Unique Diets: Accommodating guests and the big 8 food allergens in restaurants

Public Health, Restaurant Operations, Menu,
By Colin Kopel, Operations Consultant, Goliath Consulting Group

“Excuse me, do you have any gluten free options?”  “Is this salad dressing vegan friendly?”  There once was a time where servers and chefs would snicker in private kitchen corners when they heard questions like these.  That was then.  Now there are an estimated 7.3 million adults following some form of vegetarian diet and 3.1 million Americans adhering to a gluten-free diet.  This is the time for restaurants to embrace specific and alternative diets to shine above the competition.

As more and more Americans are turning to gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan, ketogenic, and low carb diets, restaurants are often asking themselves how to respond.  Should a chef stick to his or her time tested classic menu and let guests worry about their own dietary restrictions, or should they use a little knowledge and creativity to stand above the competition and welcome these specific eaters with open arms.  Successful restaurants around the country are realizing that these dieters are not one offs but are often part of larger communities and pass recommendations on to their like-minded eaters.
A chef’s ambassadors to his guests are the service team.  Servers handle the influx of questions from guests, make recommendations, and communicate the orders to the kitchen with any dietary modifications needed.  What servers may not know is: How many menu items already classify as vegan or gluten-free?  What do low carb and keto diets look like?  Most restaurants already have menu items that fit certain dietary restrictions and it is up to the service team to guide guests to those items.  Sometimes the willingness to replace a side dish or a sauce will not only conform a dish to certain diet but make a lasting impression on a guest who has accepted dining out on their diet is a struggle.  An educated, confident server will set a guest with a restrictive menu at ease and deliver an experience worth sharing.

Over the last decade lower calorie options found their way on menus across the country.  They are usually indicated by an icon off to the side or located in an entirely separate section of the menu titled “lighter fare” or “on the healthier side.”  It is time to take this same approach with gluten-free and vegetarian items.  Make it easier for your guests to locate the items they can eat, and they will thank you for it with repeat business and positive feedback in their communities.  Consider making your daily special gluten-free and you are sure to get an Instagram tag here and there.  Diners with dietary restrictions are accustomed to struggling when making menu selections…take the work away from them and they will not forget the experience.

It is important to remember in hospitality we are here for our guests.  Guests’ dietary restrictions, whether based on allergies or nutritional preferences, need to be embraced.  This is a sector of guests who are used to choosing alternative restaurants or resigning themselves to cook at home to avoid mis-stepping their diet.  View their needs as you would any other guest and the lasting impression will keep your tables full and the reservations coming. 

About Goliath Consulting Group
Goliath Consulting Group is here to help you reformat your menu to highlight dishes that cater to alternative diets.  Contact GetResults@Goliathconsulting.com today for expert advice on menu updates and service training.  Website: goliathconsulting.com