Inspired by countless holiday stories and movies, as well as our own cherished memories, the desire to gather over seasonal food and drink is especially powerful as the holidays approach. This year, our yearning to celebrate together is particularly strong after three years of social distancing. For restaurants, the holiday season is the busiest—and most profitable—time of year. Restaurants can maximize their sales by offering an inclusive menu with gluten-free dishes for people who have adopted this diet.
When gluten-free eating became popular over a decade ago, many in the restaurant industry assumed the trend would be a passing fad. However, demand for gluten-free options has proven surprisingly durable. Today, almost one-quarter of U.S. households have at least one member who has adopted a gluten-free diet for medical reasons or to promote general wellness.
Like their loved ones and peers, gluten-free diners are hungry for opportunities to indulge in their holiday favorites. Because the holidays are peak season for office parties and family get-togethers, many restaurants will host or cater special events that most likely will include at least one person who eats gluten-free. When you consider that people with dietary restrictions often determine where a group eats, it makes sense for restaurants to make gluten-free dishes a part of their holiday menu.
What’s on the menu?
Provided your restaurant follows the proper procedures for preparing and handling gluten-free dishes, offering a gluten-free holiday menu is a terrific way to show those customers that you value them. When planning holiday offerings, one easy way is to pay special attention to desserts and your children’s menu. Food manufacturers now offer a wide variety of gluten-free products that include baked goods and children’s favorites like chicken fingers. With so many options available, there’s no reason to limit your gluten-free menu to basic salads or baked potatoes with broccoli and little else.
Offering gluten-free beverages is another great way to create a special holiday experience. Many festive drinks, especially those made with distilled spirits, are gluten-free and make the perfect companion for a delicious holiday meal. Offering a gluten-free beer, cider, seltzer or spritzer and designating it gluten-free on your menu is definitely a winning strategy, especially if you’re trying to up your tab totals.
Start spreading the news
With the busy season running from November through New Year’s, fall is the perfect time to ramp up marketing efforts about your gluten-free holiday menu. Ideally, you will want to get a jump on the holidays, so you’re not launching your campaign during your busiest weeks. However, it’s never too late to promote the fact that you serve gluten-free dishes—customers will appreciate your efforts to meet their dietary needs, no matter what time of the year it is.
When serving gluten-free meals, the first step is to review your menu and indicate any dishes that are gluten-free. Many restaurants advertise their willingness to make dishes gluten-free, but don’t include the crucial step of clearly marking gluten-free options. This oversight is a lost opportunity to attract gluten-free diners as many of these customers carefully research which restaurants can meet their dietary needs. If they don’t see any gluten-free options identified on your menu, they are likely to move on to another restaurant.
When conducting your review, don’t overlook your online menu. During the pandemic, many restaurants relied heavily on food delivery services to stay afloat during shelter-in-place orders. Because these menus tend to be more limited than dine-in versions, gluten-free customers may not realize that you serve gluten-free dishes. That online menu is the first place gluten-free diners will look when researching a restaurant. You can counteract this limitation to some extent with good SEO, but nothing beats an online menu with items that are clearly marked as gluten-free, whether patrons are ordering carryout online, getting food delivered or just planning a visit.
Cultivate an active social media presence
In addition to revamping your online menu, cultivating an active social media presence is one of the best ways to attract gluten-free customers. The gluten-free community is very active on social media, frequently trading recommendations about their favorite restaurants in online forums. This is a great opportunity to communicate your ability to follow proper food handling procedures. Because ingesting even a trace amount of gluten can make a gluten-free diner sick, a negative dining experience is just as likely to go viral as a stellar one, so back up any gluten-free claims by following best practices for preparing and serving gluten-free food and building trust with your customers.
To optimize your social media presence, use great content like personal testimonials and cooking demos that highlight your gluten-free food preparation, along with top-notch food photography and relevant hashtags. To spread the word about your gluten-free menu, treat food bloggers and influencers to a holiday meal and encourage loyal customers to leave restaurant reviews via apps like Find Me Gluten Free, AllergyEats and Yelp. Another way to promote your restaurant is to get validated as a gluten-free safe spot by a trusted program like the Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS).
More than any other time of year, the holidays are all about gathering with loved ones and making new memories. Whether you are catering an office party or serving a dine-in meal to a large group, your restaurant plays a pivotal role in giving customers an unforgettable holiday experience. For people who eat gluten-free, finding restaurants that can serve their seasonal favorites while honoring concerns about health and safety can inspire loyalty that lasts a lifetime.
Jeanne Reid is the Marketing Manager for the Gluten Intolerance Group. Reid is a marketing and advertising professional with 25 years in the retail, restaurant and CPG industries, as well as cause-related efforts. A difficult family battle with celiac disease was an eye-opener for Reid and provided an opportunity for her to gain extensive knowledge and expertise on the gluten-free market. For more information, visit www.gluten.org and www.gffs.org.