-free options on your menu, you need to have the appropriate configuration in your kitchen. Your biggest hurdle will be cutting out cross contamination. Gluten-free products cannot come in to contact with items that have touched gluten-containing foods. For example, a gluten-free pizza cannot be cooked in the same oven as a pizza prepared with gluten ingredients.
Now, this may seem like a chore but there are some easy ways to separate your foods and tools.
- Dedicate a section of your line to only gluten-free food prep
- Keep items separate in storage and walk-ins to avoid cross-contamination
- Use color-coded equipment to avoid contamination
Offering gluten-free options is not as hard as it may originally seem, as long as you keep up with your systems of avoiding cross contamination.
Educate Your Staff
The second most important thing you can do, after making changes in your kitchen, is to educate your staff. Many have heard of the gluten-free “trend” but don’t really know what it is, or how it can affect their customers. Take some time during a staff meeting to discuss your new menu options and their importance. If you know someone with a gluten intolerance, you could invite them to speak to your staff of their struggles. Knowledge is everything in getting your staff to buy into your new program.
Make sure to encourage them to not judge their customers when they discuss a gluten intolerance. 72% of people leading a gluten-free diet are classified as “PWAGs” – people without celiac disease avoiding gluten. It is important for staff not to roll their eyes or make comments if they feel that a customer might not truly need gluten-free food. Customers with dietary restrictions want to have their concerns heard just like any other customer. It is not their place to judge and ultimately having a good attitude will lead to better tips.
Adjusting Your Menu
There are several ways that your menu can become more gluten-free friendly. Offer gluten-free substitutes to some of your meals. Cornstarch can be a great substitute for flour in certain circumstances. Order more gluten-free ingredients to have in your kitchen. That way if a customer asks if you have pasta noodles, you can accommodate them. They’ll certainly be appreciative of your forethought.
How much of your menu that you decide to make gluten-free is up to you but having several options would most likely be beneficial. You need to evaluate on a case by case basis how much your current restaurant lends itself to gluten-free options. For example, if you are a Mexican restaurant you might consider offering taco salads or ordering gluten-free wraps. It is not necessary to completely rework your menu if you don’t have the funds or your food doesn’t lend itself well to gluten-free alternatives. Even a few adjustments will help to keep your restaurant relevant and communicate to customers that you are making an effort.
To help customers easily identify your gluten-free foods, you can create a menu ledger. Having clearly marked symbols to inform customers of your dishes that are completely gluten-free or have substitutes available can help to make the ordering process simpler. The easier that your menu is to understand for those that are gluten-free, the more comfortable they can feel.
Offering these options will take some adjustment for you and your team. But ultimately, you’ll see the benefits of increased profits and staying competitive in the market. Bethany Jarmul was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance in 2014 and has been searching for dining out options ever since. “As someone who has a gluten intolerance, the first thing I look for in a restaurant is whether or not they provide gluten-free options. If I find a place that offers a lot of gluten-free dishes, I’m likely to make that one of my go-to spots.”
Bethany represents an entire market of customers searching for their next go-to gluten-free spot. Why not make it your restaurant?
How to Promote
You’ve made the changes to your menu, added new ingredients to your kitchen, and educated your staff. Now it is time to get the word out about your new options. Traditional methods are great options Flyers, radio, and social media, are all perfect ways to talk about the benefits of your new food.
One area, in particular, you might like to consider is in Facebook groups that are focused on the gluten-free lifestyle. These groups can have thousands of members all looking for options that make their lives a little bit easier. Simply search gluten free on the Facebook search bar and then narrow your search to groups and you should find plenty of options.
Providing gluten-free options is the fastest growing trend in the restaurant industry and with good reason. Industry powerhouses like Arby’s, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza are offering gluten-free items. More and more Americans are choosing to go gluten-free for health reasons and the need for innovative food options is greater than ever. Establishing your restaurant as gluten-free friendly is a great way to bring in new customers and establish loyal ones for years to come. Nothing creates loyal customers like the ability to have an honest discussion about their food. It will take some organizing, but your efforts will be well worth it to keep your restaurant relevant and once the profits start rolling in.