The first time Cynthia Kupper went out to dinner after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a condition that triggers an immune reaction to eating gluten, her waiter delivered a five-pound jug of salad dressing to the table so Kupper could examine whether it was gluten-free. The memory is still strong 20 years later, she told a crowd of restaurant industry folks at the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York sponsored by the New York State Restaurant Association.
Kupper led a conference along with Marlisa Brown on the first day of the show at the Javits Center titled: Gluten-Free Labeling Laws and Getting your Restaurant Certified Gluten-Free. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
Kupper is a registered nurse and the executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group. The organization offers restaurants a certification program to help establish gluten-free options and develop protocols for what to do when a gluten intolerant guest dines at the restaurant. Those protocols should not include bringing industrial sized condiments out to diners. Kupper suggested posters in the kitchen and separating pantries into gluten and non-gluten items.
"This doesn't have to cost you a lot of money to make you money," Kupper stressed. If you serve someone well and take their dietary needs seriously, this growing and connected community is likely to praise your establishment on various media outlets. Of course, if you serve them poorly the opposite could be true.
As for those restaurant owners who are skeptical about taking on the burden of offering dishes for their gluten-free guests, "we're in the hospitality field," said Brown, a registered dietician, author, and chef. "I would die if someone came over to my house and I had nothing they could eat."
Brown also stressed having a policy and procedures in place for gluten-free guests. Her personal pet peeve is waiters who ask, 'what happens?' when she tells them she's can't eat gluten.
She also warned that new gluten labeling laws, under The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, could hold restaurant owners liable for misbranding. But these laws might also make it easier for restaurant workers to identify if a product contains gluten by requiring that wheat be clearly noted on food labels.
However the laws shakes out, it's clear, said Brown, that gluten-free diets are "not a fad."