The Value of a Gluten-free Dollar: Celiac Diners, Take Heart!

Do you ever feel like a less-valued customer at a restaurant, just because you’re gluten-free?

If so, today’s post features a nice bit of math that proves revenge is a dish best served cold. Or that he who laughs last eats best. Or something.

seriously, how hard do you have to fight for safe food?

In the past I’ve complained about the celiac tax: feeling some major sticker shock from some gluten-free foods. Your comments showed that I wasn’t alone, although we also heard a sound defense from several gluten-free manufacturers.

Anyway. Today’s complaint is the opposite: sometimes it seems like a restaurant can’t be bothered to pay attention to my questions, leaving me unsure about the risk I may be exposing myself to.

You know the feeling? Where you just want to shake your server by the shoulders and shout, “Hey! It’s not fun for me either!”?

Instead of shaking them, here are some statistics to throw out there:

AllergyEats put together a nifty little piece of economics about the economic value of gluten-free customers. Here’s what they found:

  • About 5% of the US population – or about 15 million people – have food allergies or a gluten intolerance.
  • Assume that 20% are so severely allergic that they will not risk eating outside their homes. Assume another 20% are so minimally allergic that they won’t take any precautions. That leaves 60% – or 9 million people – who enjoy eating out in safe places.
  • Assume that each gluten-free diner eats with 2 other, non-allergic people. This is a conservative estimate given that a disproportionate amount of allergies are in children, who tend to eat with families (which tend to be more than 3 people).
  • This turns those 9 million gluten-free diners into 27 million gluten-aware diners, which is nearly 10% of the US population.

And, given the loyalty with which us gluten-free diners often reward our favorite restaurants, that 10% is nothing to sneeze at.

If you’re looking for a gluten-free restaurant in your area – or out on a road trip – you can check out our gluten-free restaurant guide. Not only does it have listings and information for celiac-friendly restaurants in all 50 states, but it has more than 100 gluten-free menus from many of the country’s most popular and plentiful restaurant chains.

Have you had to stick up for your rights as a gluten-free diner? Tell us about it!

6 thoughts on “The Value of a Gluten-free Dollar: Celiac Diners, Take Heart!”

  1. It’s good to see someone doing a serious calculation on this. I’ve felt for a long time that not catering to gluten-free is a missed opportunity where restaurants are losing real cash, but as you say the problem is making them aware of it. I suspect that a lot of restaurants, particularly in today’s economy, wouldn’t be leaving money on the table if they knew they could do something about it.

    It’s particularly silly because catering for gluten-free diners is actually really cheap. In a lot of cases they already have one or more gluten-free options on the menu, and just need to label it and spend half an hour training their servers to answer questions (and refer them to the chef if necessary). In fact, even if they don’t have anything on the menu that’s gluten-free, I’m still far happier if it’s easy to find this out and doesn’t involve guesswork.

  2. I’m apparently pretty lucky in this respect. Even though in my area, it is difficult to find gluten-free options in restaurants, I have been fortunate enough to have fabulous service. I have had one goof-up, which I caught before I ate it, and that one was completely my fault. It was a day that I felt like being normal and didn’t tell the server that I was allergic to wheat, and the wrong sauce was put on my food.

    I always (except for that one time) tell them I’m allergic to wheat, and has I’m ordering and making substitutions, I apologize for being difficult. I know I have nothing to apologize for, but it also seems to put my server in a more sympathetic state, which makes me feel safer, too, and they have always told me it’s not a problem.

    But I’m also the person who doesn’t have a problem paying extra for gluten-free items, and I don’t have a lot of money by any means. The extra I have to pay for food now is still cheaper than medical bills, epi-pens and coffins. But then my last anaphylatic reaction almost killed me (it was after that that we discovered what I was allergic to), so that might give me a slightly different viewpoint.

  3. I have explained this to waiters before and they seemed surprised & promised to talk to their management about it. Maybe if we all pass out copies of this study when we go out to eat, just maybe they will catch on a little faster.

    Like Bev said though, I’m thankful that I discovered what the problem was and am now eating far healthier than I ever would have without having Celiac’s. I’ll probably live longer and be happier for it. I am also actually thankful that I feel the symptoms after I eat wheat, so that I can determine whether or not the restaurant is a good idea to go back to.

  4. I thought Betty Crocker said it best when they spoke about the new line of GF products they offer: it may be a narrow margin of people, but it’s deep! When we find a product or restaurant we like it may be the only one we purchase. I might only be one person, and I might only by brownie mix once a month, but that Betty Crocker brownie mix (which is GOOD, people! Try it!!) will be the only mix I buy for the next 30 years, and the only mix my GF children will buy for how many years…

    Other companies and restaurants need to recognize that we’re a loyal and comitted group of people, and they could make a lot of money off of us!

  5. We joke about shaking servers every time we’re just about to walk into a restaurant … it’s almost the norm to feel like we’re being politely tolerated, so we have fun with it, sometimes asking for really ludicrous things; then the night is fun no matter what :)

  6. At least you folks are in America and the American food chains have started serving something’s Gluten free, I’M an English Coeliac (why we spell in different I don’t know) and I’m very lucky if a eatery will tolerate me and even then all I’m possibly offered is Ham and Chips (and even then you have to check if they fry the chips in the same oil as breaded food). I’m waiting for the day England catches America up in the eating out stakes…all the best and eat safe GF friends Kathy..

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