Are You Allergic to Money? The Beauty and Bank of Embracing Dietary Restrictions

June 15, 2015 - 4 minutes read

The Beauty and Bank of Embracing Dietary Restrictions in the Restaurant Industry

The world is constantly evolving and changing, and the way we eat has to be one of the changes that most impacts your business. Every day it seems like a new ingredient or flavor-pairing is ‘discovered’, and it becomes the topic of hot debate and interest. Goji berries, kale and quinoa weren’t always on the menu, but today you’d be surprised to read a menu and not see these crowd-pleasers at least once.

Image result for quinoa

It’s no wonder that as our palettes evolve and new foods are introduced into our digestive systems, some of your guests can’t stomach certain ingredients because of medical conditions and dietary restrictions.

So what do you do? Say ‘I’m sorry’ to these customers and ‘goodbye’ to their money? We don’t think this is the right response…and we’re not alone.

On February 9, 2015 Bon Appétit published a column by Brooks Headley, a genius dessert chef at one of New York’s four-star restaurants, Del Posto’s.  In the article, Headley painted a picture of his restaurant and the daily need for substitutes, such as gluten-free items or low-caloric items for dietary reasons.  In the hustle and bustle of a restaurant it is common for these needs to be seen as an irritation and even an inconvenience. Unlike the restaurants that choose not to serve people with dietary restrictions, Headley “discovered that embracing them is the only way to do business.”  Headley also says that his boss, Mark Ladner, has even gone so far as to create a 100 percent gluten-free option for every single pasta that they offer.

These experiences and guest needs are present in every dining establishment, from food truck to four-star restaurants. A survey conducted by Statista found that “food allergies and food intolerances are a growing public health concern causing higher consumer demand of products that are tailored to meet special dietary requirements. Especially the market for gluten-free and free-from foods is rocketing…By 2020, the market is projected to be valued at 23.9 billion U.S. dollars.”

Statista also found that the global gluten-free food market size is currently $3.42 billion with the U.S. market of gluten-free food currently taking $1.77 billion of that. These statistics prove that not only is there a need and want for more tailored menus towards dietary restrictions, but also that it is essential for restaurants and chefs to be conscious of these when creating menu items.

When restaurants put up signs like “No substitutions,” they are screaming to guests that they will only choose to do what is convenient for them. So forget about the money you poured into making your restaurant the perfect atmosphere of Florence, or the native Italian chef you are paying entirely too much for. If you are unable to prepare something from your menu for your guest with lactose intolerance and Celiac Disease, then you just lost your share in the $1.77 billion market that is up for grabs in the U.S.

One thing to note is that if your restaurant is incapable of SAFELY serving diners with dietary restrictions, then DO NOT SERVE THEM. If your restaurant explicitly says it can prepare a menu item gluten-free, but what you serve is not 100% gluten-free, prepare for a lawsuit, in addition to some extremely angry and sick guests. Your reputation will be ruined, your sales will drop, and you could go out of business.

Later this month, we will tell you how to accommodate your guests with dietary restrictions, now that you know you how much is at stake if you don’t evolve.

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