Lets clarify something from the get go, eating Gluten-Free is a lifestyle. This is one of the many things restaurants need to know about Gluten-Free. It is important to understand this, since restaurants treat dieters differently then they do food allergies or lifestyle choices, so please try not to call it a diet.
Trends are like diets as they tend to come and go. Lifestyles however are a way of life and accordingly they have staying power.
As a brand consultant for restaurants I am constantly searching for the next trend or market innovation. Trends are important to jump on for promotional use, adding them to an existing marketing plan can help drive short-term traffic. Being flexible is important when marketing a restaurant, dieters also have the option of being flexible. Unlike dieters that have the ability to make concessions anyone who obeys a Gluten-Free Lifestyle does so out of need and not by choice. That is why any restaurant that is thinking about offering Gluten-Free menu items, needs to read this post before going any further.
I have talked before about the national trend moving towards healthier and affordable food options for families, specifically. This year at the National Restaurant Association Food Show, the Kids LiveWell program took a giant leap towards improving dining options by garnering support from national corporate brands. Think about what is right for your brand, what fits within your brand culture? Are you willing to make the full commitment required at your restaurant(s) to make the necessary changes? Keep reading to learn more.
Why am I writing about Gluten-Free?
One of the beautiful things about social media is how easy it is to find people with common interests, such as types of food you like to eat or what sports team you follow. When I met Ken Scheer on Twitter, we instantly bonded as two former New Yorkers who maintained their loyalties to the New York Mets (If you think living Gluten-free is tough try being a Mets fan, I digress).
Ken Scheer of Rock a Healthy Lifestyle
Overtime Ken and I become friendly and shared more about our interests and careers. Ken raises awareness for Celiac Disease and has been living a Gluten-Free Lifestyle since college. Ken also works with restaurants to promote their Gluten-Free offerings through his company Rock a Healthy Lifestyle and his #GFfoodietour. As we continued to discuss the awareness of Celiac Disease and the lack of dining options available, we thought it would be helpful to educate restaurants on what is a Gluten-Free lifestyle. It was also important for us to educate restaurant operators on what they need to understand before jumping into offering Gluten-Free menu items.
Ken has taught me a great deal about living a Gluten-Free lifestyle, the amount of attention and detail that goes into preparing and serving Gluten-Free menu items. In-order to serve Gluten-Free food, be prepared to make changes to both the back and the front of the house. Are you comfortable making changes to the way you currently prepare food and how you operate your establishment? You don’t have to answer that question now, but like any good marketer will tell you, first understand your audience before selling to them.
For additional information, listen to Ken and Jennifer Fugo chatting about this very subject.
Before we talk more about what restaurants need to know, let’s first address why someone chooses to eat Gluten-Free.
1. What Is A Gluten-Free Lifestyle?
A gluten-free lifestyle is a dietary constraint that excludes foods containing Gluten.
2. So What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, malts and triticale. It is used as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent, often as “dextrin”. A gluten-free diet is the only medically accepted treatment for celiac disease, the related condition dermatitis herpetiformis, and wheat allergy.
3. The Fear of Cross-Contamination:
If you are going to claim to serve #glutenfree menu items, it is imperative that you have separate fryers, cutting boards, utensils and cooking surfaces when they prepare gluten-free food.
To learn more read Ken Scheer’s post The Fear of Cross-Contamination.
4. Do Not Fake Or Falsify Information.
If you do not follow the strict guideline required, be honest and do not present false information. Someone could become extremely ill and/or potentially die. That is not good for the customer or the long-term reputation of your establishment.
5. Prepare Your Staff To Answer The Following Questions:
Make sure your staff is prepared to answer questions on your Gluten-Free menu items.
- A. What Gluten-Free options do you offer?
- B. Do you have a separate cooking surface?
- C. How do you prevent cross-contamination?
- D. Are the products that are gluten-free separated from those that contain gluten?
- E. Do you have separate cutting boards and utensils that are used specifically for foods that are gluten-free?
- F. Are the fryers used for anything else that contain gluten?
- G. Do you use different gloves when handling the food?
6. Advice from Gluten-Free Restaurant owner Kristin Carey of Nourish 123 in Scottsdale, AZ:
- A. Training must start at the top and the Executive Chef must be on board
- B. An area in the kitchen must be designed for only gluten-free products
- C. Education from top to bottom, including waiters and those that answer the phone
- D. Separate glasses, utensils, cutting boards, gloves etc.
- E. The staff needs to be able to be prepared for why people are asking for Gluten-Free options and why it must be taken seriously
- F. A separate dedicated fryer
- G. Air Filtration (this is an issue if flour is used in products because it gets blown around)
7. Train your staff accordingly:
Make sure that if you are going to offer #glutenfree options that you educate your staff on how you prepare menu items and the steps you take to ensure your customer’s safety. Keep in mind that showing a lack of confidence in answering questions will reflect poorly on your restaurant as a Gluten-Free friendly restaurant. This could effect reviews, posts or repeat visitation. Don’t be surprised if customers change their mind and eat somewhere else. Remember this lifestyle is not always by choice.
8. Marketing: If you plan on offering Gluten-Free menu items, take advantage of the growing number of Celiac patients and those that are living a Gluten-Free Lifestyle and market your offerings.
Be cautious while ooking out for this Certified Gluten-Free seal.
Below are a few suggestions of where to highlight your Gluten-Free menu items:
- A. On your menu both in-store and on-line
- B. In-store signage (posters, tent-cards, T-shirts, etc.)
- C. Include the message in your server intro
- D. In on-line listing and profiles such as Yelp, dining guides and directories
- E. Social Networks like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Google+ Local
- F. As well as reaching out to local and national Gluten-Free associations (see below)
8. Mobile Apps:
Find Me Gluten Free is more than just a gluten-free restaurant directory.
If you know me, you know I love what smartphones can do for restaurants. It doesn’t get any better or easier to establish a listing on an existing product. Introducing Find Me Gluten Free, which is a free iPhone and Android app that helps you locate and share photos and ratings.
- Find Me Gluten Free is more than just a gluten-free restaurant directory. Their goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to share gluten-free dining experiences with other members of the gluten-free community so that we can all eat gluten-free and stress-free, no matter where we are!
- Find Me Gluten Free is driven by gluten-free consumers suggesting, rating, and reviewing businesses. You can share your ratings, comments, and photos of your favorite gluten-free friendly businesses!
9. More Resources To Learn About Gluten-Free and Celiac Disease:
Having worked with restaurants for a while now, from multi-unit chains that number in the hundreds to new concepts I understand the value of sales. So keep some of these numbers in mind, currently the Gluten-Free market is estimated at $5 billion, and by 2018 it is projected to exceed $6 billion. A recent study shows that Celiac disease now affects 1 in 133 people in the U.S. What does this mean to the restaurant industry? You guessed it… potential for increased sales. So while I tell you that Gluten-Free is not a trend, offering meals to customer’s with Celiac disease is a trend to jump on. Just make sure you are doing it the right way.
Are you living a Gluten-Free Lifestyle? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please comment below and share links as well as additional information that may help both Gluten-Free dinners and restaurant operators.