Allergies, intolerances and dietary choices.
Sorry, not sorry.
I grew up in a family where it was a little difficult to dine out. I have a nut and pulse allergy, while my parents are vegetarians. This might seem pretty ordinary today but during the 90s and early 00s, the restaurant industry viewed you as a bit of a problem. We often arrived at restaurants with a prepared apology and then I would proceed to watch my parents eat yet another mac and cheese while I ate my hundredth dessert of plain, vanilla ice cream (no wafer, it may contain nuts). Dietary requirements weren’t well known or understood back then and most restaurants turned a blind eye to the situation. We were generally offered the most basic solution to what was viewed as “the issue of table 12”. And to be fair it was sort of understandable as not many people had these concerns.
However, it’s 2019 and I’m no longer the minority. Allergies are increasingly common, with AllergyUK reporting that “in the UK, an estimated two million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy (between 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children)”. And allergies are only the tip of the dietary requirement iceberg. Dining out with friends can become a whirlwind of questions like; “what meals are dairy, gluten, meat-free?” In 2018, a survey found that 7% of the British population identify as vegans and 14% as vegetarian, (so around 21% of the population aren’t going near meat) and that’s only expected to rise. As restaurateurs, you can’t turn a blind eye to dietary requirements now as you’re likely to lose business doing this.
The reactive approach, handling dietary requirements when asked, is now a complete necessity. What sets your restaurant apart though is being proactive to those customers.With competition growing, it’s increasingly important to make dining at your venue a wonderful experience from start to finish. Imagine a group of friends are trying to decide where to go out for dinner, each of them will all have their preferences and needs. A coeliac in the group will pick somewhere with clearly visible gluten-free options, no longer just hoping that the kitchen will ‘come up with something’ (many a boring salad was born this way). If your restaurant already offers meat free, gluten free etc. alternatives, make sure everyone knows by putting this clearly on your websites and shouting about it on social media.
However, a little word of advice: each dietary requirement is different, so tread with caution. Many new food alternatives encroach into another need. Say you’ve found a new sausage alternative that’s vegan AND gluten free. RESULT! So many people catered for with one little change. However, gluten free products often use alternatives like gram flour (a no-no for a chickpea allergy sufferer like myself). This is another reason to highlight as many allergens as possible on your menu. Of course, it’s not always realistic to put every allergen on the menu. However, you should have a comprehensive list that can be handed out or given to your staff for training. Or, be proactive by prompting customers to advise of allergies when they book. Many booking providers, including ResDiary, provide the functionality to ask customers to leave comments when making a booking which can be utilised for dietary requirements. Best of all, with ResDiary, these can usually be stored against a customer’s profile, meaning your regulars are always looked after. Avoid harmful situations, for your diners, and potentially gain loyal customers who feel safe eating at your venue.
The world of dietary requirements is a bit of a minefield, and your restaurant may not be able to cater to absolutely every need out there (did you know about Jain vegetarianism, where followers don’t eat animal products or underground vegetables like onion and garlic!?). Where possible, find alternatives to suit different diets that don’t impact the foundation and success of your business. My veggie Dad recently attended a work dinner and his clients picked to dine at The Spanish Butcher in Glasgow’s city centre (because what is more impressive than a juicy steak?). He happily reported that he was served his very own steak too – a cauliflower steak, and a delicious one at that. I have been hoping to try this raved-about restaurant for months, and I’ll be able to at our next family meal, now that we know it caters for vegetarians, too. One simple addition to their menu has widened their audience, so have a think where you can improve on your menu, too.
An area that often gets overlooked is the idea of doing one-off nights, catering to dietary preferences. It might not be feasible to turn your restaurant completely gluten or meat free permanently, or to absolutely avoid cross contamination on regular nights (especially if you have a teeny tiny kitchen) but it’s doable for one night only. The Bungo in Glasgow’s southside regularly hosts specific cuisine nights, the most recent being a South Indian vegan evening. It’s something that you can easily use your booking system to promote. With ResDiary (and plenty of others), you can tag veggie, vegan, gluten free, nut free etc, customers on your diary and pull off segmented marketing lists. Then drop these diners a line, letting them know about the event. Then with our Promotions feature, advertise it on your site, other sites, and ResDiary.com, letting people know exactly what they’re booking in for.
Personally, I get really excited when I see these kind of nights as it’s something really different and I love that venues are catering for our dietary irregular family! If you want to get a “I’ve done something good” feeling by giving people like us a great night out, do think about all the ways you can not only accommodate dietary requirements, but put them at the forefront of your business strategy. Even if you’re not about the warm and fuzzies, it’s a measure that will ensure you stay in business, and will even help you gain more customers.
If you have any questions about using your ResDiary system to help provide for dietary requirements, or you’d like to take a closer look at the system, do get in contact with us.