The Celiac Tax? Capitalizing on the Gluten-free Community

In the spirit of Laura’s most recent post, I’d like to ask a semi-related question:

Do you ever feel like you’re being taken advantage of because of celiac disease?

Because sometimes, I do. I know that we’re a bit more “difficult” to take care of than a typical restaurant guest. Gluten-free pasta means boiling a separate pot of water. Gluten-free flours cost more. Keeping a dedicated fryer and a clean prep surface takes resources. And on and on and on.

And yet – there are times when I am totally jazzed about going to a restaurant that promises to cater to gluten-free diners, until I find out that there’s a 30% surcharge on my sandwich. Or that for the price of the markup on my single serving of gluten-free pasta, I could buy a pound of the stuff in the supermarket. Somehow, it just doesn’t taste as good anymore.

I think I'm still going to be hungry...
I think I'm still going to be hungry...

Am I being ungrateful? Maybe. There are definitely times when the cost is easy to justify: the gluten-free item is a difficult one to make at home, or an especially delicious one. There are also times when the cost is nominal, or at least in line with expectations.

And then there are times when I look at the food on my plate and want to say, “This is it?! You call this a favor? Nevermind, I’ll eat when I get home.”

I wonder if the restaurants that tack these gluten-free surcharges on have done actual cost-benefit analysis, and determined that they need to cover costs this way? Or – and this is my suspicion – if many of them simply realized they could charge more, so they do.

The same is true of grocery items. I know I’ve crossed a few things out of my gluten-free grocery guide after trying them out.

It’s always a gamble; slowly and over time, you learn which items are worthy of the occasional splurge (hello, frozen gluten-free pizza + movie + wine + pajamas with elastic waistband) and which only have worth as hockey pucks (goodbye, many storebought gluten-free dinner rolls and individually packed “chewy” cookies).

If I reach back into the far corners of my wrinkly mind, to my college economics classes, I know that prices will stabilize as supply and demand reach equilibrium. Right now, the demand for something, anything, gluten-free is outsize: some people can get away with highway robbery.

Supply and DemandI suppose it’s a matter of waiting, and voting with dollars. Where do you cast your vote? I don’t want to trash-talk any specific gluten-free offerings, but what sort of frustrating experiences have you had?


50 thoughts on “The Celiac Tax? Capitalizing on the Gluten-free Community”

  1. What?! I’ve never heard of a restaurant charging a surcharge before. That’s outrageous. Nobody heard about anything like this for peanut allergies, or for lactose intolerant customers. An extra fee to eat because of a condition we were born with. I’m sorry, but that’s just unfair.

  2. What?! I’ve never heard of a restaurant charging a surcharge before. That’s outrageous. Nobody heard about anything like this for peanut allergies, or for lactose intolerant customers. An extra fee to eat because of a condition we were born with. I’m sorry, but that’s just unfair.

  3. Completely agree you have to eat an dthe supermarkets know that, so basically they can afford to charge as much as they can. In the UK a typical loaf of bread costs £1 but the equivalent GF Bread, smaller loaf, is £2.60, who can afford to eat at these prices.

  4. Completely agree you have to eat an dthe supermarkets know that, so basically they can afford to charge as much as they can. In the UK a typical loaf of bread costs £1 but the equivalent GF Bread, smaller loaf, is £2.60, who can afford to eat at these prices.

  5. I’ve run into this with pasta and pizza at restaurants. The “Base pizza is $10, if you are ordering a gluten free crust, add $2” sort of thing. It annoys the piss out of me and is why I try to stick to ordering naturally gluten free dishes when I’m out.

  6. I’ve run into this with pasta and pizza at restaurants. The “Base pizza is $10, if you are ordering a gluten free crust, add $2” sort of thing. It annoys the piss out of me and is why I try to stick to ordering naturally gluten free dishes when I’m out.

  7. One of my favorite pizza places that offers gluten free pizza charges $7 extra to get the gluten free crust. Our pizzas end up costing us around $30. Luckily, their pizza is amazing enough to be worth it. But, even though I know it costs more to make, $7 seems like way too much to charge extra.

  8. One of my favorite pizza places that offers gluten free pizza charges $7 extra to get the gluten free crust. Our pizzas end up costing us around $30. Luckily, their pizza is amazing enough to be worth it. But, even though I know it costs more to make, $7 seems like way too much to charge extra.

  9. You know what I found really funny? I was searching sorghum flour online and found out that in India and Africa sorghum flour (they call it jowar flour but it’s the same thing) is used as a flour substitute for the poorer people who can’t afford wheat flour. I was shocked when I learned this because a little bag of sorghum flour costs about $4 when a huge bag of wheat flour costs a $2! So I did some looking around and found jowar flour at a local Indian shop for $2 for 2 pounds. The bag did say it was processed in a factory that process wheat but when I tried it out no reaction! It’s a crazy world!

  10. You know what I found really funny? I was searching sorghum flour online and found out that in India and Africa sorghum flour (they call it jowar flour but it’s the same thing) is used as a flour substitute for the poorer people who can’t afford wheat flour. I was shocked when I learned this because a little bag of sorghum flour costs about $4 when a huge bag of wheat flour costs a $2! So I did some looking around and found jowar flour at a local Indian shop for $2 for 2 pounds. The bag did say it was processed in a factory that process wheat but when I tried it out no reaction! It’s a crazy world!

  11. I don’t know, I haven’t encountered anything ridiculously overpriced. Most gluten free packaged goods are more processed then their gluten filled counterpart anyway, so I don’t have a problem with them being expensive. It just makes it easier for me to limit myself and not buy that stuff all the time. Same thing with restaurants. If there aren’t many options, I don’t have to worry about spending a bunch of money on food when I could be preparing healthier meals myself at home. That’s just me though!

  12. I don’t know, I haven’t encountered anything ridiculously overpriced. Most gluten free packaged goods are more processed then their gluten filled counterpart anyway, so I don’t have a problem with them being expensive. It just makes it easier for me to limit myself and not buy that stuff all the time. Same thing with restaurants. If there aren’t many options, I don’t have to worry about spending a bunch of money on food when I could be preparing healthier meals myself at home. That’s just me though!

  13. For me it’s just a lot trial and error…and deciding after I purchase it the first time if it’s really worth the money or not. If it’s not, I don’t buy it again. With restaurants I use the same deduction. A pizza place near me is renowned for its “fantastic” gluten free pizza. Not only was it one of the worst tasting pizza’s I’ve ever eaten, it was around $25 for a small gluten free pizza. Definitely never going there again!

  14. For me it’s just a lot trial and error…and deciding after I purchase it the first time if it’s really worth the money or not. If it’s not, I don’t buy it again. With restaurants I use the same deduction. A pizza place near me is renowned for its “fantastic” gluten free pizza. Not only was it one of the worst tasting pizza’s I’ve ever eaten, it was around $25 for a small gluten free pizza. Definitely never going there again!

  15. Being newly diagnosed (Dec 09), I find the availability of products to be helpful. It can be a difficult learning curve just starting out. I was never much of a cook before my diagnosis, so it’s taking a bit of getting used to having to prepare everything from scratch. With a full-time job and two kids, I don’t have the time or energy to cook when I get home. I appreciate what I can find that’s pre-prepared and tastes good. I also like being able to go to a restaurant and request a GF menu, but I agree that being charged extra, usually for a smaller portion, rubs me the wrong way. I tend to not return to those places that don’t seem to appreciate my business. They may have to cater to my needs, but I also dine with an entire table of people that don’t need special treatment, so they still make plenty of money.

  16. Being newly diagnosed (Dec 09), I find the availability of products to be helpful. It can be a difficult learning curve just starting out. I was never much of a cook before my diagnosis, so it’s taking a bit of getting used to having to prepare everything from scratch. With a full-time job and two kids, I don’t have the time or energy to cook when I get home. I appreciate what I can find that’s pre-prepared and tastes good. I also like being able to go to a restaurant and request a GF menu, but I agree that being charged extra, usually for a smaller portion, rubs me the wrong way. I tend to not return to those places that don’t seem to appreciate my business. They may have to cater to my needs, but I also dine with an entire table of people that don’t need special treatment, so they still make plenty of money.

  17. As a specialty food producer who entered the gluten free arena earlier this year, I have found that the ingredients that I need to use in order to make gluten free snacks are outrageously expensive. Unfortunately I have to pass on the higher costs to the consumer. If the supply and demand curves were perfect, then prices should adjust. Believe me, we are not getting away with highway robbery. As a matter of fact, we are trying to set a fair price that will not cost us our business. (btw, our website does not have our gf snack mix and bagel chip yet; it will soon. In the meantime you can follow us on Facebook – El’s Kitchen). ~El

  18. As a specialty food producer who entered the gluten free arena earlier this year, I have found that the ingredients that I need to use in order to make gluten free snacks are outrageously expensive. Unfortunately I have to pass on the higher costs to the consumer. If the supply and demand curves were perfect, then prices should adjust. Believe me, we are not getting away with highway robbery. As a matter of fact, we are trying to set a fair price that will not cost us our business. (btw, our website does not have our gf snack mix and bagel chip yet; it will soon. In the meantime you can follow us on Facebook – El’s Kitchen). ~El

  19. Wow, $7 extra for g-free pizza seems pretty steep! I just found a pizza place near me (Connecticut) that will sell a Small g-free pizza for the price of a Medium (about $12.50) to compensate for the “special” crust. That doesn’t seem so bad, and almost worth trying since I haven’t had a slice of pizza in over 14 months! I haven’t been hit with a gluten-free meal surcharge at a restaurant before, but it does get me irritated when I order a cheeseburger or sandwich with a request “without the bun” and still get charged the FULL PRICE as if I was given the WHOLE sandwich!! GRR! I’m with @stacey, above: With 1 year of G-free under my belt, I have NEVER purchased a frozen g-free bread item — my “need” has never outweighed my ability to justify the idea of paying $7 for 5 frozen english muffins. For me, I totally miss the smell & taste of a Thomas’ English muffin with butter, but I am not THAT desperate to eat a pricey, frozen reproduction that will not taste the same as the Thomas’ one. I think that the whole label-reading education process ruined my ability and desire to eat processed foods any more. I’d rather spend my grocery money on something natural and whole, and make it myself from scratch, versus buying something pre-packaged and frozen, or full of salt and who-knows what from a restaurant kitchen. That being said, while buying most of these items is not for me, I think that it is great that more g-free products are being developed and becoming available to the g-free community in restaurants and grocery stores. It is nice to be able to at least have the OPTION of having a g-free version of something! They’ll never be as cheap as the wheat-based “original” because of the U.S. government subsidies to wheat producers that influence and lower the cost of wheat products.

  20. Wow, $7 extra for g-free pizza seems pretty steep! I just found a pizza place near me (Connecticut) that will sell a Small g-free pizza for the price of a Medium (about $12.50) to compensate for the “special” crust. That doesn’t seem so bad, and almost worth trying since I haven’t had a slice of pizza in over 14 months! I haven’t been hit with a gluten-free meal surcharge at a restaurant before, but it does get me irritated when I order a cheeseburger or sandwich with a request “without the bun” and still get charged the FULL PRICE as if I was given the WHOLE sandwich!! GRR! I’m with @stacey, above: With 1 year of G-free under my belt, I have NEVER purchased a frozen g-free bread item — my “need” has never outweighed my ability to justify the idea of paying $7 for 5 frozen english muffins. For me, I totally miss the smell & taste of a Thomas’ English muffin with butter, but I am not THAT desperate to eat a pricey, frozen reproduction that will not taste the same as the Thomas’ one. I think that the whole label-reading education process ruined my ability and desire to eat processed foods any more. I’d rather spend my grocery money on something natural and whole, and make it myself from scratch, versus buying something pre-packaged and frozen, or full of salt and who-knows what from a restaurant kitchen. That being said, while buying most of these items is not for me, I think that it is great that more g-free products are being developed and becoming available to the g-free community in restaurants and grocery stores. It is nice to be able to at least have the OPTION of having a g-free version of something! They’ll never be as cheap as the wheat-based “original” because of the U.S. government subsidies to wheat producers that influence and lower the cost of wheat products.

  21. I was diagnosed with Celiac in 2004 and have found that it is better to eat at home than eat out – but if I did that I would have no life! Therefore, I have adjusted to the fact that when I eat out I get something I normally wouldn’t eat at home then I feel very “special” and not a martyr because of a medical condition.
    Why is it that the people with health problems are penalized by a “surcharge” or “up charge” when restaurants can make wholesome meals without adding all the chemicals and byproducts to the food.
    Maybe this could be a solution to help lower our health care costs…I would like to add an afterthought – We can eat – some people have feeding tubes…enjoy the food!!!

  22. I was diagnosed with Celiac in 2004 and have found that it is better to eat at home than eat out – but if I did that I would have no life! Therefore, I have adjusted to the fact that when I eat out I get something I normally wouldn’t eat at home then I feel very “special” and not a martyr because of a medical condition.
    Why is it that the people with health problems are penalized by a “surcharge” or “up charge” when restaurants can make wholesome meals without adding all the chemicals and byproducts to the food.
    Maybe this could be a solution to help lower our health care costs…I would like to add an afterthought – We can eat – some people have feeding tubes…enjoy the food!!!

  23. We haven’t noticed a surcharge on restaurant food, but gf food at the grocery store is always more. Also the few pizza places that have gf crust are very expensive. At one local pizza place we can get 2 Jumbo pizzas (16″ / 16 slices) with regular crust for $25.00. 1 gf crust pizza only comes in one size, 8″ / 6 slices, and is $27.00. That is 32 slices compared to 6 slices and paying more for the gf crust. High for anyone but out of site for a college student. Also not all neighborhood satellites carry the gf crust and won’t deliver out of their neighborhood. Why should we be denied delivery just because we live in a residential area whose pizza satellite doesnt have the capability?

    Side note on gf groceries etc: If you are able to deduct medical expenses from your taxes you might be able to include your gf grocery expenses in your out of pocket medical expense. Save your receipts and check with an accountant or tax firm. It’s a small thng, but it is something

  24. We haven’t noticed a surcharge on restaurant food, but gf food at the grocery store is always more. Also the few pizza places that have gf crust are very expensive. At one local pizza place we can get 2 Jumbo pizzas (16″ / 16 slices) with regular crust for $25.00. 1 gf crust pizza only comes in one size, 8″ / 6 slices, and is $27.00. That is 32 slices compared to 6 slices and paying more for the gf crust. High for anyone but out of site for a college student. Also not all neighborhood satellites carry the gf crust and won’t deliver out of their neighborhood. Why should we be denied delivery just because we live in a residential area whose pizza satellite doesnt have the capability?

    Side note on gf groceries etc: If you are able to deduct medical expenses from your taxes you might be able to include your gf grocery expenses in your out of pocket medical expense. Save your receipts and check with an accountant or tax firm. It’s a small thng, but it is something

  25. I was born with Celiac disease. This isn’t a fad for me to eat Gluten-free. It’s a way of life. As a chef I found it cheaper to go to the international markets for Gluten-free flour and other ingredients. While name brand supermarkets and “box” mart stores are slowly getting gluten-free items, only time prevails.

  26. I was born with Celiac disease. This isn’t a fad for me to eat Gluten-free. It’s a way of life. As a chef I found it cheaper to go to the international markets for Gluten-free flour and other ingredients. While name brand supermarkets and “box” mart stores are slowly getting gluten-free items, only time prevails.

  27. Most restaurants charge you more for their GF version of the food. My friends are always amazed when I order the same as them but my bill is always higher. It isn’t fair but I guess I am just use to it. I do enjoy eating out with my friends and family, and unfortunately that is one of the prices I have to pay. Maybe someday it won’t be that way!!!

  28. Most restaurants charge you more for their GF version of the food. My friends are always amazed when I order the same as them but my bill is always higher. It isn’t fair but I guess I am just use to it. I do enjoy eating out with my friends and family, and unfortunately that is one of the prices I have to pay. Maybe someday it won’t be that way!!!

  29. It’s basic economics. We consume millions of tons of wheat flour products and a comparatively tiny fraction of non-gluten flour products. Products have to cost more because cheap prices only come from massive volume production.

  30. It’s basic economics. We consume millions of tons of wheat flour products and a comparatively tiny fraction of non-gluten flour products. Products have to cost more because cheap prices only come from massive volume production.

  31. I have only been gf for about 3 months. I find it cruel that prices are higher for anything that is healthier for our bodies. Gf is not a choice for most of us it is necessary. This is not an easy time to spend more just to eat. I have been avoiding a lot of stuff and been eating natural stuff. First husband was umployed, now I am.

  32. I have only been gf for about 3 months. I find it cruel that prices are higher for anything that is healthier for our bodies. Gf is not a choice for most of us it is necessary. This is not an easy time to spend more just to eat. I have been avoiding a lot of stuff and been eating natural stuff. First husband was umployed, now I am.

  33. It is very nice that some restaurants offer gluten free options. I am certainly willing to pay more for the products that are substitutes for wheat flour, but I do not think a SURCHARGE is justified particularly for food that is naturally gluten free. Restaurants shouldn’t be cross contaminating food any way.I myself will not be eating at a restaurant that charges a surcharge.

  34. It is very nice that some restaurants offer gluten free options. I am certainly willing to pay more for the products that are substitutes for wheat flour, but I do not think a SURCHARGE is justified particularly for food that is naturally gluten free. Restaurants shouldn’t be cross contaminating food any way.I myself will not be eating at a restaurant that charges a surcharge.

  35. There is a pizza place that up charges for gluten free pizza. When me and my husband go for a medium pizza and 2 pops we are at $30.00! They even up charge the toppings if they are being put on gluten free crusts! And we always wait at least an hour for our thin crust pizza-people have come in after us, ate and left before we get ours! It is not fair and I know that this stuff does not cost that much more… they are charging more because they can.

  36. There is a pizza place that up charges for gluten free pizza. When me and my husband go for a medium pizza and 2 pops we are at $30.00! They even up charge the toppings if they are being put on gluten free crusts! And we always wait at least an hour for our thin crust pizza-people have come in after us, ate and left before we get ours! It is not fair and I know that this stuff does not cost that much more… they are charging more because they can.

  37. I know the difference in the cost of Gluten free food versus “normal” people food is tax deductable. Wondering if the diff in the cost of our resturant bill would also be tax deductable? Anybody know?

  38. I know the difference in the cost of Gluten free food versus “normal” people food is tax deductable. Wondering if the diff in the cost of our resturant bill would also be tax deductable? Anybody know?

  39. i hv celiac diesease since 1`yr iam 42 yr .im stay in jordan ,my proplem is in jordan lhe product of gf is very expensive and not avilable in grocery and we dnt have resturant or pizza shop for gluten free ….plz can u help me and other patients to available pizza shop in our country …thanks alot

  40. i hv celiac diesease since 1`yr iam 42 yr .im stay in jordan ,my proplem is in jordan lhe product of gf is very expensive and not avilable in grocery and we dnt have resturant or pizza shop for gluten free ….plz can u help me and other patients to available pizza shop in our country …thanks alot

  41. OH MY, YES GF FOODS ARE TO EXPENSIVE BUT LOOK HOW MUCH PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE IN THE PAST TWO YEARS ALONE. BE APPRECIATIVE YET ADVOCATE.

  42. OH MY, YES GF FOODS ARE TO EXPENSIVE BUT LOOK HOW MUCH PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE IN THE PAST TWO YEARS ALONE. BE APPRECIATIVE YET ADVOCATE.

  43. Finding cheap gluten free pasta is not easy.
    And gluten free products do not benefit from the joys of economies of scale….

    And as a restaurant owner, it is very difficult to justify the opportunity cost of carrying the products. It just rarely makes sense…..

    For my under $10 dishes, I would have to add a surcharge of almost $10!

    If someone can help me find a good product that is cost-effective I’d be more than happy to carry it.

  44. I know the frustration of shopping GF too! I have a min. wage job. Bing a Diabetic and having celiac is realy tough to shop. I find that I’m inching by payday to payday eating peanutbutter cups or rice posa chili. I can’t aford real food. It not fare for people like us to be paying 2-10 dollars more for everything we need to live better lives. A plain milk chol. bar is around $1.65 yet a certified GF milk chol. bar is $2.79. WHY? It’s just a Milk chol. bar. It has the same ingredants, and it’s smaller!
    All you out there , Take care! Be Safe!

  45. the reason the gluten free products cost more money because people in general are greedy. if the U.S. government sets the example by allowing this, by not restricting our elected officials to have earmarks for their special interests. people will get away with what they can. in this case,companies to rape the wallets of the American people who are stricken with this terrible condition. they ought to be ashamed of themselves!! bilking people who really cannot afford to pay for gluten free foods. i pay 6 times the amount the average person pays for a loaf of bread for my daughter. I don’t know how these gluten free companies sleep at night.

  46. My favorite Pizza restaurant offers GF pizza (personal pizza) for the same price as a regular personal pizza. I know some speciality stores that carry gluten free and organic foods do charge more, i have 2 of them right in my town,but they are small business people so I don’t mind buying from them occassionally, but all the time would be very expensive. I am not ultra sensitive, so I don’t need to buy chicken that has not been fed gluten. I read labels all the time and I have been doing fine now for a year, that is how long I knew I had Celiac disease.

  47. There is a relatively new italian place near my house that recently started carrying gluten free pasta and pizza crust. I was estatic! Then my husband and I ate there and we saw our bill.

    He does not eat gluten free and ordered a steak with stuffed lobster and a tuna appetizer and two drinks. His appetizer, meal and drinks cost LESS than my one plate of gluten free VEGAN pasta! Can you believe that??!

    I found out AFTER my order that they tack on an additionl $15.00 per gluten free order, whether it’s pasta or pizza. I also found out what kind of pasta and pizza crust they use. I buy both products to use at home! So why am I paying them an additional $15.00 per dish to cook it for me?

    I’ve been gluten free for 3 years and this was the first time I learned of such a surcharge. Now I know to ask first!

  48. Another comment about product being expensive… yes, in specialty stores you will see gluten free items sometimes cost double or triple their gluten counterparts. Yet I see boxes of gluten free pasta on sale at stores like Job Lots for ONE BUCK A BOX! So how is it we are paying 6.00 for a small box of GF pasta at Whole Foods and then find truck loads of gluten free italian pasta at Job Lots for ONE BUCK A BOX?

    What’s more, to the restaurant owner who claims gluten free products are expensive, I buy my gluten free pasta and flour in bulk directly from the manufacturer or at sites like Amazon and pay a lot less than retail. I’m sure restaurants have ways to pay even less than a single household.

    Sometimes you have to go outside your normal vendor to find those prices but I think if you have a large number of customers seeking GF choices and you can find something to keep your costs lower, the benefits will out weigh the inconvenience of finding additional vendors… just sayin’

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