How Restaurant Operators Can Cater to More Customers With Gluten Free Menu Options
However, 1% of the US population—about 3 million people—are estimated to have Celiac disease, an intolerance for gluten in any form.1 For this reason, restaurant operators must consciously decide to offer gluten free items for consumers who are eliminating their gluten intake.
“Gluten free continues to grow. Just 10 years ago, only 1% of menus called out gluten; today, it’s 20%,” says Alison Henley, senior analyst at Datassential, “Out of the thousands of different trends Datassential tracks, gluten free is among the fastest we’ve ever seen.”
Gluten free has grown by 1,981% on restaurant menus over the past decade.1 This makes gluten free one of the fastest growing menu descriptors of all time, ahead of all-natural, organic, and local sourcing.
Today, one in five restaurants identify gluten free items on the menu. Furthermore, 26% of American customers are willing to pay more for gluten free foods.2 This means, gluten free menu items are not only a great way to create an accepting environment for patrons with allergy concerns, they are also a way to increase profits and attract a wider audience.
How To: Gluten Free Restaurants
The first step to menuing gluten free cuisine is training restaurant staff to properly handle allergen-friendly products. From the moment food enters the building to the time it is served, chefs, managers, and servers must be trained on how to properly manage gluten free products in order to maintain their integrity and protect the restaurant’s reputation. The proper precautions must be taken in order to prevent cross-contamination.
“With all the different allergies today it is hard to keep specialty ingredients organized and separate from standard pantry items,” says Doug McGohan, corporate chef and manager, Culinary Team Nestlé Professional North America. “Not only is storage space an issue but separate prep and cooking areas are sometimes required as well. In addition, the entire kitchen staff has to be trained and aware as not to cross-contaminate allergy-free ingredients and recipes with standard items.
Cross-contamination occurs when ingredients are exposed to ingredients which contain gluten. To prevent cross-contamination, restaurant operations must maintain proper organization and storage methods for gluten free ingredients. Color coding and labeling the separate cooking stations and tools helps staff stay organized in order to maintain gluten free integrity.
Once a kitchen is properly organized to prevent cross-contamination, the restaurant staff must be trained to properly communicate with one another about allergens. Front of house staff and back of house staff must be able to efficiently and effectively communicate food allergy orders to ensure the utmost safety for customers.
Front of house staff and managers must be educated on food allergens and be able to communicate with and answer to patrons with gluten sensitivities. Although research shows that only 11%2 of consumers eat gluten free foods as a suggestion from a medical professional, each and every gluten free order must be treated as a food allergy situation to maintain professionalism and integrity amongst the entire staff.
Menuing Gluten Free Items in Restaurants
The next step in menuing allergen-friendly cuisine is to determine which gluten free items to menu. Restaurant operators must decide whether to make gluten free items in-house or to order gluten free items from a manufacturer.
Today, 37% of operators make gluten free items in-house.3 Although there are many reasons the majority of operators don’t make gluten free items in-house, 42% of operators say they choose to not make their own gluten free products due to the lack of demand from restaurant customers. Additionally, 35% of operators say it’s the lack of space to prevent cross-contamination that causes them to order gluten free products from an outside source.
Sixty-three percent of restaurant operators purchase the majority of their gluten free items from outside vendors. Not only are manufactured products more convenient for operators due to cutting down on prep times and limiting the amount of ingredients needed for each dish, ingredients purchased from outside vendors carry less risk of cross-contamination than housemade ingredients.
“The process of adding additional stock items, keeping separate storage areas, and having trained staff is an added workload that most of the time isn’t feasible in busy operations,” says Chef McGohan. “The most convenient way to satisfy all the special dietary needs is to have finished food products that can be incorporated into the menu that do not require any additional space or labor.”
Manufacturers, like Nestlé Professional, must put each batch of their gluten free certified products to the test before products become available for distribution. This adds an additional degree of safety and reassurance to restaurant operators looking to menu gluten free products.
Fresh To Order, a fast-casual restaurant with a focus on fine, fresh cuisine, uses Nestlé Professional products to support their gluten free menu.
“Our menu, specializing in great salads and fresh-cooked proteins, is built with customization and allergy requests in mind,” says Jesse Gideon, chief operating officer and corporate chef for Fresh To Order. “We recently added a gluten free, dairy free soup and plan to expand other areas of our menu to give more variety to our customers with allergies.”
Stouffer’s® Gluten Free products can easily be combined with Minor’s® Gluten Free Concentrates and Bases to create satisfying, allergy-friendly snacks, sides, and entrées in all types of restaurants.
“At Fresh To Order, we use tons of Minor’s soup bases and sauces,” says Gideon. “We use Nestlé Professional products to add flavor to our soups, sauces, marinades, burgers, sides, and dressings.”
The versatility of gluten free products from Nestlé Professional allow operators to make a wide variety of nutritionally sound dishes for all types of diets.
“Our gluten free products are designed to fill your menu with offerings that satisfy gluten-sensitive customers,” says Chef McGohan. “These products are an easy, go-to choice that you can offer that doesn’t require additional labor or special ingredients to execute recipes. Chefs can easily create delicious gluten free recipes such as: Stuffed Potato Skins, Chicken, Asparagus and Sun-dried Tomato Pizza, and Shrimp and Kale Penne Alfredo.”
The restaurant landscape is rapidly changing, along with this change comes increased consumer concerns over better-for-you menu items and allergen-friendly dishes.
“As this group of gluten-sensitive customers continues to grow, chefs and operators need to be more aware of their needs,” says Chef McGohan. “This means we need to take the steps to learn in detail what we can do to prevent anyone from being exposed to allergens in our recipes. Also as the list of allergens grows, we need to be more flexible in our menu development to make sure that everyone is taken care of and included. If chefs want to keep their customer base as large as possible, we need to keep up with the health and wellness factors that are happening today and in the future.”
1. Datassential MenuTrends, 2016. | 2. The Gluten Question: A Passing Fad or Reason to Update Your Menu, Restaurant Hospitality, 2015. | 3. Gluten-Free Trend Grows, FoodService Director, 2015.
All chefs quoted in this article are Nestlé Professional customers or employees. They did not receive any compensation for contributing to this article.