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.
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.
“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.
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!