Customizing Takeout Menus for Gluten-Free Diners
Written by Chef Colin Burslem, Culinary Director of Joseph Richard Group
Did you know that anywhere between 2.2-5 Million Canadians (celiac.ca) are at risk of celiac disease or have gluten disorders? If you work in the hospitality industry, this probably comes as no surprise! Gluten-free solutions are amongst the most requested substituted dishes in the industry. Customers are always looking for menu items that are safe to eat, without sacrificing any of the flavour or experience that comes with ordering from a restaurant.
As a chef, I have firsthand experience with the added cost substitutes can bring to an operation. Finding ways to easily add gluten alternatives to a menu can make for a more seamless service, especially for those with food-sensitivities. Dine-in options can often be adjusted after a conversation with a server, but take-out options can be more difficult. For that reason, I’ve put together some key suggestions on how to better customize your take-out menus to better serve gluten-free customers:
Create a staple gluten-free dish
When putting together the concepts for a take-out menu, having one entirely gluten-free dish is a great way to provide value. By having this set dish, you allow room for consistency and creativity, while providing a guarantee that the dish is representative of the food served since allowing for substitutions can sometimes compromise the integrity of a dish.
Create offerings that appeal to both gluten-free and gluten-friendly diners
Having menu items that are for both types of diners can increase efficiency in the kitchen. Alternative solutions, such as rice-based flour for breading chicken, for example, provides a nice crunch and is delicious. This substitute is not easily identified by a guest and appeals to most diners.
Make the menu substitutes easy
The most common substitutes for gluten-free items are typically rice or corn-based alternatives. Breads that use a blend of ingredients provide less of a difference in texture of the final product. Some of my favourite substitutes are items from Nextjen Gluten Free and WTFlour products. All are high-quality female led companies and local to Vancouver.
Don't break the bank
When it comes to budgeting, gluten-free solutions don’t have to break the bank! Simple is best. Don’t overcomplicate the item you are trying to create with gluten-free ingredients. Let the ingredients speak for themselves and don’t be afraid to try new techniques, flavour combinations, and textures.
Create a reliable process for keeping gluten-free products uncontaminated
Guests’ gluten-free dietary preferences are often due to medical reasons. For this reason, tools such as gloves, tongs, ladles, and packaging should be kept separate from items that contain gluten to avoid cross-contamination. Always allow for clear communication with guests from the onset of their visit and verbalize how important allergies and preferences are to the restaurant team, ensuring consistent results, every time!
Clear messaging is crucial
Clear messaging is a crucial part of establishing gluten-free menu items. Always provide an indicator to signal gluten-free items and ensure clarity in the product description. Making a note of the restaurant’s dedication to safe dining is also a great way to communicate your efforts to the customer.
Have fun with alternative dining options
Don’t be afraid to introduce new dishes, try new ingredients and find ways to bring excitement to alternatives. Guests don’t want to see the same gluten-free dishes at every establishment. They deserve the same unique dining experience at every restaurant they visit.
Gluten-free holiday foods can be tricky
Get creative with how you prepare items and keep it interesting by looking for different alternatives from what you would normally use. Rice flour can be used to thicken gravy or try cornbread for stuffing. Just because a dish is gluten-free, doesn’t mean it needs to lack the texture and flavours of its gluten counterpart.
Gluten-free products and solutions are an excellent way to introduce added value to your current menu. Making a safe and accessible space to order gluten-free products can build a strong community and improve customer loyalty. While it may take time to find the right dishes and solutions for your menu, it is worth spending the time to find ones unique to you and your offerings!