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.