I realize that I’m in the “gluten-free minority” because I have Celiac Disease. I know that less than 1% of the population has Celiac and many of that 1% don’t even know they have it. As a Celiac diner, I have to be careful – extra careful. I have to ask lots of questions and feel confident that the staff knows how to prepare and serve a safe meal for me.
On the other hand, I know that there are a lot of people who are gluten-free because they feel better (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive) and many people who are on a gluten-free diet to lose weight or for another personal reason. This category makes up the majority of GFers who can request a GF meal without always needing to ask the tough questions.
Whatever the case, gluten-free diets are something restaurants cannot ignore, nor should they. Everyone following a gluten-free diet is doing so at their own level and it’s not up to the restaurant to judge or decide each GFer’s level of care – it’s truly up to the patron to decide what they need.
Knowing that many gluten-free diners need more care and effort put into their meal, I wanted to share my five tips to helping restaurants better serve those of us with Celiac and other members of the gluten-free community who strictly adhere to the gluten-free diet and way of life.
5 Ways Restaurants Can Better Serve Gluten-Free Patrons:
1. Avoid Cross Contamination
One way restaurants can better serve the gluten-free community is to make an effort to keep gluten-free cooking utensils/spatulas, pots, pans and prep stations separate from gluten-ful stuff. I know this can be difficult to do when space is an issue and your kitchen staff is pressed for time – but a little preparation and training will go a long way into making your gluten-free diners feel confident eating at your establishment. Color coat your gluten-free utensils and pots – or set a designated spot on your grill for gluten-free only products. If you told me that you had a separate space for preparing gluten-free meals and used a separate spatula too, I would have 100% confidence in your restaurant and become a loyal and repeat diner!
While you’re at it, I highly encourage you to keep your gluten-free baked goods separate too. This weekend my family went to Milk N Cake in Denver, CO at my request after I saw a big gluten-free sign on the restaurant’s door. What I found was so disappointing. The gluten-free cupcakes that the baker took the time to make gluten-free were sitting on the shelf below the gluten-ful cupcakes. Cross contamination is stewing on those shelves and I wouldn’t eat those cupcakes – no way! I recommend keeping your gluten-free cupcakes in a completely separate area and especially not on a shelf where gluten crumbs fall on it constantly. Just put a few up for display, then tell your patrons that the gluten-free ones are hidden away in the back to prevent cross contamination.
I took this picture at Milk N Cake to show you the cross contamination issue at play. I’m sure it’ll make all my GF friends shudder:
2. Bring GF Food Out Separately
Hopefully your kitchen staff took the time to prepare a truly gluten-free meal, but then leave it to your server to mess it up on the way to the table. My “gluten-free” dish is often placed right next to or under a gluten-ful dish on the waiter’s tray and I can see the gluten slowing leaking onto my plate. All you have to do to avoid this is to bring the GF dish out separately. It really is an easy way to make your GF patrons feel at ease.
3. Mark GF Food
I love love love when restaurants mark my meal as GF, either with a toothpick label or separate colored dish. This way I know there were no miscommunications between the cooks and the servers and I have 100% confidence that the GF meal prepared in the back is the one that made it to my table safe and sound.
Did you know that there’s a company that sells gluten-free labels for restaurants? It’s an easy and cheap way to add value to the GF community – and the GF community will reward you handsomely for catering to – and caring about – our needs too.
4. Train Your Staff to Answer GF Questions
There is nothing worse than sitting down with a group of friends to eat out than to have a waiter who is skeptical of me and my so-called “allergy.” Don’t treat gluten-free eaters like an inconvenience; rather make them feel at ease and welcome the opportunity to prepare a meal for someone with special dietary needs. Isn’t the goal of every restaurateur and chef to make their customers happy?
Also, if someone calls ahead to inquire about your gluten-free accommodations, make sure the person answering the phone can confidently answer questions about how food allergies are handled by your staff – or have them hand the phone to the manager right away. My confidence with your restaurant starts with that first conversation – if someone can assure us they can take care of our gluten-free needs and makes us feel confident eating there, we will do so. If not, we will somewhere else.
5. Know that the Person with the Allergy Makes the Restaurant Choice
I tell restaurant owners time and time again that the person with the food allergy (or disease in the case of Celiacs) makes the decision on where an entire group eats. In my situation, I often go out with 8, 10 or even 20 friends. Guess who decides on where we eat?!? Yep, it’s me. If you can accommodate a gluten-free dieter, then you will get his or her friend’s business that night too!
Thanks for taking the time to read my tips to making a restaurant more gluten-free friendly for the GF community. There are so many great restaurant owners and chains that truly care about the allergy community – but we still have a long way to go to better accommodate not only the GF and allergy communities, the but the growing community at large who require special attention in the preparation and serving of their meals.