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Food allergies are on the rise in the United States. By now, you've heard the statistics: 12 million Americans now suffer from food allergies, and an estimated 8 percent of all children are allergic to some kind of food. Add to that the more than 1 percent of the population who have been diagnosed with celiac disease and the growing number of people with a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, and the potential number of diners with special dietary needs skyrockets.
Smart restaurant owners and chefs have recognized the value of updating their menus to offer allergen- and gluten-free options. Those on the leading edge have also taken the necessary steps to evaluate their operations in both the front and the back of the house to make sure meals start safe and stay that way until they reach the diner. Nobody wants to go to the ER for dessert.
Anyone who has gone through the process knows it's an investment of time and money to do it right. But if you do, you will build a fanatically loyal customer base of not only special needs diners but their friends and family, too, who welcome the chance to share a worry-free meal. They are always looking for new places to eat that can serve everyone with confidence, and are willing to reward the ones that do with their dining dollars.
So, how do you let these ready customers know you have what they are looking for? There's an app for that — several, in fact. With today's smartphone technology, diners can find restaurants that serve specific cuisines, in specific neighborhoods, at specific times of day — and have specific menu items that are allergen- and/or gluten-free.
AllergyEats.com is a comprehensive guide to allergy-friendly restaurants across the United States, with an app for both Android and Apple smartphones. The peer-reviewed directory of restaurants — rated by people with food allergies, for people with food allergies — contains more than 600,000 listings of restaurants from greasy spoons to national chains.
Users choose the allergen they want to avoid from a list of the Big 8, plus gluten and sesame, and enter their location. The app returns local restaurants rated from best to worst in terms of allergy-friendliness. The list also includes restaurants that have not been rated, to give diners the chance to share their personal experiences. The website at www.allergyeats.com makes it clear that the ratings are not created or reviewed by allergy experts and that diners should always inform the waitstaff of any concerns.
While restaurants don't participate in ratings, AllergyEats does work with restaurants to add more data. Each listing includes a column for additional information that can be anything from allergy policies to responses to diner reviews — a great way to engage an audience already seeking exactly that kind of information. You can be part of the conversation at the AllergyEats page on Facebook, too.
Find Me Gluten Free:
The Find Me Gluten Free app is also available for both Android and Apple devices. It searches for restaurants in all 50 states that offer gluten-free options. A diner simply inputs his or her location and the app serves up the nearest locations with a map, what items are gluten-free, price category, diner reviews, contact information and any gluten-free training certifications the eatery has earned. It includes chain restaurants as well as single locations. The website at www.findmeglutenfree.com also features a blog and the link for restaurants to become part of the search; Find Me Gluten Free is also on Facebook.
What's your favorite menu app that your customers use from an operators' view?