Cooked to Order: Keeping Up with Dietary Needs

Mar 18, 2014 8:32:00 AM

Our world is full of fast food, TV dinners, and even sit-down restaurants that masquerade as fancy while offering what is essentially a menu full of heat-and-serve entrees. With an increased awareness of dietary sensitivities, food allergies, health concerns, and even religious priorities, consumers are more and more frequently seeking sustainable establishments which cater to their specific dietary requirements.

This means those same people will be skipping eateries where pre-made food is heated from a box and instead patronizing restaurants and cafes that prepare their dishes from scratch. They will be bringing their own lunches to corporate functions or going without. They will eat the granola bars from their purses because the food at the wedding reception is pre-made with an ingredient not on their diet. Guests like these are not people who make dietary “exceptions” for special occasions, so to keep them happy, food made from scratch is an absolute must.

Guests are realizing more and more the plethora of benefits from locally-sourced, sustainable, cooked-from-scratch meals. Patrons come in with special requests all the time, and in record numbers. Anger them with nothing to eat that fits their diets, and they will never return. Cook locally-sourced, sustainable dishes for them with their requested modifications, and prepare to experience a level of customer love and appreciation never experienced before.

Catering to gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, Esselstyn, and other dietary preferences means better customer retention, fewer complaints, and guests who rave about the nutritional accommodations they receive on social media for all to see.

Gluten-free guests cannot eat wheat or other products containing gluten. Many popular food items contain gluten, and the average person would never know it. The good news is that gluten-free is relatively simple to cater to with complete control over a dish's ingredients, such as when cooking from scratch. Breading can be left off of chicken, certain sauces can be left off, and sandwiches can be made with lettuce buns. Cook from scratch, and these guests will be happy to tell you the modifications they require.

Vegans and vegetarians are also fairly easy to accommodate. Whereas a pre-mixed, shipped in sandwich filling might contain meat or dairy, that same cranberry chicken salad sandwich when made from scratch can become a cranberry salad sandwich, or even a local and sustainable almond, cranberry, and apple salad wrap. Vegans can request even further that the mayonnaise be left off, or that the shredded cheese baked into the rice dish next to it be omitted. Flexibility is the key here, and the results are only as customizable as the ingredients.

A newer diet, the Esselstyn Diet, has become more and more popular in parts of Ohio and elsewhere. One famous proponent of this lifestyle choice is former president Bill Clinton. This particular diet is a plant-based diet without oil or fat, developed for the purpose of enhancing heart health. Chefs will find that modifying a dish to meet requirements such as these can easily turn from a mere removal of ingredients into a problem-solving exercise, resulting often in thinking outside the box and in the evolution of even more creative dishes in the future.

No matter the dietary specifics, the market is turning back in time and moving back toward the idea of cooking from locally sourced and sustainable ingredients again. Establishments who wish to remain successful going forward must realize this trend, and, as a result, they will gain a whole new population of overjoyed customers who will be thrilled that they can actually eat the food that is served without having to raid their handbags for extra snacks.

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