Why gluten-free options should be on your menu

By Dawn Castell

Do you offer gluten-free options on your menu? With consumer dietary needs ever-increasing, it’s important that your menu reflects your customers’ needs. Gluten intolerances are one thing you may want to consider when creating and engineering your menu.

What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). When gluten is consumed, its proteins are broken down in the digestive tract and are referred to as “peptides.” Some people have a sensitivity or even an allergy to the peptides in gluten, which can cause a variety of symptoms, including abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, skin rashes, joint aches, headaches, mood disorders, and fatigue. According to experts, approximately one in 133 people in the United States has celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, that damages the small intestine and stops nutrients from being absorbed. In addition, 20 million people are estimated to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

This could represent a large part of your dining population, so including gluten-free options on your menu could be a way to stand out and attract those customers to your restaurant.

In a recent survey, 78 per cent of people with food allergies or dietary restrictions say they choose a restaurant based on its gluten-free offerings, so here’s a chance to attract a whole new clientele.

Offering gluten-free options can make your restaurant more appealing to a wider range of customers, including individuals who may have otherwise been hesitant to dine out or would have visited somewhere else.

Start by training your team

Before making additions to your menu, it’s important to ensure that your team is trained in the proper handling and serving of gluten-free items. This is vital because a lack of proper handling can lead to cross-contamination, which can make gluten-free guests sick, even if they aren’t consuming gluten themselves.

Ensure that a designated space in the kitchen is “clean” of gluten-containing substances, such as flour and crumbs. This will help prevent cross-contamination between gluten-free and gluten-containing foods. It is also important to label gluten-free foods to keep them separate and ensure that staff are aware that these foods cannot be contaminated by gluten.

Tips for adding delicious gluten-free options

Once you’ve implemented some strategies for offering gluten-free menu items, it’s time to turn your attention to making those options appetizing. After all, what good is it if gluten-free menu items are carefully prepared and handled, but people don’t want to order them?

For gluten-free options to boost your bottom line, they need to appeal to your customers. Before adding items, consider asking your customers what they’d like to see added to your menu.

You might try making some things from scratch and having a couple of pre-bought gluten-free items for some of your basic staples. Additionally, while many restaurants are quick to roll out pasta or pizza, fewer offer delicious gluten-free desserts, such as cakes and cookies.

This is an opportunity for your restaurant to stand out in recognizing that many people with dietary restrictions would love to add desserts to their order, along with helping to raise your cheque totals.

RELATED: How baked goods can sweeten your cheque totals

How to advertise your gluten-free offerings

Once you’ve added some gluten-free options to your menu and trained your staff accordingly, it’s time to get attention for your menu to help spread awareness about dietary restrictions – while helping to increase your sales.

Make your gluten-free menu items easy for customers to find. You could place them near the top of your menu, use signage to indicate which menu items are gluten-free or use symbols to draw attention to those items.  

And don’t forget social media is a marketing tool! Not only can you use social media to advertise your gluten-free offerings, but you can also use it to interact with customers and answer any questions or concerns they may have. Encourage guests to share their gluten-free orders on their own pages and tag your restaurant, so you can reach an even bigger audience.

Gluten intolerance and allergies are on the rise, so it’s important for restaurants to address that part of their market with gluten-free options to attract new customers, stand out from the competition, and add a new revenue stream for your restaurant.

Dawn is a budding entrepreneur. After graduating with her MBA, she spent a few years working in the CPG industry and a few more working in the business tech industry before she set off to start her own business. She has been consulting with businesses, large and small, on the side ever since.