I've been on the gluten-free diet for more than 13 years it has been quite interesting to watch as the scenery changes. There is more awareness about the gluten-free diet, so it would follow that more companies are making gluten-free products. It also follows that more restaurants are offering gluten-free menus/menu options. But here is where it tends to go off the tracks. Too many restaurants are hurrying to offer menu options that will cater to the gluten-free community, but not enough of them are taking the necessary steps to ensure they can provide a safe meal free of gluten/cross contamination.
As I've begun to do more restaurant consulting, I am at times stunned by the lack of knowledge and/or the misinformation about the gluten-free diet. The list below represents my observations of the top 10 words of advice for restaurants when they are developing a gluten-free menu.
- Gluten-Free is Here to Stay: The gluten-free diet is not a fad, it is a medically necessary diet for those of us who have Celiac Disease or who are Gluten Sensitive. There is a whole separate group of people who follow the gluten-free diet to help with other autoimmune disorders, such as Arthritis, Diabetes, MS, Crohn's Disease, etc.
- Gluten is Everywhere: Gluten is not just flour. People on the gluten-free diet are not able to eat wheat, rye, barley and oats and their derivites, which equals out to more than just flour. Gluten can be present in stock/broth, soy sauce, salad dressing, etc.
- Check it Out: Source ALL of your ingredients to determine their gluten-free status. Checking out your broth to make sure it is gluten-free can open up more menu options and will get you in the habit of picking a gluten-free version of that product as you move forward. When it makes sense, switch to a gluten-free version of that ingredient. Rice flour can be used as a thickener for soups, coating for meat in place of wheat flour and it is inexpensive.
- Dedicate a Fryer: You cannot fry gluten-free items in a fryer that is also used for gluten because the product becomes cross contaminated by the particles of gluten that are left behind. Gluten-free products need to be fried in a dedicated fryer, or you cannot add them to your gluten-free menu.
- Clean it Up: You must change your gloves and use clean utensils, surfaces, appliances, pans, etc. when preparing gluten-free products. If you are unable to clean off a safe place on your grill, simply put a clean frying pan on top of the grill, or put a piece of clean tin foil on the grill and then cook the gluten-free item. Gluten-free pasta must be cooked in fresh water with a clean spoon and strainer.
- Get Creative: When creating a gluten-free menu please be sure to add items that will entice the diner to visit your restaurant. A burger without a bun or a salad with grilled meat are all uninteresting items that we have been eating for years and things we can make at home. We want gluten-free bread, pasta, breaded items, pizza, and dessert.
- Create a Menu: Create a 'set' gluten-free menu and make sure it has prices and item descriptions. Creating a set menu instills a level of confidence because it means you make these items specifically for the gluten-free diner, so they have been made before and they are not something you try to modify on the spur of the moment. Most gluten-free menus do not contain prices or item descriptions, so we have to cross reference the regular menu to figure out what we want to order and how much it will cost.
- Hire a Professional: Work with a gluten-free consultant or a take advantage of the professional training programs offered by GIG and the NFCA because it adds credibility to your efforts. A professional will train your ENTIRE staff on the gluten-free diet and write training procedures. Everyone from the hostess through to the kitchen should know what your gluten-free options are and be able to explain them to the diner. This is a vital step to the gluten-free consumer because it gives us a sense of confidence that you want to provide us with a safe meal and you understand the necessary steps involved.
- Let Yourself Be Known: Reach out the local gluten-free community to make sure they know about your gluten-free menu. If we don't know about your menu then we aren't able to support it and you might mistakenly 'assume' there is no market to provide this type of service.
- Do it Right: You only get once chance to make a first impression, so put your best gluten-free food forward and the gluten-free diner will be there. Make sure all new staff members are properly trained, so there are no errors in the kitchen. We are a LOYAL group of patrons who truly appreciate your efforts and will do all we can to spread the word.
Just remember people on the gluten-free diet enjoy eating out just like everyone else and we don't want to feel awkward, unwanted or that we are inconveniencing anyone. Make us feel at home and we will keep coming back.
Article Courtesy: Jennifer Harris