Menu Makeover: Should You Add Special Diet Items to Your Menu?

Menu-makeoverOnce a way of preventing food allergies or dealing with illnesses such as diabetes, special diets are rapidly becoming mainstream.  From gluten-free to vegan, diners are demanding options to meet their tastes, health preferences, and beliefs.  Is it worth including these items on your menu? Here are some things to think about before adding special diet options to your foodservice operation.


Although the number of people with Celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder that causes a toxic reaction to gluten, is relatively low, the demand for gluten-free products is growing.  According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, only 1 in 133 Americans has Celiac disease. However, gluten-free sales topped $2.6 billion in 2010 and are expected to reach $5 billion by 2015. Why? Many people without Celiac disease are choosing to go gluten-free to improve their health. Cutting out gluten reduces carbohydrate (and calorie) consumption, leading to weight loss. Additionally, many of those that have eliminated gluten also report having more energy, lower cholesterol levels, and fewer symptoms from Type 1 diabetes, arthritis, thyroid disease, autism, and Down syndrome.

Created by Donald Watson in 1944, veganism is a diet founded upon “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals”. Like vegetarians, vegans do not consume meat. In addition, they also exclude all secondary animal products from their diet, including dairy, eggs, and honey. Only 3% of the current population is vegan, but the diet has become increasingly popular because of famous vegans like Bill Clinton, Ellen Degeneres, Mike Tyson, Joaquin Phoenix, and Alicia Silverstone.

Cross Contamination

Consuming only a trace of gluten can trigger a severe reaction for those with Celiac disease. It is therefore vital for restaurants serving gluten-free meals to take precautions to avoid cross-contamination. Gluten-free items should be prepared separately from traditional menu options.  Foodservice professionals should first evaluate their food preparation areas to determine whether or not there is sufficient space for a separate gluten-free work station. Second, they should decide if they are able to invest in separate food prep equipment, a necessity for preparing gluten-free meals in conjunction with standard fare.


Ingredients for meals catering to those on special diets often have a heftier price tag, which could have an impact upon your bottom line. Some studies estimate that gluten-free ingredients can cost a whopping 242% more than those containing gluten.

While gluten-free meals often cost more, vegan meals can cost less due to the rising cost of meat and dairy products. However, dairy substitutes like almond milk are generally more expensive than regular milk, increasing overall costs.



Cooking gluten-free and vegan dishes can be challenging to say the least. Mimicking the taste and texture of traditional chocolate cake without using flour or eggs can sometimes be a difficult ordeal. Taking the time to test and perfect your gluten-free and vegan recipes will help lure diners on these special diets back to your establishment time and time again.