Recently, more Americans are changing their diets to be healthier and more plant-based. In fact, a study done by IPSOS Retail Performance estimates around 9.7 million Americans are vegan. In addition, around 2.7 million Americans restrict their diet to gluten-free foods according to StudyFinds.org. With these growing numbers in dietary restrictions, the restaurant industry has begun to shift its menus to accommodate. Restaurants are adding menu items like vegan burgers, gluten-free buns, tofu, and more to cater to diners with dietary restrictions. If you haven’t updated your menu recently to work on these trends, we’re here to help. We discuss common types of restricted diets and how you can easily accommodate them at your restaurant.

Man looking at menu posted

About Dietary Restrictions

Special diets are nothing new, but more Americans have been adopting them in recent years. These are not always based on allergies to foods, but on lifestyle choices as well. Types of restrictions will vary from person to person, and you should always practice proper sanitation and care to prevent cross-contact when handling food. We laid out some of the most common dietary restrictions to consider when planning your menu.

Tip: Remember, only label your food as these diets if you are 100% certain that they follow the strict guidelines. If you aren’t sure, label them as things like “gluten-friendly” or “vegetarian” and allow people to make the choice themselves.

  • Gluten-Free – The Gluten-Free diet involves eliminating any forms of wheat. Wheat can be found in obvious foods like bread and pasta, but it can also be found in many pre-packaged foods. Look for wheat in foods like soy sauce, breading, crumb-coatings, beer, and more. Check food labels when using packaged ingredients to ensure that they don’t contain wheat. 
  • Vegan – While this diet can seem a bit tricky, it can be narrowed down to avoidance of ANY type of animal products. Foods are vegan when they do not contain any type of animal product, down to added vitamins in processed foods like pasta or bread. Vegans don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Do some additional research with your food supplier on types of foods that you buy currently or can start buying that are vegan. 
  • Vegetarian  Vegetarian is one of the easier diets to accommodate because it only excludes meat from dishes. Existing dishes can easily be switched to vegetarian on your menu by eliminating the meat and adding a different protein as a substitute, like tofu or beans. 
woman reading menu

Update Your Menu for Food Sensitive Folks 

Adding flexible options to your menu is a way to expand your customer group. Regardless of the type of food you serve, there can be options for most dietary restrictions. Most food styles can easily accommodate food sensitivities, so why not make people more comfortable eating at your restaurant?

Menu Design Tips 

  • Create icons for things like vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan to label your menu. This allows the customer to easily spot items that are accommodating of their diet. Be sure to include a small key for reference and explain your labels. 
  • Have a supplemental menu made with sensitive-friendly options to make it easy for customers to pick from. This is easier than updating existing menus and can be left on tables, posted as a sign where orders are taken, or even printed on paper. 
  • Try adding more explanations of menu items that include ingredients or explanations of items like sauces, marinades, or appetizers. This allows customers to be informed and acts as a cheat sheet for employees to answer questions. 

Kitchen Management 

  • Educate your staff on cross-contact and food allergies so they understand how to properly manage food allergens. 
  • Educate cooks on different specialty diets like vegan and gluten-free and how to prepare food accordingly. For example, not cooking with butter for Vegan dishes. Encourage them to pay attention to and understand ingredients on packaged foods and/or ingredients that they use. 
  • Utilize food prep supplies that are color-coded for allergens to further prevent cross-contact. 
  • Educate servers on menu items so they can answer questions correctly and avoid confusion in the kitchen. 

Delivery & Takeout 

  • If you offer a special menu for your delivery/takeout programensure you add a few items for these special diets. Have a few items that can be customized to be vegan or vegetarian as well as 1-2 gluten-free options. Don’t forget about the sides! 
  • Ensure customization options are available on the app you use for takeout/delivery. Many apps allow customization of menu items and that can help add options to your menu. Have someone internally test it out to be sure that it works! ExamplesOffer custom options like no cheese, no sauce, sub gluten-free bun, or sub veggie patty. 

Final Thoughts 

It doesn’t have to be difficult to add menu options for those with dietary restrictions or food sensitivities. Creating and implementing these new options starts with the education of you and your staff on food sensitivities and specialty diets. It then comes down to participation among staff to make it easy for customers to ask questions and customize their food. Updating your menu to help customers make better choices will provide a great experience that invites them to return!

More on Menu Planning and Food Safety 

For more information on maintaining food safety in the kitchen, designing a menu, or optimizing delivery – check out these articles.