Gluten-Free Information for the Restaurant Industry

The National Restaurant Association is meeting in Chicago right now and one of the big topics of discussion is gluten-free menus.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, a Philadelphia-based organization that promotes awareness of celiac disease nationwide, is sponsoring a gluten-free pavilion where about 30 gluten-free food makers are showing their products. That means the “tens of thousands” of attendees, all of whom are connected to the restaurant business, will get a chance to see what’s available in gluten-free form. The NFCA says industry representatives can learn about everything from testing and menu investigation to gluten-free flour options.

The NFCA also conducted an educational session on Sunday, “Gluten-Free: Easy as ABCDE.” The session was designed to dispel myths in the restaurant industry that gluten-free is a fad and that it is difficult to offer gluten-free options.

The panel for the session included Anne Roland Lee, MS, RD, director of food and nutritional services for Schar, USA, a gluten-free food maker; Jim McCurley, chef for PF Chang’s China Bistro; Doug Radi, vice president of marketing for Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery, which will begin selling several types of gluten-free bread in July; Tom Herndon, owner and chef of Hipp Kitchen and Full Fridge; and Richard J. Coppedge Jr., a gluten-free baking expert from the Culinary Institute of America.

Gluten-Free Living has an interview with Chef Coppedge in our upcoming issue and Anne Lee writes a recurring column on nutrition for us.

Kelly Courson, well-known for her long-running blog, Celiac Chicks, is attending the show as a online media representative for the NFCA. She is posting photos and updates on Twitter and on her website. NFCA is also using Twitter to post continual updates from the show. Here are some highlights so far.

  • P.F. Chang’s sales are up 130% since the launch of the gluten-free beef menu.
  • The loyalty of the gluten-free consumer is unprecedented, according to
    Radi.
  • It only takes 1/8 teaspoon of flour to damage the intestine of someone with
    celiac disease, Lee said.
  • Evidence builds trust and celiac trust build your business, Herndon
    said.

Hopefully, all the restaurant owners are taking notes and thinking about ways they can safely serve gluten-free customers. We have seen a lot of improvement in gluten-free dining in the last few years, thanks to efforts by the NFCA, the Gluten Intolerance Groups and others. Kudos also go to individuals who asked local restaurant owners and chefs to offer gluten-free items. But we still have a long way to go before those who follow the gluten-free diet feel safe and comfortable getting a gluten-free meal at any restaurant they visit.

My daughter, who has celiac disease, has had good luck and bad at both chain and individually owned restaurants. We had superb service at a Bahama Breeze outside Disney in Florida, as well as at the Moroccan restaurant in Epcot. We had a very diligent waitress at an individually owned restaurant in the town where she goes to college who checked menu items and let my daughter know there was unsuspected soy sauce in a chicken dish.

But not long ago one chain restaurant with a gluten-free menu assured her a Reese’s peanut butter cup dessert was gluten free. One bite revealed that the peanut butter cup had a cookie base. When my daughter eats in a restaurant the thing she appreciates most is a server who either knows what they are talking about when it comes to the gluten-free diet or double checks and asks the chef all the questions she asks about a particular menu item.

The NFCA on Twitter asked what is the one thing restaurants should know about serving gluten-free diners. I would say making simple changes, like using soy sauce that does not contain wheat, would create many new options for those who are gluten free.

What would you say?

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  • Things have really gotten better since I started eating gluten free. When I first started I got a lot of blank looks and comments like “the noodles are made with white flour, not wheat” as if “white” flour did not contain wheat. Now most waiters at least have an idea of what you are talking about, though they sometimes get a look of pure panic and go get the chef.