Demand for gluten-free products continues to grow, with 15 percent of consumers surveyed looking for gluten-free options when dining out, according to a 2020 report by market research firm Mintel. Heeding this demand, more than a quarter of US restaurants now offer gluten-free dishes, but many establishments aren’t promoting these offerings as effectively as they could. Lack of publicity doesn’t just hurt consumers, who must often rely on word of mouth or do their own personal research to find gluten-free restaurants, it also costs restaurants valuable opportunities to promote gluten-free menu items. Marketing gluten-free can help attract new clientele, including the friends and family members of potential gluten-free patrons.
In most cases, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to effectively market your gluten-free menu. Simply mentioning that you offer a gluten-free menu in your marketing materials is one easy step you can take. However, if you really want to take your marketing efforts to the next level, here are four tips that will help.
Use Digital Channels to Market to Gluten-Free Consumers
Without a doubt, word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools available to restaurants and this is particularly true for gluten-free dining. The gluten-free community maintains an active online presence (particularly on Facebook) where gluten-free groups have attracted enormous followings. Word travels fast in these spaces and people are quick to note which restaurants know what they’re doing when it comes to gluten-free dining, and which ones don’t make the grade.
Working with the right social media influencers can therefore enhance your reputation. When approaching particular influencers, remember that knowledge and credibility carry a lot more weight in the gluten-free community than the number of followers an influencer has. Because people adopt gluten-free diets for different reasons—many for serious medical reasons, like celiac disease—working with influencers who adopt strict criteria for endorsing restaurants will ensure you avoid the pitfalls associated with negative word of mouth.
Websites and apps like Yelp and Find Me Gluten Free are also excellent resources for promoting your business. Find Me Gluten Free is the largest online directory of gluten-free restaurants, with more than three-million downloads and counting. In addition, the app includes extensive customer reviews by gluten-free diners. Because testimonials by peers carry a lot of weight in the gluten-free community, published reviews can be a great way to publicize your restaurant—provided, of course, you follow the proper procedures for preparing gluten-free food, as the gluten-free community can be very tough, since even one mistake can have health consequences for them.
Don’t forget about your restaurant website either. Referring to your gluten-free menu on your “About” page is a good place to start. But to make the most of your online presence, you might also consider creating a page dedicated to your gluten-free menu and publishing information on your food handling procedures to show visitors that you take their dietary needs seriously.
Take to the Camera
Virtual cooking classes were one of the hottest trends to emerge from 2020, thanks to COVID-19. In 2021, restaurants can build on this idea and showcase their knowledge of safe food handling procedures through online cooking demos. During the demo, set up your filming area the same way you organize your kitchen to show viewers that you know how to safely handle and store gluten-free ingredients and equipment to avoid cross-contact.
You can also do “backstage tours” to show viewers how you set up your kitchen and highlight your restaurant’s written policies and procedures for gluten-free food preparation. Taking the time to show viewers that you know what you are doing, that you have set procedures and that people follow them, can ease a lot of anxiety, especially for viewers who adopt a gluten-free diet out of medical necessity.
Make Gluten-Free a Part of Your POS
Including a button for gluten-free orders on your POS system is a quick and easy way to personalize guest receipts, to notify kitchen staff that a customer is gluten-free and to show your gluten-free customers that you value their business. Printing a special notice on receipts also allows customers—and, in the case of takeout, delivery personnel—to see at a glance which orders are gluten-free. Even if you don’t have a digital POS system, you can still order rolls of stickers printed with “GF” or “Gluten Free” to distinguish gluten-free orders.
Get Validated as a Gluten-Gree Safe Spot
Getting validated by a program like Gluten-Free Food Service is another terrific way to promote your gluten-free offerings. In a recent survey of 5,000 gluten-free diners conducted by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), 98 percent of respondents said they would feel safer eating at a validated restaurant. Validation can also convince choosy social media influencers to partner with your restaurant because it ensures the gluten-free options you’re marketing are prepared using the best standards for safe gluten-free dining. For restaurants that need to develop written procedures, validation can be a great resource as well. A bonus of working with a validating organization like GFFS is that they will often refer to your restaurant in social media posts, newsletters and online directories, providing some much-appreciated free publicity.
As more restaurants add gluten-free options to their menus, eateries that want to stand out from the competition must establish credibility with gluten-free consumers. Leveraging technology and social media, finding creative ways to showcase your expertise, and validating your restaurant are simple steps you can take to build trust and generate buzz about your gluten-free menu. With the right preparation and messaging, your marketing campaign can inspire the most powerful publicity of all—recommendations from loyal gluten-free customers and their loved ones.