As COVID-19 workforce and supply chain issues have slowed the recovery of many businesses, restaurants are resuming standard operations in hopes of getting business back to normal, and the next holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to do so. One strategy to attract more business is for restaurants that already offer safe and gluten-free dishes to find creative ways to showcase their expertise in preparing gluten-free dishes to attract new customers and make loyal customers all year round.
Promoting gluten-free offers is good for business
More than any other time of year, the holiday season offers many opportunities to come together for a festive meal. Even if you eat your main holiday meal at home, there are plenty of breakfasts, office parties, and other occasions throughout the season. This year, with COVID-19 still a lingering concern, more people will dine in small groups, providing restaurants with plenty of opportunities to impress customers with their gluten-free dishes.
If your restaurant is experiencing delivery delays or staff shortages, you might be wondering if this holiday season is the right time to launch a new marketing campaign. Despite the constant challenges, marketing your gluten-free offerings makes commercial sense, especially considering that 3 million Americans and one in 100 people worldwide suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten consumption. The prevalence of celiac disease, along with other forms of gluten sensitivity, means that a quarter of American households have at least one person who needs a gluten-free diet. With numbers like these, marketing to gluten-free diners and their loved ones is a profitable business and worth it.
Because the consequences of gluten consumption can be serious for people with gluten intolerance, it often determines the choice of restaurant when dining in a group. And of course, the bigger the party, the more likely it will include at least one gluten-free dinner. Failure to meet the needs of this population may even have a ripple effect on those who do not need a gluten-free diet; they will probably remember that their group decided not to eat at a particular restaurant, even if they cannot remember why.
How to build trust with gluten-free diners
While the holidays can be a joyous occasion, dining out can be a difficult experience for people with gluten intolerance. The fear of eating something that makes them sick can make the more festive occasions less fun. It is therefore essential to find a restaurant that can prepare gluten-free dishes in complete safety. With savvy marketing, you can reassure customers that you know how to prepare gluten-free foods safely and deliver the valuable vacation experiences we all hope for.
Preparing gluten-free meals doesn’t need to be elaborate. If you are understaffed, keeping it simple by offering, for example, a limited number of gluten-free dishes is usually the best policy. Start by identifying menu items that are inherently gluten-free, such as potatoes and steamed vegetables. Once you’ve decided what’s on your gluten-free menu, find out how to get these dishes safely from the kitchen to the table.
Transparency is also essential. Many restaurants use ambiguous terminology like “gluten-friendly” or “gluten-aware” to avoid making any gluten-free claims in case someone gets sick while consuming their food. However, this tactic does little to reduce liability and may raise red flags for savvy gluten-free diners. It is also important to provide clear messages about the items on your gluten-free menu. To avoid any misunderstanding, make it clear which items on your menu are gluten-free. Include details of how the dishes are prepared and any other information that makes your items gluten-free special. If you are serving condiments like gluten-free tamari, make sure they are clearly labeled as such on the package.
Further validation is also a way to build trust with the gluten-free community. Organizations like the Gluten Intolerance Group Gluten Free Catering Service (GFFS) allow validated restaurants to use their logos on menus, social media, websites and virtually any other promotional material. Gluten-free diners are familiar with these logos and often choose restaurants that are validated over those that are not.
Once you’ve marketed yourself as a gluten-free establishment, make sure your staff are trained to answer questions about ingredients and dish preparation. Gluten-free diners can tell in two or three questions whether or not restaurants know what they’re doing, so make sure your front desk staff understands what it means to be truly gluten-free.
Creative marketing ideas to promote your gluten-free menu
If you’re wondering how to market your gluten-free menu items, the sky is the limit, as long as your message is clear. Try posting videos on your website or social media that show gluten-free dishes being prepared, from start to finish, to demonstrate your knowledge of best practices for gluten-free dining. Or offer free samples to your local media (provided you have enough staff). Everyone loves a delicious treat, and the media often offers free advertising in exchange for samples.
Another idea is to provide food for Teacher Appreciation Days, especially during the year-end holidays when schools are eager to recognize their teachers’ contributions. Social media is another great marketing tool – giving an influencer a free meal can get you pretty far, as long as they’re someone the gluten-free community trusts.
Holidays are all about creating treasured memories, and these often involve food. People who have adopted a gluten-free diet want to celebrate these special occasions as much as the next person, but the fear of eating the wrong thing can put a damper on the holiday spirit. Providing transparent and accurate messages on your gluten-free menus can go a long way to allay these fears. The gift for you this season is spreading the word about your gluten-free offerings, which can mean converting new diners into loyal, loyal customers long after the holiday season is over.