How to Handle Gluten-Free Diners


With more and more people saying goodbye to gluten, it’s becoming much more difficult for restaurant owners to create menus that appeal to this ever increasing crowd. When you add in other types of dietary requirements, it can seem almost impossible to create a menu that will please the masses.

What’s a savvy restaurant owner to do in such a case? If you serve nothing but pasta and bread, you are sure to lose customers that can’t eat them.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get diners in your restaurant despite allergies and food intolerances. Read on to learn how to deal with gluten-free diners.

Educate Yourself

The first step in welcoming diners with specialty diets into your restaurant is to understand what it is they can and can’t eat, and learn which foods are unacceptable. While you probably can’t do this with every single kind of diet, the gluten-free trend is not going anywhere but up. You can try to avoid the issue, but you may lose customers in the process.

When trying to create a new menu, or adapt an old one, it can be helpful to know that there is gluten in products besides the obvious. Soy sauce and other condiments, as well as many packaged and processed foods all contain gluten. Many will have indicators, such as “may contain wheat,” but not all of them do. And if you think gluten is synonymous with wheat, think again; gluten is a protein found in many other grains besides wheat.

Create a Gluten-free Menu

If you live in a large city with a lot of traffic, you’re most definitely going to attract a good percentage of people that are avoiding gluten. While you don’t have to overhaul your menu to fit these needs, you can create a special menu to point customers to.

Before you complain that you don’t want to go to the trouble, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be large, and it doesn’t even have to be all new; you can simply take some of your current menu items that happen to be gluten-free and move them to the new sub menu. Even if it has just a few items, most gluten-free diners will be happy that you’ve taken such an effort, since many restaurants leave gluten-free customers to fend for themselves.

Be Adaptable

You don’t have to create a special menu to please diners, but it does help if you can adapt your menu to give diners an option. Being able and willing to sub rice for pasta as a side dish or even just leaving croutons off a salad at least gives diners an option. If your server can suggest these options when taking orders, that’s even better.

Have Some Easy Swaps On Hand

Some menu items are easy to make gluten-free while still keeping the dish fairly the same. Being able to switch corn tortillas for flour, or even having gluten-free pasta available in your kitchen is an easy switch that doesn’t require much effort on your part, but it can go a long way in showing your customers that you are sympathetic to their needs. There are many very good gluten-free products on the market today, including breads, desserts, and even beer.

Create a Gluten-free Specialty

Show your customers that you don’t wear that executive chef coat for nothing! Instead of giving diners boring options with little creative thought, come up with at least one or two gluten-free dishes that you’ve tested to perfection.

If you like to experiment in the kitchen, why not try to make a dish that is not typically gluten-free? Desserts, pasta, and bread are all foods that many dieters miss, and it’s difficult to find a comparable substitute. Amazing gluten-free bread is something that people will talk about when they leave, even if they aren’t gluten-free.

Be Honest About What’s In Your Kitchen

If you know anything about gluten, you know that even a tiny speck can cause a reaction in those with Celiacs or other severe allergies to gluten. For this reason, you don’t want to claim something is 100 percent gluten-free, unless it is. And unless you don’t have any gluten in your kitchen at all, it’s probably not, especially if you use wheat flour at all.

Luckily, those with Celiacs are few and far between when it comes to those that swear off gluten, which means that a tiny crumb of bread isn’t going to send someone to the emergency room. Unfortunately, you don’t know how severe a person’s reaction will be unless they tell you, so it’s best to be honest and state that while you do offer gluten-free items, you can’t guarantee that gluten won’t come into contact with their meal. It’s the same reason you see the “made in a facility with peanuts” label on products that don’t contain peanuts.

Be Respectful of Diners

Whether you believe that going gluten-free is necessary or beneficial is completely irrelevant if you want to have a steady stream of customers. More and more people are giving up gluten every day, and they’re looking for a place that will make it easy on them. You don’t have to offer anything at all that caters to this growing segment of the population, but you should keep your personal feelings on the matter to yourself, and instruct your staff to do the same. Not offering gluten-free options is one thing, but acting annoyed because people continue to ask will turn diners off quickly, even those that eat a hefty amount of gluten.

Remember That You Can’t Please Everyone

With people adapting all types of diets, you certainly can’t cater to everyone without having an ever-expanding menu or losing focus on what type of restaurant you are. If you have a bakery that specializes in authentic French bread, or an Italian restaurant with nothing but fresh pasta on the menu, trying to come up with a gluten-free option may be fruitless. Those that are serious about giving up gluten will probably simply avoid your restaurant in the first place.

It does help to remember, however, that in many cases, creating a gluten-free meal is not as difficult of a challenge as you may think. It may require a little bit of creativity, and the willingness to make substitutions even if you think it will hurt the dish in some way. Remember that many foods you rely on for a good part of your meal — meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and rice — are gluten free anyway. It’s more cost effective to create mouthwatering meals out of those than to add expensive substitute products that won’t appeal to everyone.


Gluten-free eating is not going anywhere anytime soon, and as a restaurant owner, it pays to learn as much as you can about a gluten-free diet. Creating a gluten-free menu is not that difficult, and with the increasing number of products on the market, it should only get easier as time goes on. The important thing to remember is that whether you agree with your diners’ dietary choices, respecting them is of utmost importance, and it is what will turn someone from a one-time customer into a regular.

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