Although we coeliacs may be just 1 in 100, when we eat out we bring along friends, partners and children. Plus rates of diagnosis are on the rise for gluten intolerance, IBS and related conditions which are helped by a gluten-free or low-FODMAP diet. The gluten free market is a big one and many restaurants and cafes seem eager to get a finger in the gluten-free pie.
Yet so many places seem to think that by offering a sad little gluten-free cake in among their many others, they will receive a huge wave of coeliacs banging on the door.
Trust me when I say that if you do gluten-free well, we will come. Emphasis on the well. But I have seen so many places make bad decisions and then wonder why they aren’t seeing any results from all their effort. I’m sure they put in a lot of effort. But they clearly aren’t talking to the right people.
That is, me.
1. We don’t know you’re there
I have a friend who bakes cakes for a tea shop really close to me. Occasionally I ask him whether they are planning on baking any gluten-free cakes. Last time, his response was “well, we did, but they didn’t sell”. I walk past this place all the time, I know someone who works there and yet I had no idea they were doing gluten-free cakes! Plus, as a gluten-free blogger, it’s my job to know these things! What chance does everyone else have to find this out if I don’t even know about it?
As a coeliac, I generally assume that bakeries, tea shops etc are off limits. However, I will go out of my way to go into somewhere I don’t know if it has any of the following outside:
- A sign saying “gluten-free options available”
- A crossed grain symbol/Gluugle sticker/any sort of symbolic representation of the gluten-free diet
- Anything that implies they cater for special diets or allergies
When I say “go out of my way”, I will literally stop on my way to somewhere and have a peek inside to see what they have. Isn’t this what you want as a business?
If you don’t get a lot of people wandering by, the same applies to your website. Stick “we do GLUTEN-FREE” on the main page of your website with a link to the gluten-free options you do, AND a little about the measures you take to control for cross contamination.
Us gluten-free bloggers love food, so drop us an e-mail and invite us to come and try out your new cake/whatever. Coeliacs especially do a lot of research online, so having a presence on blogs or review websites could make or break your gluten-free endeavour.
2. You can’t assure us that it’s safe
Not knowing or being vague about issues such as cross-contamination is a BIG turn off for coeliacs and those who are very sensitive to gluten. Not only that, “gluten-free” is a protected term in packaged products, meaning that products which claim to be gluten-free must have been tested to below 20 parts per million (ppm).
I was once at a cafe which sold two types of gluten-free cake among their other offerings. There was no covering or anything separating the gluten-free cakes from the gluten-containing cakes. The waitress then used cakey, gluteny tongs to pick up my gluten-free cake, which I ended up nibbling sadly from the middle, all the while feeling resentful and vowing never to eat there again. Great customer service, Peyton and Byrne.
We hold grudges and have long memories, and so does the internet.
It is important that when you say gluten-free, you mean gluten-free. If you can’t guarantee that, DON’T BOTHER.
3. You think spelt/other gluten-containing “ancient grains” will draw us in
I don’t know who is eating spelt, other than people who who’ve got a lot of money to spend on bread. It’s become a massive trend here in the Netherlands, but as Alex G has pointed out, spelt is a wheat. It’s not gluten-free. You’d be amazed how any shop owners think it is.
The same goes for farro, kamut, einkorn, and freekeh.
4. You make it a hassle to eat there
Maybe you offer gluten-free options but don’t indicate them on the menu, request 3 days notice before we come to eat there, or have such badly trained staff that we need to speak to 2 waiters, the chef and the manager before we are sure our needs can be accommodated.
Eating gluten-free is not the arid desert it used to be. More and more restaurants, cafes and chains are realising that we represent a big market and are providing separate gluten-free menus, training their staff well, and generally making an incurable autoimmune disease slightly less unpleasant than it could be.
Which means of course that if you don’t do these things, we’ll go somewhere that does.
5. What you’re offering isn’t actually that special.
In London the gluten-free market is flooded. A friendly tip: everyone’s doing gluten-free brownies nowadays. You’ll need more than that to stand out from the crowd.
Things I would/do go crazy for if they were offered to me in gluten-free form (in no particular order):
- Any sort of pastry item not from frozen
- Anything deep-fried (separate fryer, of course)
- Soft pretzels
- Paninis (separate panini press, of course)
- Ice cream cones
- Asian dumplings
- Jewish dumplings
All of these things are possible to make gluten-free with a bit of effort and experimentation.
* OK, ok, croissants are tricky, I’ll give you that.