Fort Collins has many many restaurants. We love our mountains, our beer and alcohol, and of course our food with the most restaurants per capita in Colorado. We love sustainability, farm to table, CSAs and organic menus. But do you know what we are lacking here? One thing that is lacking in probably MOST restaurants in the US?! EDUCATION!
Yes, maybe you can tell by now that there is a little bit of a rant peppered in here as well ;) But I just. Can't. Take. It. Anymore.
I may have more food allergies than most people but I can still eat, as a chef I KNOW I can still eat. Swimming through menus to filter out high fructose corn syrup and un-natural ingredients is hard enough let alone having to be concerned about trace amounts of gluten or dairy in there waiting to make my life a living hell for weeks. I have worked in a lot of restaurants, both the kitchen and the front of house... I understand it can be hard to keep all your ducks in a row on a Saturday night when you have an hour and a half wait and mistakes can happen, I am an understanding person we are all human. BUT to label a menu Gluten-free and not actually have it Gluten-free is just not acceptable anymore. I realize there are trends out there that come and go, and ya'll get sick of hearing people talk about it over and over again. But this is NOT a trend, it's not even a choice, it is a way that I and millions of other Americans HAVE to live to keep on living.
Call me high-maintenance, difficult, a pain in your a**. I really don't care anymore and I am just going to keep working to educate you till ya get it.
Why your Restaurant is NOT Gluten-free
1) "It's gluten-free, but we do cook it in the same saute pans with our other meals."
If you are cooking patrons #1's meal in a saute pan, then just simply wiping if off (if even that) then prepare patron #2's in that pan that is Gluten-free.. It is not gluten-free. I went to a restaurant last week that I was really excited about because they say 90% of their menu is "gluten-free," yet somehow I ended up being told that I could only eat the beans.. thats it, just a plate of beans, because their gluten-free menu is not safe for someone who is actually sensitive to gluten. WTF?!
- Residue or trace amounts of an allergen left over can cause an allergic reaction in someone. HEAT does not kill it off, and a rag will not WIPE it off. You must use soap and water and a good scrub. There is no cutting corners on this one. So please, stop labeling your menu items Gluten-free.. they are not.
2) "It's gluten-free, but we do use one fryer for everything."
If you are sharing fryers for everything on your menu then those gluten-free fried items are not gluten free. I really don't care if your "mother-in-law is really sensitive to it but she has ate it and was fine." I am not going to base my life and well-being off of what your mother-in-law thinks.
- When you fry an item there is bound to be excess breading or starches floating around that oil. This will inevitably float and attach onto another piece of food that will then go in there. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and found a random piece of fried shrimp in your french fries?? I bet you have had some cross-over experience and with someone with allergies this could be deadly. Put a disclaimer on your menu if you don't want to change your practices but please, stop labeling your menu items Gluten-free.. they are not.
3) "We can do gluten-free, let me fix that for you."
I have learned that I have to communicate really well when I am placing my orders, if the server is not quite sure then we go to the chef. A lot of servers out there are great about this, understanding, and try their best to find out answers to my questions. But sometimes there is a mis-communication and my meal will come out other than how it was ordered. If you bring me a hamburger on a bun when I ordered it without a bun, I am so sorry but you are going to have to Start OVER.
- Even touching allergenic foods to non-allergenic foods are going to spread those little trace amounts that we talked about. That little crumb will seriously ruin my night and probably days after that. If you are serving a "safe" meal it needs to be 100% safe. If you mess up and accidentally put croutons on a salad, that's ok that you made a mistake but please don't be lazy and just pick them off.. you MUST start over, new plate, new ingredients and all. I can't even touch freakin play-do for 30 seconds without exploding in a full body rash so that little crumb I am ingesting is going to cause some trouble in your restaurant. Some of my favorite places have really ruined my confidence in them because of this annoying little habit. A new meal coming out 30 seconds after you brought it back to the kitchen is just not possible.
So I am sorry if I sound demanding to you (actually I am not). But our restaurants with their "Gluten-free" menus need to really get it together, and do you know how?!?! EDUCATION
Training back of house, front of house, and anyone in between is the easiest, quickest way to ensure confidence and safety for your diners and keep them coming back for more. With millions of Americans with food allergies and 1 in 133 with Celiac Disease that is a lot of revenue you could be racking up if you can accommodate them and of course all of their friends and family and referrals they are bringing with them. When you find that one restaurant that does it right, you keep going back for more. I don't like this either, I really wish I could whatever I wanted.. I wouldn't wish my allergies on my worst enemy. But this is a reality and there are others like me that really want to eat at your restaurant. So pretty-pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top help us do that. If you don't want to accommodate us then fine, that's your prerogative, but don't say you can and then not do it. Don't label your menu "gluten-free" when it is not.
So get help from professionals, classes, and trainers (I can refer you to them if you need), certify your menu and teach your staff how to handle food allergies correctly. It really will mean more business for you and happier customers on the way. Oh, and you won't have to listen to me rant again either;)
Read more of my blog at www.Zen-Eats-Lifestyle.com