Food intolerances, allergies, personal dietary choice, cultural restrictions – dietary requirements are a dime a dozen these days, and food venues are scrambling to catch up.
Whether it’s down to stubbornness or miseducation surrounding different diets, many cafes and restaurants are choosing not to embrace the needs of all their customers – and it’s time for a change! Just throwing a few vegetarian items onto your menu isn’t enough anymore, so it’s time to step up to the plate and make sure your venue is covering all the bases.
Why limit yourself when ensuring that there’s something for everyone could lead to a bigger customer base and an excellent reputation?
Here are four top tips for ensuring your menu caters to everyone.
1. Label your menu clearly
This may just seem like common sense, but it isn’t always something venues take into consideration when designing a new menu or revamping an old one.
If you are including dishes that are gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan or dairy free, you might like to implement a symbol system: place a little symbol or acronym (for example gf for gluten-free) next to a dish, and make sure you place a key somewhere on the menu so customers can decipher it. There are many creative ways you can implement a labeling system.
You might also want to consider being as detailed as possible on your menu, while retaining a simple or elegant design. For example, if you sell gourmet sandwiches, don’t just list ‘Ham Sandwich.’ Rather, list the core ingredients: ham, gouda, salad, salt and pepper. Then, customers can establish whether the menu item works for them – and ask further questions if they need to.
2. Educate your staff
For many of your staff members, the concept of gluten-free eating, cultural diets or vegan lifestyles may be completely foreign.
Make sure you train them up to understand the ins and outs of different diets and allergies, and ensure that they are empathetic and compassionate when communicating with customers who have differing requirements. Ensure that your servers know the menu back to front, and can suggest options or substitutions for customers with certain dietary requirements without batting an eyelid.
It’s also vital to establish the knowledge that your chefs have: if they are asked to make a meal dairy or nut free, can they do so safely? Make sure you take this into account during the hiring process.
3. Be flexible
Flexibility is key when it comes to catering to people with varying diets. Many cafes and restaurants include a clause at the end of their menu: no substitutions, sorry. In some cases, this is understandable: smaller establishments with one chef, those who are running a tight ship, or venues with meals that are partially pre-made.
But, if you can afford to be flexible, do so. Offer changes to your regular menu items, add in specials that cater to certain diets, and speak openly with customers about their requirements. Try not to limit your menu to just one or two token options for people with allergies, and make sure your staff are all on board.
The more flexible you come across with your menu and customer service, the more customers you will attract in the long run.
4. Consider cultures and religions
Different cultures and religions subscribe to different diets, and have restrictions that range from minimal to extensive.
For example, those who practice Hinduism regard cows as sacred, and many Hindus won’t eat beef in any form, while some practice complete vegetarianism. Similarly, many Buddhists are vegetarians. Certain practicing Muslims can only eat meat if it is prepared halal, and Orthodox Jews will often only eat food that is prepared kosher.
It can be slightly more difficult to cater to specific religious and cultural diets, but it’s important that you and your staff can answer questions if they arise and remain open and understanding. For example, you may like to find out if the meat you source is prepared halal (most butchers will be happy to answer), and consider the way your kitchen staff prepare and create your meals.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing to remember is to be open to different values and requirements, and to ensure that you create a welcoming environment.