The information here will help you and your waiting staff serve coeliac customers effectively. It is a challenge for coeliacs to eat outside the home where they are no longer in control and they tend to deal with eating out in a number of ways. Getting to grips with these goes a long way towards providing a good experience.
- Calling ahead or looking on the web
- Checking the menu / labels
- Bringing their own food
- Talking with the serving staff
Calling ahead / Looking on the web
If a customer calls ahead, follow the guidelines in the talking with serving staff section. This is the first opportunity that you have to make your customer feel at ease. Coeliacs may request to speak to the chef which can be very reassuring so try and accommodate this request if possible.
If you cater for a gluten-free diet, give details on your website and make sure this information is kept updated.
Menu and labels
Coeliacs will see if they can find a meal suitable to their requirements by searching the menu or the labels in the display counter. It helps if the menu or display indicates which dishes are gluten-free and if there is an invitation on the menu for customers to discuss their dietary needs with the serving staff. There are benefits in having a separate gluten-free menu. It gives the diner more confidence, gives the restaurant time to consider what can be prepared safely. It also gives time to check ingredients and suppliers and is a tangible reminder that this meal has taken some extra precautions- e.g. not putting the croutons on
Don’t forget that children can be coeliac too so include some gluten-free choices for children.
Be aware of which drinks you have available are gluten-free. Beer and some soft drinks are not gluten-free.
Coeliacs may bring their own food if there is the possibility of no gluten-free dishes being available. Common foods brought in are:
- Pasta – make sure this is boiled in separate clean water, not previously used for ‘ordinary’ pasta.
- Bread – provide separate butter or spread pots to prevent contamination with breadcrumbs from ‘ordinary’ bread. Use a separate toaster, clean breadboards and bread knives.
- Cereals – Most ‘ordinary’ breakfast cereals are not gluten-free.
Take the customer’s food discreetly, and make sure the kitchen acknowledges it’s gluten-free and mustn’t be contaminated.
Talking with serving staff
Remember the following points when talking with coeliacs face to face or over the phone.
- The society supplies Eating Out Cards for members to use in restaurants which they may give to you.
- Remember that the customer is not being difficult. Eating gluten may trigger immediate symptoms such as diarrhoea and/or vomiting, which can last for several days.
- There is a great variation in sensitivity to gluten among those with coeliac disease and although one may have no obvious symptoms damage to the lining of the intestine may still occur.
- Some customers may feel nervous or awkward when asking about gluten-free options or checking with serving staff about their food. Requests for information should be received empathetically and discreetly and answered accurately.
- Do not attempt to guess the content of dishes and give potentially false assurances about the absence of gluten unless certain.
- Make sure the kitchen is aware which dishes need to be gluten-free.
- If it is not possible to provide a safe gluten-free meal, it is important to just say so!
When the food arrives customers may double check with you again. You can take a few steps to be ready for this.
- Double check with the kitchen about the gluten-free dishes when you collect the food from the service area. Check that there are no obvious problems.
- If there has been a mishap, perhaps the chef put flour in the gravy or put croutons in the salad, do not be tempted to simply remove the gluten containing item and serve the same meal. Even a grain of gluten will cause gut damage to a coeliac so the dish will need to be prepared from scratch. A coeliac would much rather be kept waiting that eat gluten.
- Be ready to check again with the chef. Customers may still have more questions once the dish arrives in front of them.
- Be ready to find labels of any condiments on the table or drinks that are not in their original containers.
The information that we provide on eating out may also be useful to further understand things from your customers’ perspective.