Tips for Transitioning Your Restaurant to Gluten-Free

April 23, 2021

Two chefs cooking in a restaurant kitchen

Thinking of advertising your restaurant as gluten-free? If you don’t have dietary restrictions yourself, you may have questions about what it means to be gluten-free, what gluten-free customers want, and how you can safely serve them with confidence. You’ve come to the right place for answers—Beyond Celiac is approaching our 20th anniversary, and we’ve seen a lot in the past two decades. This article compiles some of our top recommendations for restaurants who want to serve truly gluten-free food. 

But before we jump into making a restaurant gluten-free, let’s take a look at what the gluten-free diet is all about. 

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Given the widespread use of wheat flour as a filler and thickener, it frequently appears in sauces, spices, and soups, in addition to the usual culprits like whole wheat bread, pasta, and pastries. 

Who eats gluten-free?

For some, eating gluten-free is a medical necessity, with no such thing as “cheat days.” Most of these people have one of three gluten-related disorders: celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy. (You can click on each disorder to learn more about it.) For someone with one of these disorders, accidentally ingesting a tiny amount of gluten could have serious, long-term medical consequences. 

In recent years the gluten-free diet rose to prominence for being a weight-loss diet. There are many reasons some people may have lost weight while eating gluten-free, but in general there is little evidence to suggest eating gluten-free is a healthier choice for those that do not have a gluten-related disorder.  

Why should my restaurant go gluten-free?

Eating out is one of the most stressful experiences for someone with celiac disease. Having to explain and defend their diet and then worry about potentially becoming ill after their meal can make it hard to enjoy eating. With a gluten-free restaurant, they can fully enjoy delicious food, safe cooking, and time with family and friends. 

Most of us with celiac disease have only a few options to choose from when eating out, so we tend to return to the same places again and again. Once we know a restaurant is safe, we are likely to be a steady, repeat customer. The gluten-free community will appreciate your switch to being gluten-free, and gluten-eating customers can still enjoy your menu, too. It’s a win-win!

How to become a gluten-free restaurant

  • If products with gluten were previously cooked in the kitchen, ensure you do a one-time deep-clean to remove as much gluten from the premises as possible. For some appliances, like toasters or waffle irons, you will have to retire or donate the old and buy new ones. Common gluten hotspots include toasters, pans, shared fryers, and dish rags.
  • Train your staff on cross-contact. Many gluten-free restaurants do not permit employees to bring gluten-containing items into the facility, even in their own lunch bags, to prevent the possibility of cross-contact.
  • Ensure any sourced ingredients are gluten-free. Things like spices, sauces (especially soy sauce), flours, seasoned or stewed meats, and anything else that is prepared outside of the restaurant should be confirmed or certified gluten-free. 
  • Train your staff on gluten-related disorders and gluten-free cooking. Beyond Celiac has an affordable online training course, GREAT Kitchens, which brings the resources as close to you as your nearest computer.
  • Review our page on dining out safely, which represents what customers with celiac disease consider when eating out. Prepare staff to answer questions a diner with celiac disease is likely to ask. The GREAT Kitchens training program offers content specifically for front-of-house employees.

How to leverage your gluten-free status

  • If your restaurant is 100% gluten-free, highlight it on your website and review pages! This could be on the homepage, menu, FAQ, About Us, or any other page that makes sense. 
  • Share with your audience why you chose to become gluten-free. Many restaurants are content to remove the bun from a burger and call it gluten-free (which isn’t safe enough for most with celiac disease, by the way). Why did you go above and beyond that? Explaining what celiac disease is, that it is a serious autoimmune disease and not a passing fad, may help with this. A page to link to from your website or social media could be What is Celiac Disease? or Fast Facts
  • Detail how you made the kitchens gluten-free and how staff are trained. Are they educated on celiac disease? What are the cross-contact protocols? Share this with the gluten-free community, they love to hear these details!
  • Appeal to the community by indicating that you want them to have a stress-free dining experience. As mentioned, dining out can be one of the most stressful times for someone with celiac disease. If they eat at your restaurant, they can enjoy delicious food, safe cooking, and a night out with family and friends. 

Although it may seem daunting at first, the switch to being gluten-free is feasible for many restaurants. Your local celiac disease community and anyone else eating gluten-free will deeply appreciate your work and your food.

Want to keep up to date with celiac disease? Follow us on our official social media handles: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We regularly post great information there, which you can re-share on your accounts, too. 

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