Vegan. Gluten.

If you work in the restaurant industry, or even if you do not, those words usually elicit some kind of response.  If you do happen to work in the industry,  that response is usually a negative one.

However, I was out the other day with some friends, and one of my friends happens to be gluten intolerant.  I had forgotten that, and when I suggested that we share the fried calamari, she said that would be fine, but she would not be able to eat any.

Oh!  I forgot!

“I am so sorry, I completely forgot you can’t eat flour.”  Those of us lucky enough to not have such restrictions to our diet are quick to forget those who aren’t so lucky.  Once, I invited a friend, who happens to also be gluten intolerant, over for Thanksgiving dinner one year.  When she asked what she could bring, I said, “bread.”  I am so sensitive to the needs of those around me. I didn’t realize what I had done until she came over for dinner.  Oops.

Anyway, the server of the establishment overheard our conversation and said that they could do it using rice flour instead if we wanted.  Wow. Not even in ‘weird’ Portland had I witnessed such a response from a server.  Very cool.  “Yes, that would be great, could we get an order of that, please?”

Now this gluten-free calamari will satisfy my friend, but would not work for those with celiac disease.  It is gluten free, but is fried in oil that was used for other gluten products.  That’s ok. The fact that this restaurant was willing to make a little concession for some of their customers was enough to satisfy this group.

Why wouldn’t you?

No matter how you feel about those saying they have an intolerance to gluten, or only eat vegan meals, why wouldn’t you make an attempt to appease them?  It turns out that vegans have friends who eat meat. Those eating gluten-free have friends who eat wheat flour.  By providing options for your diners you are assuring yourself of more business.

Those different options are going to set you apart from those restaurants who refuse to give in to the needs of  some.  I have to admit, I spent many years in the restaurant business not wanting to accommodate those with special dietary needs.

Once again, I was wrong

I was wrong to do that.  I know chefs who refuse to put salt on the table.  “My food doesn’t need salt.”  That would be fine, maybe, if he were actually preparing every dish on the menu for every single customer. Maybe.  Let’s not forget, we are in the hospitality business, and should do all we can to be hospitable.  Within reason, of course.

How many times have I had customers who told me they were lactose intolerant and wanted to be sure there was no cream or butter in their food, but went on to order ice cream for dessert and put cream in their coffee?  I am not kidding.  More than once.

So, hopefully the customers are going to meet you part of the way and announce their needs up-front, in a nice way, and be willing to meet the restaurant half way.  And hopefully the same will be true for the restaurant.

It is time for us to let go of some of our old prejudices.  Who knows what Monsanto has done to the food supply to help create a new generation of dietary concerns.  Let’s be a little tolerant of those who don’t get to eat everything they want.  I know my Thanksgiving friend would kill to eat a piece of bread sometimes.  Hell, you can even leave the butter off.  But she knows all too well what she would have to go through if she did.

Let’s consider those folks, too.  Their money, it turns out, is as good as the next person’s.



One Comment Add yours

  1. bormax says:

    Thank you for this post, Tom. I have heard too many folks in our industry who do not personally have the problem insist that gluten sensitivity short of full blown celiac disease is nothing but a fad. But if you speak with health professionals, they will tell you that it is very real. You pose the right question: who do we cook for? Would you serve something to a guest in your home that you knew in advance would cause them discomfort or make them ill? Would that be hospitality? When we invite people to our restaurant we should treat them like guests in our home.

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