Archive for May, 2012
Serving Up Gluten-Free Meals
Why Create Gluten Free Options?
According to The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), 1 in 20 young children under the age of 5 years and almost 1 in 25 adults are allergic to at least one food. That adds up to a lot of potential customers who are looking for responsible and reliable foodservice establishments with allergy-free menu options. One of the most newsworthy and increasingly popular ingredients diners want to avoid is gluten. According to Celiac.com, Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 133 Americans. “People who are gluten intolerant or allergic as well as patients diagnosed with Crohn’s, autism, ADHD, Rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other conditions all follow a gluten-free diet.”
With so many different people following a lifestyle without gluten, it is no surprise that Michael Hartzell of Restaurant Marketing Ideas Blog states that, “‘Restaurants with Gluten Free’ is searched in Google alone about 74,000 times a month in the USA.” In the U.S., 8-10% of the population lives by a gluten-free diet. This number is expected to rise as more people choose a gluten-free diet for personal reasons, and not for strictly a health-related cause.
Cross-Contamination & Food Prep
Keeping customers safe starts with understanding exactly which ingredients in the kitchen contain gluten. From there, it is a matter of maintaining designated prep areas, separate pantry storage and segregated cookware for gluten-free items. A helpful idea is to differentiate with plating: designating specific plates or bowls as gluten-free, unique garnishing of the plates, or using a food flag to distinguish and remove before serving gluten-free meals tableside.
It is important to let your customers know that they are in a safe environment and that your establishment will take care of their needs. Many people with severe allergies will carry a “Chef Card,” which clearly states their allergies. The card is meant to be given to the chef and posted in the kitchen while the meal is being prepared. A nice gesture by a dining establishment is to keep some cards on hand for people who forget and also to keep kitchen staff in the habit of looking at them. It is important to have a procedure in place for these instances and make sure your front house staff is well-versed on ingredients in every dish so they can promptly answer customer questions.
Training and Certification
The Gluten Free Registry is a database of over 25,000 gluten-free friendly restaurants and other foodservice establishments. In order to be included in the registry, establishments must “indicate gluten-free selections on their menu, or provide a separate gluten-free menu, or offer gluten-free replacement products. Caterers must have previous experience preparing gluten-free food.” Some restaurants currently on the registry include The Melting Pot, Islands and Outback Steakhouse.
The Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program, part of The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America, has three different program levels in which businesses can qualify for participation. All levels include training materials and a review of the restaurant’s menu.
GREAT Kitchens, a program of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), has a 90-minute training course that teaches safety protocols, customer relations, and cross-contamination avoidance. The NFCA also has gluten-free certification for manufacturers to ensure that customers are getting gluten-free meals from the very start.
Technology and Food Services
Technological advances in the foodservice industry are becoming more commonplace than ever before. The iPad and other tablets have made portable, lightweight computers the trendy new tech gadget must-have. This has translated to foodservice usage in a significant way: menus. As an integral part of the dining experience, they can showcase a restaurant’s theme, wet a customer’s appetite and be conversation starters. Many foodservice establishments have started using tablets as menus for different reasons and benefits.
Many restaurants in diverse cultural cities or tourist hot spots face the challenge of serving guests who speak and read an array of different languages. With tablet menus, multiple translations can be built-in. Presenting a menu in a guest’s native language avoids awkward moments and assures a sense of comfort and confidence that the right meal is ordered.
Say It with Pictures
They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And we’ve seen the persuading visual power of meals as they are carried through a dining room—an allure and captivation that words on a menu could never match. High quality pictures of your menu items can make a big difference. With tablet menus, diners can preview their meal and may even be enticed to try something new based on a photo. With the popularity of the farm-to-table trend, many establishments are using tablets to tell a more in-depth story of where their ingredients come from, complete with pictures of the original farms and the farmers.
Dinner and an App
While some restaurants only use the tablets for menus, others use them as built-in entertainment and allow customers to keep them at the table while waiting for their meals to arrive. Businesses can load popular games and special apps that fit with the theme of the restaurant, while still being careful to pick ones they deem appropriate for all guests.
The overall benefit to tablet menus is efficiency. With the customer pressing a button to select each item, an order can be synced directly to the POS system, preventing tableside ordering mistakes. This new concept frees up staff to service more tables. It also allows customers to make special requests and ask for substitutions or changes to a dish directly with the kitchen, by-passing any awkward appeals to a server. Another benefit is the up-to-the-minute updating of daily specials or items that have sold out.
While there are plenty of benefits, technology still comes with critical evaluations and decisions to consider before purchase. Tablets are expensive and a sizeable investment. A business should crunch the numbers to determine both short and long term return on that investment before buying. Planning is also essential. Efficiency may be impacted depending your plan- whether to have one tablet per table, one per guest, or one per server.
Another important point is that devices get dirty. They need to be cleaned after every use to keep them sanitary and functioning. The last consideration is possibly the most important: does a tablet menu fit with the theme, décor and atmosphere of the restaurant? If new technology has the potential to clash or seem out of place, keep the integrity of your establishment at the forefront of your decision.