Anyone with a restricted diet – whether by choice or medical necessity – knows exactly how difficult it can be to enjoy eating out. Some dietary restrictions aren’t too difficult, but others can make it virtually impossible to find places that will make a group happy. To begin, let’s go over some of the major dietary restrictions:
- Vegetarian – Vegetarians do not eat meat. Real vegetarians also do not eat fish or chicken (though some people seem to be confused about this point).
- Vegan – A vegan does not eat any form of animal products. This includes meat, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and even honey.
- Gluten-free – Many people either have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance that can cause discomfort and bloating.
- Dairy-free – Most people who avoid dairy do it because they are lactose intolerant or they have a dairy allergy. Lactose intolerance can cause digestive upset after consuming dairy, while an allergy will frequently cause respiratory symptoms (choking, trouble breathing, congestion) if eaten.
- Gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) – This diet restricts gluten and dairy products, and it’s common among people with auto-immune issues and sometimes autism.
- Kosher – Most common among Jewish people, and the requirements for being truly kosher are extensive.
For groups of friends or families trying to accommodate one or more dietary restriction, eating out can be a huge nuisance. Restaurants that cater to those diets with special menus or notations on the menu can capture a great deal of repeat business by being known for their flexibility. Do the math – what if adding special menus brings you a few extra diners each day? What will that do to your bottom line? If you make extensive menus with lots of options, you may get even more diners. The Wynn hotels in Vegas, for example, have added full vegan menus to all their restaurants and they’ve become a favorite Vegas hotspot for vegetarians and vegans.
So how do you do it? In a lot of cases, it’s pretty easy. If you have a burger franchise, try offering a bean burger (and skip the mayo and cheese unless people specifically ask for it – then it’s vegan). If you avoid frying your french fries in any form of animal fat, you can offer that to vegetarians, too. Salads are also easy to made vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free. For a healthy fast food franchise, consider offering a vegetarian wrap. You can easily fill them with beans, rice, quinoa, or vegetables. Froyo or smoothie franchise? Add a dairy-free sorbet, and consider a smoothie with non-dairy frozen yogurt in the mix.
With a little creativity, it’s extremely easy to accommodate a variety of different dietary needs. Once you do it, don’t keep quiet about it! Let your Facebook fans know, and encourage your patrons to mention the options in their Yelp reviews. Look for sites like HappyCow.com (vegetarian and vegan) to add your restaurant. Many people with dietary restrictions check these types of sites when they travel and need to find acceptable food choices. When they search, you want to be there.