Mad Jacks GF Menu

Some restaurants, like Mad Jacks in Vadnais Heights, MN have a gluten free menu

It is fun to see restaurants gain information and excitement about catering to the gluten-free market, but there is still a huge number of restaurants that don’t have the education to do gluten free cooking right — or even do it at all.

I say now is the time to get on the gluten-free train because according to some new information — the public wants it!

Seeking out Gluten Free Friendly Restaurants

New statistics in the United Kingdom shows in the last month, there has been an “85% surge in people searching for gluten-free restaurants”.  This information is from iknow-uk the UK’s leading accommodation and tourism directory, says the press release.

The news release continues to say,

“Research carried out in 2010 …showed that 44% of people living coeliac disease have given up on eating out after struggling to find anywhere which would cater for their needs and were too afraid of taking the risk.”

Managing director of iknow-uk, Marcus Simmons, wonders if this may be changing given the recent gluten free inquiry surge. “It’s obvious there’s a real need for more restaurants to consider catering for people with allergies and intolerances.”

Gluten Free Interest in US Restaurants

That’s the UK, what about here?  In general, the US is behind in catering to gluten-free needs — be it groceries or at restaurants. We are catching up however:  gluten-free and allergy conscious foods broke the top 10 list of Top Food Trends in 2011. This list was put together by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) which surveyed 1,500 US chefs.  This talks about demand, but are restaurants meeting the demand?

Karen Broussard with GlutenFreeTravelSite.com, a site that allows people to submit reviews on restaurants, cruise ships, and more– says restaurants are getting closer…

“There are now over 100 national or regional chain restaurants that offer gluten-free menus and most towns across the country have at least a few independently-owned restaurants that are equipped to prepare a safe, gluten-free meal.” -Karen Broussard, GlutenFreeTravelSite.com

There’s some proof behind the scenes as well.  Last year’s NRA conference had a large gluten free presence. Fellow writer Amy Green reported on the gluten vendors who were talking to restaurateurs and chefs.  She said in her post from last year, “to my delight there was a strong showing of gluten-free, sugar-free, organic products. There was even an entire section devoted to gluten-free foods.”

This May when the NRA meets in Chicago again, they have a session on dealing with gluten free and allergy requests. They do mention safety in the description.  That is the utmost importance for chefs, managers and owners to understand.   Broussard recommends restaurants be extremely careful with food preparation and verifying ingredients to ensure they’re gluten-free.  Once you do, the gluten free community will reward you.

“The gluten-free community is very loyal, and not only will they reward these places with their repeat business, but they bring groups of friends or family members along with them.”

Finding a Gluten Free Restaurant

For now, in the US there are no standards that a restaurant must follow when they put together a gluten-free menu or say they are gluten-free friendly.  So some are very careful, while others just feel like it’s the Atkins diet and if there’s cross contamination, that’s no big deal.

The goal of savvy gluten free consumers is to weed out the great ones from the imposters.    That takes time — calling and talking to the chef, getting a tour of the kitchen, chatting with the manager.  Check out my post from last week about the 5 signs that a restaurant might not be as gluten-free as they’d like you to think.  Plus, here are some tips on how to check with a restaurant on their gluten-free options. GlutenFreeTravelSite search tool or other sites like it can also help you get started and narrow down your search for safe restaurants.

Maybe some day we won’t have to go to those lengths to get a safe meal — but for now that’s the way it is.

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