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How to Create a Gluten-Free Restaurant Menu

Gluten-Free Menu

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These days, it may seem like everyone has a different food restriction – especially when you run a restaurant. On an average day, your staff may field a dozen requests for modifications or special preparations because of a customer’s diet or food allergies.

Accommodating food allergies and restrictions is part of the job for restauranteurs. This is particularly true for customers who cannot eat gluten, and who may actually become sick if they accidentally ingest gluten. Fortunately, there are a number of easy ways to create a gluten-free menu for your restaurant that will not only boost sales, but will keep your customers safe.

At Budget Branders, we understand the challenges facing business owners – like trying to adapt your menu to meet your guests’ needs. Our goal is to make other aspects of running a food service business easy, by offering a full range of custom-branded cups, coffee cups, coffee sleeves, paper bags, and bowls at great prices. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help your business thrive.

What Is Gluten, and Why Do So Many People Avoid It?

Gluten is a protein that is found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Its name comes from the Latin word for glue, as gluten helps to give these grains structure and helps to hold foods together. Gluten is also responsible for the texture and chew of bread and other grain-based products.

Gluten is found in all types of products, including:

  • Breads
  • Baked goods
  • Soups
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Beer
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Malt

Because gluten is found in so many different types of foods, it can be difficult to avoid. This is particularly true because gluten is often a “sneaky” ingredient, appearing in ingredients that many people would not expect – like soy sauce, meat substitutes, and even ice cream.

Unfortunately, many people have a sensitivity to gluten. This may range from a gluten sensitivity or intolerance to celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where the body interprets gluten as a threat and attacks the proteins. Depending on a person’s specific diagnosis, eating gluten can lead to a host of symptoms, including stomach pain, bloating, changes in bowel movements, tiredness and eczema or a rash. 

Why Should My Restaurant Go Gluten-Free?

Approximately 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease, while up to 13% of the population has non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Even without an official diagnosis, however, many Americans avoid gluten for other health reasons. According to some research, approximately 33% of Americans avoid gluten.

For restaurants, this represents a huge opportunity. There is demand for gluten-free offerings across the country, and many customers are willing to pay a premium to be able to purchase food that won’t make them sick. There are even certifications available to restaurants who meet gluten-free food service standards.

Having a gluten-free menu is a great marketing tool and a way to set yourself apart from other restaurants. It also provides an incredible service to the community. Many people with food allergies have trouble going out to eat or ordering take-out because so few restaurants cater to people with food allergies. By creating a gluten-free menu for your restaurant, you will create a safe haven for people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and other sensitivities to gluten – and for those who want to avoid gluten for other reasons.

How Can I Create a Gluten-Free Menu for My Restaurant?

Creating a gluten-free menu doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, there are many foods that are naturally gluten-free or that can be made gluten-free with a few simple changes. The key to building a GF menu is to ensure that any menu item on it is truly gluten-free and free from cross-contamination.

There are a few ways that you can do this. You may choose to keep your restaurant entirely gluten-free, have a separate gluten-free menu, or mark items with the GF icon. Whatever you choose, the following two steps are critical to ensure the health and safety of guests who will rely on your GF designation.

Develop a Sanitation Process

If you will have any gluten on your menu, then it is absolutely vital that you create a sanitation process that eliminates any possibility of cross-contamination. Remember: a person with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can get sick or even be hospitalized if you aren’t very careful to sanitize all surfaces and equipment between prepping foods with and without gluten. Alternatively, if you have the space and budget, you could create a separate area for gluten-free food preparation.

Remember: having a gluten-free menu can attract customers and boost your sales. Failing to properly sanitize equipment and surfaces can have the opposite effect. If customers get sick from your food, they will talk about it – which can affect your bottom line. Being extra careful with food prep for gluten-free items isn’t just considerate – it is a necessity.

Educate Your Staff

The other key to having a gluten-free menu is to properly educate your staff. Your employees must know what is and is not gluten-free at your restaurant. They should also be well-versed in your menu and sanitization process so that they can answer all guest questions about safe dining.

At the same time, your kitchen staff must be educated about proper sanitation and food prep procedures, with a full understanding that taking a shortcut could make your customers ill. Given the trendiness of GF diets, restaurants are sometimes accused of not taking patrons’ concerns about gluten seriously – assuming that they’re not really allergic to gluten and that it doesn’t matter if a tiny bit of gluten slips into a dish. Remind your staff that every single gluten-free dish must be prepared with absolutely no gluten and no cross-contamination – with no excuses.

Do a Deep Dive on Ingredients and Preparation Methods

Gluten is often hidden in places that you wouldn’t expect – and cross-contamination is a bigger problem than you may think. When you are developing your gluten-free menu, be sure to take that into consideration.

For example, if you offer fried items, do not label any foods as gluten-free unless you use a dedicated fryer. Residue from wheat-based items can attach to gluten-free foods during the frying process, so even if you are careful to prepare a food without gluten, cross-contamination is still possible.

Similarly, don’t just assume that any given item is gluten-free just because it doesn’t seem to be a wheat product. A key example is oatmeal. While oats themselves do not contain gluten, they often are processed in facilities that also handle wheat. Unless oats are specifically marked as gluten-free, do not use them for your GF menu items. 

Other potential hidden sources of gluten include:

  • Corn flakes and crisp rice cereal
  • Marinades
  • Barbeque sauces
  • Taco seasonings
  • Fermented vinegars
  • Soy sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Soups thickened with roux
  • Salad dressings that contain malt vinegar, soy sauce, or flour
  • Cooking spray
  • Commercially prepared mustard
  • Speciality ketchup
  • Cheese, particularly those with added flavors
  • Broth or stock
  • Yeast spreads like vegemite
  • Sausage
  • Beef jerky
  • Sliced deli meats
  • Meat substitutes
  • Veggie burgers
  • Imitation crab products
  • Seasoned rice
  • Seasoned, crunchy, or battered fries
  • Pickles that contain malt vinegar
  • Cocktail mixers

Your best bet is to never assume that a product is gluten free unless it is specifically labeled as such. Look carefully at the ingredient list, watching for things such as wheat protein, wheat starch, malt, brewer’s yeast, and rye.

Provide Detailed Menu Descriptions

When a person has any type of food allergy or intolerance, eating out can be a minefield. One way that you can ease your customers’ minds is by describing how a menu item is prepared and listing all of its ingredients. If you use a particular brand, such as Udi’s Gluten-Free, you should also disclose that. This gives patrons the ability to decide for themselves if a food item is safe for them to eat.

Be sure to put your menu online. This allows potential customers to peruse it beforehand and make an informed decision about whether they want to eat at your restaurant. It also gives them a good idea of what they will be able to eat.

Menu items should also include clear pricing. Gluten-free items are often more expensive than those prepared traditionally. If there is an upcharge for a GF bun, disclose that fact right on the menu.

Finally, be sure to include ordering instructions for modifications. For example, if you typically use a seasoning mix on your vegetables that contains gluten, tell customers to order without seasoning for gluten-free.

Add a Disclaimer

If your restaurant will include both gluten and gluten-free foods, you should make sure that your customers are aware of it. The disclaimer should inform guests that their gluten-free meal will be prepared in a shared kitchen, the safe handling and sanitation procedures that you use, and that there is a possibility of cross-contamination even when these procedures are followed. This way, customers can decide for themselves whether they want to eat at your restaurant.

Take Your Gluten-Free Restaurant to the Next Level with Budget Branders

It isn’t easy to adapt to trends in the food service industry – but doing so can help to keep your restaurant profitable. This is particularly true for gluten free menu items, which isn’t just a popular diet for most people – it is a medical necessity. Going entirely gluten-free or just adding a gluten-free menu will help to create a safe space for customers and may even help you grow sales.

Budget Branders understands the pressures of running your own business. We pride ourselves on partnering with independently-owned restaurants throughout the country to provide them with the highest quality products at fair prices. All of our products are offered in quantities that make sense for smaller businesses.

Custom-branded products are one aspect of a comprehensive marketing plan for your restaurant. If you want to learn more, fill out a contact form or send us a quote request for one or more of our products. Have questions? Simply press the live chat button to get started.


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