As I have stated here before I have a Love-Hate relationship with  gluten-free menus at restaurants.  I love the idea that they’re trying, but hate the fact that a good portion of restaurants appear to be phoning it in.  I am sorry if I have offended anyone, but as the gluten-free menu trend heats up, the success rate for me seeing a safe gluten-free menu at a restaurant seems to decline.

But despite my frustrations with many gluten-free menus– the gluten-free trend is continuing — strongly into 2011, so says the new National Restaurant Association Survey.  And  it even cracked the top 10!

“The top 10 menu trends for 2011 will be locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, sustainability as a culinary theme, nutritious kids’ dishes, hyper-local items, children’s nutrition as a culinary theme, sustainable seafood, gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items, back-to-basics cuisine and farm-branded ingredients.”

I am very proud of our little gluten-free lifestyle that has been quickly climbing the ladder of popularity for 2-3 years now.  But…….

Gluten-Free Restaurant Trend

But I say if you’re going to do the trend, do it right! Anyone ever watch Fashion Police or What Not to Wear?  Doing a fashion trend right is about finding your identity and really knowing what the trend is.  For a LEGIT gluten-free diet I believe the same idea holds true for restaurants.

Identity:

Who are you?  Are you the cookie-cutter restaurant that gets everything pre-made shipped and ready to heat up a la some of the most popular national chain restaurants?  Clearly, if you’re going to do a true gluten-free menu you’re going to have to do more than pare down your current menu to pan fried veggies, a salad with no dressing and a baked potato.  You need  more gluten-free food that doesn’t have to hide behind a “we’re not a gluten-free restaurant so cross contamination could happen” label. Which brings us to point 2.

Understanding the Trend:

As I saw on Fashion Police Friday night, the panel discussed the purse that looks like a book which is very trendy right now.  Natalie Portman brought it to the premiere of her new movie “Black Swan”.  But what message does the trend send if you bring a purse that looks like a book to your OWN MOVIE PREMIERE? It looks like you’ve brought a book to your own movie! It’s not good if you look like you need a back-up plan. I say this was a trend failure for Portman.

Understand the trend!  Gluten-free isn’t just about eliminating the bun.  It’s not!

  • It’s about creating food that contains zero gluten — no gluten from spices, gravy, croutons, sauces, dressings, a grill, a spatula, boiling water, fryer oil, a shared knife, a dirty colander, cutting board and more.
  • It’s about educating your kitchen staff, the wait staff, and managers about what gluten-free really is;  about cross contamination and making gluten-free not just a change on paper but requiring the clean kitchen CULTURE along with the menu change.  Get your team to buy-in on the change.
  • It’s about understanding that the heart of the reason why most people go gluten-free is for medical reasons.  Not for their waistline or because one day we just decided to do it.  We have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance!  Eating gluten means a 24-hour vomiting and/or diarrhea spree, or longer term gluten exposure:  how about infertility, osteoporosis and even cancer!
  • It’s also about calming our fear.  Just try to put yourself in a place where you wonder if the next  bite of food could make you majorly sick?  By doing a thorough education, adjustment in kitchen culture and well-planned menu, you will have the answers when we gluten-free folks start to ask our questions. — And we will ask questions because we’ve been burned too many times.

My fellow gluten-free advocate the Celiac Diva had a huge listing of comments on her Facebook page about a bad dining-out experience.   Here’s a sample:

“Eating out just makes me too nervous unless I know it’s a place that has a proven record of using good things.”

“This is why I never eat out… too many times this has happened to me or my family. Not worth the loss of work and the pain.”

If you’re in the restaurant industry and want to do a gluten-free menu, you should read the comments to get inside our heads a little.  It would certainly help you create a better, and hopefully more accurate gluten-free menu.

(Deep breath)

I just ask that restaurants who are going to accept this gluten-free menu trend accept it unconditionally and do it right.  Some restaurant owners may think a “new gluten free menu” will bring us through your doors, but if it’s done without any of the above understanding, that means we’ll likely stay away.

And for all of you restaurants who are doing it right — you’re awesome!  My favorites are Wildfire and Pizza Luce; they take the gluten-free diet very seriously with separate kitchen prep areas, a robust menu and an extremely educated staff!  Feel free to add your favorite safe restaurant in the comments below!

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5 Responses to “Gluten-Free Menus stay HOT into 2011; But What’s a Trend if it’s Not Done Right?”

  1. I could not agree with your comments more! It kills me that so many chefs create gluten-free menus and then you find out they don’t really know what they are doing. It’s getting a little ridiculous in our area and while I’m glad places are trying, I’d rather them not bother if they don’t do the work to understand the market they are trying to cater to. In many cases, you have people that were sick for many years who find out (many without the help of a doctor) that a diet was all they needed to get well. When they go out to eat, it’s a lot to ask that they trust restaurant workers who have no clue what gluten-free means. When they get sick dining out, they don’t bother to go back which is understandable, but it hurts all of us who loving dining out often. These days, I now say when I go to a new place “I’m not being trendy, I have celiac and if my meal is not prepared correctly with gluten-free ingredients, I’ll get very sick”. Thanks for the great and much needed post!

    My list of fave places is too long to list here, but I agree that Wildfire does a nice job with gluten-free options and service.

  2. Just ordered a Pizza from Luce’s to be delivered for my tree trimming party! We have come a long way in this journey, GF pizza, made safely and delivered until 2 am! That being said, your commentary is insightful and helpful. I am generally very reluctant to eat out and have one too many bites of gluten I did not order. What I hate most is the staff who act like they know exactly what you are talking about and then soup arrives with a chunk of bread. Once that happens, all bets are off and I won’t eat another bite.

  3. Massachusetts is really leading the way on how restaurants deal with food allergies. Ming Tsai has become the official spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. They have come up with an easy to follow set of procedures for handling food allergies in restaurants and not just gluten, but all allergies. I’ve seen the video that Ming did that provides an overview of the process. There is a complete set of tools, as well that makes it easy for restaurants to incorporate the program into their own business. Ming has information on this on his website: http://ming.com/foodallergies/faan.htm

  4. ZPizza in Roseville does a great job. They have separate pans and baking areas for the gf pizza.

  5. great post!!!

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