Accommodating Gluten-Free Customers: Front-of-House Staff

When it comes to customer safety, food allergies represent a serious concern for restaurants everywhere. Of the 15 million Americans who have food allergies, many deal with intolerance to gluten or celiac disease.

While gluten-free has become a growing food trend, many restaurants are not prepared to safely serve guests with these specific dietary restrictions. And being able to safely serve this large audience presents a significant opportunity for restaurants.

In this two-part series, we will outline steps front and back-of-house staff should take each time they serve customers who request a gluten-free meal.

Here are three tips front-of-house staff can follow to make sure gluten-free customers leave your restaurant safe and satisfied.

  1. Know your ingredients
    Simply having a gluten-free menu isn’t enough. All allergen and gluten information should be readily available in a food allergy reference book. When tables are filling and orders start to pile up, chances are your staff won’t remember all ingredients that make up a given dish.

    A reference book will give customers the opportunity to carefully review each ingredient, enabling them to order with confidence. Provide your staff with copies of the reference book so they can easily assist customers. Additionally, consider posting your gluten-free menu on your website or with your online ordering provider to let potential customers know you can accommodate their needs before they walk in the door (or order delivery online).

  1. Double-check each order
    Ingredients can change, which is why it is important that servers check with kitchen staff to let them know an special order is on its way, to ensure a dish is safe for those with food allergies. The line of communication between the front and back-of-house staff should stay open during the customer’s entire visit.

    Keeping the chef and kitchen informed of any food allergies will help staff isolate dishes ordered off the gluten-free menu from other food throughout the course of the meal. From the stovetop to the to-go container, cooks should keep takeout and delivery items ordered by customers with gluten sensitivities separate from other orders. Even trace amounts of gluten are enough to trigger a severe allergic reaction in some cases.

  1. Develop a training program
    Make sure to put your customers’ health first by requiring all new employees to receive proper training on how to handle food allergies before they begin working.A training program helps to create a safe atmosphere within any restaurant. Without it, servers may not know which foods are gluten-free, who they should disclose a customer’s food allergy to or who they can go to with questions.If you aren’t sure where to start, there are a number of organizations, such as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group, which can get your staff up to speed on all they need to know about creating a welcoming environment for those with food allergies.

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