Monday, 19 October 2015

Are Restaurants Keeping Up With Customers Dietary Needs?

It’s no secret that food allergies are on the up, and generally we’re all becoming more careful with what we eat, but are restaurants keeping up with customers dietary needs?

Whether it’s an allergy, religious belief or specialist diet, just one person with dietary needs in a group can make it harder to plan a meal out.

With more and more people following a gluten-free diet, 80% of Coeliac UK members have said they need safe options and that is the deciding factor when they plan on eating out. Yet with such a poor offerings out there it’s no wonder that the restaurant industry is missing out on an estimated £100 million a year…

If you have a dietary restriction, don’t be afraid to ask your local restaurants what they can do to accommodate you.


Ideas For Restaurants

1. Cater for as many dietary requirements as you can

Gone are the days when nut-free dishes were all a restaurant could get away with offering. Most of us will know at least one person with diabetes, lactose intolerance, coeliac disease or IBS. It’s not just allergies and intolerances that we’re wary of when we eat out; besides religious requirements like Halal or Kosher, diets like paleo and vegetarianism are so much more popular than they used to be.

A restaurant’s menu should be flexible, with chefs able to adapt dishes for a range of requirements. It’s not often easy to modify meals at short notice or prevent cross-contamination though, but if you contact the restaurant in advance, they should be able to offer a solution that makes everyone happy.

It’s really a no-brainer: they’ll build up a wider customer base while you’ll be more likely to return and to recommend them to your friends. Who doesn’t win in that situation? It’s up to us, the consumers, to create the demand for what we want.

2. Give us the info we need



Copyright: redheadedgirl Shutterstock


Research carried out by the Food Standards Agency and Allergy UK found that 53% of those with allergies avoid eating in restaurants because they’re too scared to.

In this day and age we should be able to visit a website and immediately see how a restaurant can handle special dietary requests. Allergy information and dietary options should be easy to find in the top menu of a website – you’d be surprised how few restaurants have this information on their website at all. We don’t all have time to contact each and every restaurant to ask about menus, so that information should be easily available.

3. Help us find you online

So a restaurant has a top-notch chef with an all-singing all-dancing menu. That’s great – except we can’t find them on Google when we’re searching for “Gluten-free vegetarian restaurant near me”. Burying a note to ‘tell your waiter if you have an allergy’ deep within a website just isn’t going to cut it. 

If you know of an amazing little place but they have an invisible website, help them out by letting them know how they can optimise it for the search engines:-
  • Link their business Google Plus page with Google My Business and create a landing page on their website that addresses the allergies and/or diets they cater for, with details on how their kitchen handles cross-contamination.
  • Give every web page a unique meta title and meta description to make them easier for search engines to categorise.
  • Include local keywords wherever possible – but don’t stuff the keywords in.
  • Place keywords close to the beginning of titles and descriptions while still being natural.
  • Make sure the URL of any web page is brief and descriptive.
  • Make images search engine friendly by using concise, relevant and keyword-rich file names and alt tags.
  • Host reviews on your website – search engines like unique content that is updated often and this will help improve your search rankings.


4. Tell us what you have to offer!


Copyright: Luis Molinero Shutterstock


Restaurants need to use a mix of advertising, press releases, social media and word of mouth to get their special menus in front of the consumer.

Blogs also offer a great opportunity to shout about ‘free-from’ products and no doubt you will already know of some niche websites you could recommend, so point your favourite restaurant owner in their direction.

Because diets like gluten free are much talked about in mainstream media, journalists are often looking for case studies. It doesn’t take much time for a restaurant owner or manager to give an interview with PR coverage and this will get them in front of a new audience as a specialist in dietary needs. It will also help them to build valuable links to their website and rise up the search engine rankings, capturing even more new customers.

Conclusion

Restaurants that cater for dietary restrictions are a big deal to people who have limited options. It is a market that is constanly growing and is worth millions.

In some cases it can mean a lot of change and investment, but it doesn’t have to be too difficult or expensive. Restaurants can even get business loans for bad credit if they can’t afford the upfront costs of updating their websites, their preparation areas and recruiting chefs with specialist knowledge of dietary needs.

With a growing number of customers avoiding certain foods, can they really afford not to accommodate everyone?

* A guest sponsored post on behalf of Liberis - a company that provides finance for small to medium sized businesses.
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17 comments

  1. This is so interesting and I agree with everything that you said. It's so important for consumers to know more about what's on offer!

    Rachel | Beauty and the Bird

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  2. such a great post as some one who is gluten sensitive, I adore restaurants that have easy to understand social media pointing out what options they offer and online menus. I just avoid places that don't have a great image online to be honest. If the website looks shabby it makes me wonder how good the food would be. k x

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    1. Some restaurants don't even have an online presence either which I find equally as bad. In this day and age I think this is very important.

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  3. When I used to be veggie I used to have trouble eating out. Many restaurants wouldn't correctly label veggie items. Restaurants seem to be getting better, but there's definately more improvement needed x

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    1. After travelling extensively I think the choice of food in UK restaurants is very cosmopolitan in general but more can be done for those with dietary needs.

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  4. Very informative post! I think restaurants are really stepping up their game recently offering more for vegetarians etc.

    Ashleigh

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  5. I feel quite lucky that my only issue is cucumber (it makes me very ill). I think I'd dread to eat out too if I had any of these problems! Hopefully with more awareness through blogs people will be able to find somewhere to eat :)

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    1. Oh gosh, I have never heard of someone being ill after cucumber. Is it easy to avoid?

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  6. Really good points... :) I often get ill eating out and I have no idea why.. prefer to eat at home because I know what goes into it... maybe I should try to look for a trend... thanks for this info! x

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  7. As an event planner, this is SO relevant for me! It's impossible to cater to client dietary needs if you don't know what the needs are! Plus offering a lot of options can be increasingly expensive. It's tricky, but SUPER important! xx

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    1. I can see how it's especially important in your job Amanda!

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  8. It's really tricky isn't it? We luckily don't have to worry, but we have friends with allergies and eating out can be next to impossible when you have multiple allergies.

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    1. It can be Erica, that's why restaurants need to have readily available information for the consumer.

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  9. So annoying when they don't even bother to cater for other people literally when it is just meat on a menu it makes me annoyed. Sometimes there is no gluten free either!

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    1. My husband avoids red meat and it's hard enough these days to find a chicken dish on the menu!

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  10. A little guide in the menu is all they need to do, it's a shame its so tricky to make decisions. I have friends who can't eat out at all and are made to feel awful when asking what options they can have.

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