Something special on the menu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Coeliac disease, Gluten, Gluten-free diet

THE NEWS that managed pub group JD Wetherspoon has put together a menu of gluten-free dishes ought to make other pubs take notice.While the managed...

THE NEWS that managed pub group JD Wetherspoon has put together a menu of gluten-free dishes ought to make other pubs take notice.

While the managed pub group may not always be high on the Christmas card lists of pubs which have to trade against it, there's no arguing that Wetherspoon's has its finger on the pulse when it comes to what customers want - from its drinks range to its expanding food and coffee offers.

Increasingly, customers with special dietary needs will expect to be catered for wherever they eat and drink. More importantly, there's plenty of evidence that meeting those needs can help build business - one customer needing a special diet can make the choice of where to eat for all their family and friends.

Gluten, found in wheat and some other grains, causes digestive problems for people suffering from coeliac disease. As many as one in 100 people may have the condition, although it's often undiagnosed (see box).

Wetherspoon's offers more than 20 dishes made with gluten-fee ingredients. These include BBQ chicken melt, pork loin steaks and lamb rogan josh. A gluten-free mint chocolate ice-cream bombe is also on offer.

Most of the dishes were already on the main menu at the group's 600-plus pubs - they have also been highlighted on a special menu. This menu is featured on the Coeliac UK website at www.coeliac.org.uk. As the national charity for people with the disease, it encourages members to use the website to select places to eat.

Wetherspoon's food development manager Jameson Robinson said: "We are keen to offer people as wide a choice of meals as possible and that is borne out by our gluten-free menu."We have won praise from Coeliac UK for including so many menu items produced with gluten-free ingredients."

This month saw the launch of a new Coeliac UK campaign, 'Food Without Fear', which is calling for improved provision of gluten-free meals across both the public sector and in pubs and restaurants.

In a survey, 67 per cent of Coeliac UK members said they were less likely to eat out after they had been diagnosed with the disease, due to the difficulty of finding safe options.Events to mark the campaign include a competition for chefs to create an innovative gluten-free dish, which will be judged by Giorgio Locatelli. Coeliac UK members are also encouraged to challenge their local outlets to offer gluten-free meals.

There are also gluten-free beers available. The Shoulder of Mutton, a Punch-leased pub in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, stocks beers from Green's, which brews gluten and allergen-free beers in a range of styles.

The pub's lessees are David and Kate Deacon, who were shortlisted for the BII Licensee of the Year title this year. Kate herself is a coeliac. "I wouldn't say the beers are fast sellers," she says. "When people have been diagnosed as coeliac, they tend to be conditioned to drink wine or cider.

"However, we feature the coeliac beers on our gluten-free menu and some customers are very pleased to see them - it's an added extra."

Kate estimates they have at least one coeliac customer at each lunchtime and evening sitting. "There is definitely a market," she says, but stresses that a willingness to cater to special diets has to be matched with education.

David is a chef and he understands about cooking for coeliacs. One of the biggest issues is cross-contamination. I've been offered gluten-free bread before, but been served from the same basket as the other bread."

www.coeliac.org.uk, www.glutenfreebeers.co.uk

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is not an allergy, but an auto-immune disease, which means that the body produces antibodies that attack it.

For people with coeliac disease this attack is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people with coeliac disease also react to oats. The only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet.

Symptoms - including nausea, flatulence and digestive problems - range from mild to severe, and for some sufferers, even the smallest trace of gluten can cause them to become seriously unwell. An estimated one in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, although only 12.5 per cent of these have been diagnosed.

Source: Coeliac UK

Other special dietary requirements

Pubs are increasingly likely to find themselves asked to deal with special dietary needs. While people may be vegetarian or vegan on ethical grounds, those with a medical basis for their requirements need careful consideration.

The golden rule is, if you have any doubts about a customer enquiry, ask for clarification - the consequences of serving the wrong product could be fatal. Among the more common conditions creating dietary needs are:

  • Diabetes - Diabetics are likely to need to monitor their sugar intake. Many cocktails contain sugar syrup, while trading standards officers have reported cases of counterfeit bag-in-box 'diet' soft drinks that contained sugar.
  • Nut allergy - As with most food allergies, reactions can range from mild to severe. In extreme cases, suffers can experience fatal anaphylactic shock when exposed to the food. Nuts may be present in desserts and sauces, while peanuts are common in dips and sauces served with Thai-style satay dishes.
  • Lactose intolerance - The inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, which is found in milk. Reactions can range from mild to severe, but with a huge range of food containing dairy products, sufferers have to be careful. Soya milk and cream substitutes can be used to produce a range of dairy-free pub food.

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