How to offer diet-friendly festive menus which appeal to difficult customers

The festive season is arguably the busiest time of the year for most foodservice businesses. Menus have to be carefully orchestrated to ensure kitchen staff aren’t stretched beyond capacity, and customers who seek menu items suitable for food allergies and special diets are on the rise.

Managing these special requests, while maintaining high service standards and a healthy bottom line, can be a challenge.

Read on for an overview of the most common dietary requests, along with simple and appealing ways to replace or substitute foods to accommodate them.

Special dietary requests becoming commonplace

Venues are now being asked to cater to a diverse range of dietary requirements. Some of these are made to accommodate food intolerances or lifestyle choices, while others need to address diagnosed allergies.

Faith Drummond is the owner of Sunshine Coast-based Homemade Bliss—a wholesale free from business supplying cakes, slices and desserts to restaurants, cafes and retailers in Queensland and New South Wales. Her business exists to service specific dietary requirements.

Drummond says, “The most common requests our customers have are for gluten free, dairy free, paleo and vegan products – these are the products their patrons are asking for.”

Drummond offers the following outlines for these diet types:

  • Gluten-free and coeliac: no wheat products. Patrons who are gluten-free due to intolerance or by choice may be able to tolerate trace amounts of gluten in their food. Those with coeliac disease are highly sensitive to even trace amounts of gluten, and for this reason it can be easier serving foods which are produced offsite in an accredited gluten free kitchen.
  • Dairy-free: no cow’s milk-based products.
  • Paleo: no grains, dairy products, processed foods or refined sugar. Paleo diets can differ from person to person, however, the overall focus is on consuming high-quality meats, fresh vegetables and minimally processed foods. Low carb is similar to Paleo, however, many people on a low carb diet still consume dairy products.
  • Vegetarian and vegan: no animal products. Many vegetarians consume eggs and dairy products and some eat seafood, though. Strict vegans do not consume any animal products at all.

Replacement and substitution ideas for festive menus

For the festive season, Drummond recommends a few things to restaurant and cafe clients who want to accommodate special requests.

She says: “Remember you don’t need special equipment to make great tasting, fresh allergen-friendly food.

“All it takes is a little research and some practice, but if your time is limited and you want to broaden your offering, then ordering allergen friendly products from a specialist supplier is definitely the way to go.”

When it comes to substitutions and replacements for regular ingredients, she says: “We recommend substituting normal flour with a blend of ground almonds and gluten free flours. Use dairy-free spread instead of margarine, and coconut milk is a great substitute for regular dairy milk.”

Other substitutions can be made across the board in a dedicated Christmas menu, without putting off traditional diners. Try these ideas to keep the kitchen running smoothly, without interrupting service to create completely different meals for one or two customers:

  • For a gluten and dairy-free roast turkey, source gluten-free breadcrumbs or stuffing mix from your wholesale butcher supply or foodservice company. Baste the roast with oil instead of butter.
  • Cook an unstuffed roast as well as a stuffed one, for grain-free, low carb and paleo customers.
  • Instead of a roux-thickened gravy made from wheat flour, use corn or tapioca starch to thicken, or deglaze and simmer pan juices to make a reduction instead.
  • Make whole-roasted cauliflower. Cut into wedges, it doubles as a vegetarian main and a side dish for meat eaters. Simply rub with spices and oil. It’s also gluten and dairy-free, and suitable for paleo and low carb customers.
  • Instead of a fruit Christmas pudding, serve gluten-free chocolate puddings. Serve with fresh berries and the option of non-dairy ice cream.

We have an extensive list of free from ingredient suppliers in our exhibitor directory. For more in depth knowledge about catering to special dietary requests, attend the 2018 exhibition to meet suppliers in person. The event will be held from 10 – 13 September 2018, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.