I get it, gluten-free diners only make up a small percentage of the population. I know the statistics by heart: Only 1 in 133 people, or one percent of the population in the United States, have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and deters absorption of nutrients from food.
This means that 99 percent of the population doesn’t have celiac disease.
I can see a restaurant owner thinking, “Why in the world would I cater to one percent of the population when 99 percent of the population matters more to me?”
Again, I get it.
Yet, I think this kind of small thinking is flawed. Very flawed.
In this article I share why I think restaurant owners should pay careful attention to what the gluten-free diners on doing – and especially where they are choosing to eat:
4 Reasons Gluten-Free Diners Matter
(1) The Gluten-Free Diner [Almost Always] Picks the Restaurant
Think you’ll only affect one percent of the population’s dining decisions? Think again!
The person with the food allergy or dietary restriction more likely than not dictates where their family and friends eat out. I promise you this is the case!
Everytime I go out to eat with my friends and family, I am asked to select the restaurant or give restaurant options. Everyone wants to make sure I’m cared for as no one wants to dine out when they know their friend is not being properly taken care of.
In fact, when you cater to the one percent of people dealing with celiac disease, you often cater to a party of four, eight, 10 or more people on any given night. Now that is suddenly worth paying attention to, right?!?
(2) The Gluten-Free Community Is Growing
The gluten-free community is no longer just people on a gluten-free diet because they have celiac disease. Instead, a growing number of people with gluten-sensitivities avoid gluten for health reasons, as do people on the autoimmune spectrum. Experts estimate that six to seven percent of the U.S. population, or 18+ million people, are avoiding gluten due to a gluten sensitivity.
This number is only going to grow as we see the rate of people diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities on the rise.
(3) Gluten-Free Diners Talk
The gluten-free community is a noisy bunch. We like to share (with our friends) about restaurants that treat us right, and we have no qualms about telling our fellow gluten-free diners to stay away from restaurants doing it wrong.
We have gluten-free dining apps, like Find Me Gluten Free, to help us stay on top of safe places to eat, too. A good review in a gluten-free dining app will bring you plenty of business over the years as us gluten-free diners consult our gluten-free dining apps often.
When I was in Amsterdam, I used the Find Me Gluten Free app a lot. I found myself at several restaurants that were highly recommended. These restaurants were bustling and I heard plenty of people ordering gluten-free dishes.
Additionally, the Nima Sensor has made it very easy for gluten-free diners to share notes. The Nima Sensor is a gluten detecting device that enables a diner to test a pea-sized amount of her food for gluten and then log her results in the shared app. I am an avid Nima Sensor user. If you’re interested in learning more about the Nima Sensor, read my article, 13 Things You Need to Know about the Nima Sensor.
Also, don’t forget to read How 20 Restaurants Fared Against the Nima Sensor. Remember, us gluten-free diners share notes!
(4) Gluten-Free Diners are Not Going Away
I like to eat out – and I also know that restaurants are competing for my hard earned money in order to survive this competitive restaurant landscape. In an age where it seems like everyone is avoiding some kind of food, restaurants cannot afford to alienate diners with special needs.
Gluten-free diners are not going away (sorry, gluten-free is NOT a fad), and their influence is only going to grow.
Plus, with the invention of the Nima Sensor, more gluten-free diners feel empowered to eat out again as they will be able to test their food for gluten before consuming it… another incentive for restaurants to get gluten-free right!
The Gluten-Free Community Matters!
Remember, when a restaurant caters to the one percent of people with celiac disease, and the restaurant does it right, it is affecting way more than just one percent of the population; instead, it is affecting where that person’s entire social circle and circle of influence eats.
Perhaps gluten-free diners are worth paying attention to now?
I promise you, gluten-free is not going away. The restaurants that get gluten-free right (and who cater to other allergens as well) will be the ones that survive the cut-throat restaurant business guaranteed!
Looking for help on how to eat out safely on a gluten-free diet? Please read my ebook, Eating Out Gluten-Free: Your Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Safe Dining at Restaurants and On-the-Go.
NOTE: This article was updated January 2019