Why you should have a free-from offer in your pub

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Food intolerance: charity Coeliac UK says one in 100 people have coeliac disease
Food intolerance: charity Coeliac UK says one in 100 people have coeliac disease
People with coeliac disease and those simply wishing to avoid gluten in their diet can often be the leaders when it comes to having a meal out. Make sure you are catering for this influential group.

The pool of diners shunning gluten in their diets because of intolerances, allergies or lifestyle choices is in growth, which means there is a multimillion-pound opportunity for pubs, according to charity Coeliac UK.

Coeliac UK also says one in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease and have to follow a strict gluten-free diet, with many more suffering a gluten intolerance and others choosing to exclude gluten from their diet for ‘health’ reasons.

The charity discovered that 80% of its 3,000 members said that, when they eat out with other people, their need for safe, gluten-free options determines where they choose.

It also found that almost three quarters of people (74%) would eat out every two weeks if more gluten-free options were available.

Upping your gluten-free game

Recognised allergens

Gluten is just one of the known allergens operators need to consider when putting together a menu.

The full list of main allergens is: 

  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Molluscs
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts
  • Soya
  • Milk
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Lupin
  • Sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre

Director of Langfords Foodhall, John Langford, says it is vital to up your gluten-free game if your business is to attract these diners. “If there’s a family of five going out and two of them are gluten-free,” he explains. “They will hunt down a place the gluten-free people can eat at.

“Non-gluten-free people will follow the gluten-free diner so the customer gain is massive if you offer a coeliac-friendly option.”

One pub that offers gluten-free options is the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs award-winning Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. It has an entire menu dedicated to gluten-free diners as well as a vegetarian menu and a dairy-free menu to boot.

Licensee Brendan Padfield says: “From the outset of opening we have had a dedicated vegetarian menu, but more specifically, dedicated gluten-free and a dedicated dairy-free menus.

“It is responding to demand, the need for free-from dishes is exponentially growing,” he continues. “It is responding to the market and anybody who chooses to ignore that trend is doing it at their peril because the numbers of diners who have dietary needs whether for medical reasons or non-medical reasons is growing and it is evidenced by what you see on the supermarket shelves.

“This is a trend that is not going to go away and all publicans need to embrace it. If they do not, they will turn people off.”

Padfield outlines the dishes that work well on a gluten-free menu: “There are a number of dishes that are easily adaptable for gluten-free, for example, getting gluten-free pasta is now run of the mill, it’s available everywhere so we can make all sorts of gluten-free pasta dishes.

“On our gluten-free menu at the moment, we have a pork rib eye and that comes with three types of beet-root and seeds, such as sunflower seeds, with tarragon.

“Polenta is something we use extensively and it is not difficult to make. We don’t serve the wet polenta, it’s a dry polenta that is cut into squares and char-grilled, which comes with spiced squash and watercress,” he explains.

“Risotto is also fantastic for gluten-free for obvious reasons. The one on our lunch menu is a king prawn risotto with courgette, basil and tomato.

“For dishes that are a little more traditional, we serve a rib-eye steak. Ordinarily it is served with bone marrow, dripping potatoes, onions, onion rings, etc, but we leave out the onion rings because of the flour in the batter but again, it is easily adaptable.”

Adapting any pub menu to become gluten-free is simple, says Padfield, adding there is not really a reason why pubs shouldn’t be able to cater for these diners – even if the kitchen staff are less than keen on the idea.

“It is a growing need, [if you don’t tap into it] you will be turning customers away,” he adds.

“Chefs don’t like this development because, in some of the dishes, you have to pull people away [from other work], you need dedicated labour – and it can come at an additional cost.

“But if you carefully think it through, plan ahead, choose the right courses, then the additional cost and labour involved in providing a gluten-free or dairy-free menu is relatively small.

“Also, you can be clever. For example, on our starters menu we have a quail breast that comes with a quail’s liver parfait with grapes, grape purée and celery, etc.”

Top tips

Coeliac UK’s top tips on how to cater for gluten-free diners:

  • Use trusted suppliers and always check ingredients lists to avoid foods containing wheat, rye, barley and oats. Choose naturally gluten-free ingredients or gluten-free alternatives
  • Ensure gluten-free and gluten-containing ingredients are kept separate in sealed, labelled containers and that gluten-free ingredients are stored above gluten so if there is any spillage, it will not cross contaminate the gluten-free ingredients
  • Use clean or dedicated utensils and equipment, clean surfaces before preparation and wash hands before preparing gluten-free meals
  • Ensure staff are trained on the importance of providing safe gluten-free foods
  • Make sure all menus show dishes suitable for a gluten-free diet and ensure effective communication between front and back of house.

Catering for this growing audience does not have to be costly either, Padfield explains reassuringly, saying expensive ingredients can be left off the menu in order to keep costs and prices low.

He explains: “We also serve a quail starter with brioche on our main à la carte menu. But, omitting the brioche from the dish is easy and doesn’t require any further thought.”

As pre-made gluten-free bread can be pricey and often unreliable in terms of quality, the chefs forgo bread on this starter for coeliac diners.

“Logically, if you bought in a special ingredient that costs three times the normal price, you should pass that on to the gluten-free customer,” says Padfield. “However, if you did that, it would go down like a lead balloon. You would [ostracise gluten-free diners] and that is not tenable.” So, in short, the logical thing to do is omit the offending ingredient from the dish.

Whether a diner has a gluten-free diet, is vegetarian, vegan or has any other dietary requirements, operators must ensure they are catering for all in order to keep their profits high.

Living on the veg

Frozen food distributor Central Foods reported that volumes sales of Linda McCartney vegetarian and vegan sausages soared by almost 20% from 2016 to the end of 2017.

It also states that if laid end to end, all the veggie sausages sold during 2017 would stretch to 15,000 times the height of Nelson’s Column in central London.

Central Foods managing director Gordon Lauder says: “Demand for meat-free products has been increasing for some time. A recent study from comparethemarket.com suggests more than 3.5m British now identify as being vegan – a big rise since 2016 when The Vegan Society revealed there were around 540,000 vegans over age 15 living in Britain.

“Part of the increase in sales of veggie sausages can be attributed to this rise.

“Market research company Kantar Worldpanel found that more than one quarter and almost one third of the evening meals consumed in the UK during January 2018 were vegetarian or vegan.”

Related topics: Food trends

Related news

Show more