The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates that about three million Americans have celiac disease. Those diagnosed with celiac disease understand that the only “cure” for their debilitating symptoms is a very strict gluten-free diet. The good news for these consumers is that the number of gluten-free food products has grown tremendously in the last few years. And, the number of restaurants offering gluten-free menus is beginning to grow, too.
“The bad news is that all those who have celiac disease must avoid any restaurant that does not have a gluten-free menu prepared and served without a trace of gluten,” emphasizes Alice Bast, founder and president of NFCA, who was diagnosed with celiac disease sixteen years ago. “That generally means our family and friends avoid those restaurants, too.”
In the restaurant industry, minimizing “veto votes” is an important consideration. By offering a gluten free-menu, and adhering to strict protocol to avoid cross contamination, you will find that you can gain the loyalty of this important market. Some experts estimate the size of a gluten-sensitive market at 15 percent of the total population, when including people who have some degree of gluten sensitivity or intolerance and feel better when avoiding gluten.
How to develop and provide a gluten-free menu:
Understand the commitment
It’s not as easy as a burger without the bun. Even a speck of gluten, as small as the size of a grain of sand, can contaminate a gluten-free item and cause havoc to someone with celiac disease. Therefore, if your restaurant commits to offering and promoting a gluten-free menu, you must commit to all the way.
Identify and/or develop gluten-free options
Beyond the obvious bread and pasta, gluten is found in a wide variety of products. Gluten can be hidden in seasonings, sauces, flavorings and other ingredients. Restaurateurs will need a gluten-free expert to help develop or identify potential items for a gluten-free menu. A thorough analysis of all ingredients, including all sub-recipes and purchased and prepared items, is need to assess whether there are any traces of gluten present.
Foods that do not contain gluten include:
- Fresh, unprocessed meats, poultry and fish*
- Fruits and vegetables*
- Whole grains* and starches* such as: potatoes, corn, quinoa, rice (brown is preferred because it is higher in nutrients)
*watch out for any preservatives or other ingredients that may be added
The following ingredients contain gluten:
- Malt vinegar
- Matzo meal
- Wheat germ
- Wheat starch
The NFCA’s site also cautions that the following ingredients contain gluten:
- Dairy substitutes
- Deli meats
- Hydrolyzed protein
- Imitation seafood
- Lunch meats
- Modified food starch
- Natural flavors
- Salad dressings
- Soy sauce
- Spice blends
Train staff to eliminate any possibility of cross contamination
Avoiding cross contamination is an important priority when offering a gluten-free menu. Cross contamination means that a gluten-containing product has come into contact with items termed gluten-free. The NFCA offers restaurants the GREAT Program to train and educate management and staff on how to prepare and serve gluten-free options. GREAT stands for “Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training.” The NFCA offers a DVD program for management, along with a web-based, self-managed course that staff can take online. NFCA also has expert trainers who can visit your restaurant and work in-person with your staff.
Promote the gluten-free menu
Once a restaurant has achieved the above steps, it is ready to launch a gluten-free menu and begin attracting new guests seeking restaurants offering gluten-free menus. These guests will appreciate the commitment and effort. Most will have support groups, and family and friends can help spread the word about a restaurant and its new gluten-free menu. Taking advantage of local marketing will help.
In addition, if a restaurant completes the GREAT Training, NFCA’s website, CeliacCentral.org, will promote a restaurant. HealthyDiningFinder.com will also promote a restaurant’s gluten-free menu.
Other ways to spread the word include:
- Social media
- Press releases
- Company website
- Outreach to community gluten-free dietitians
Best of all, word of mouth will spread like wildfire. Gluten-free menus are coveted by those who absolutely need them, and those guests will reward a restaurant that caters to them with loyalty, appreciation, and by telling others about the gluten-free menu options.
Do you offer a gluten-free menu? E-mail me at [email protected] and let me know about your efforts in offering and promoting your gluten-free options.