Further to our recent Eating Out Experience Survey – a big big thank you to those who participated! We got an amazing response from various social media groups and the results – although not surprising – reinforce the issues we address and the recommendations we make in our gluten free training.
Out of the 257 respondents, six percent eat out ‘more than once a week’ and 17.5 percent eat out ‘weekly’. There are approximately 64.5 million people in the UK. It is estimated that one percent of the population is a coeliac and a quarter of them are clinically diagnosed – that’s 154,800 people who medically require a gluten free meal. If you extrapolate the survey figures – then that’s a huge number of people – i.e. about 36,378 coeliacs eat out once a week or more. If the average spend per customer is even say £15.00 per head (excluding drinks) then that is nearly 550 thousand pounds a week of gluten free spend! This figure does not include the people they eat out with – which you could conservatively double to one million pounds plus a week!
If a group of people were eating out, over 40 percent of respondents said that the venue was ‘always’ dictated by their diet and almost another third said that it was dictated by their diet ‘most of the time’. This is very significant for a food provider. If the client feels that the establishment has catered well for their diet, then it’s logical to assume that they will want to eat there again. Conversely if the diner does not feel well catered for, then that establishment would not be one that they would bother to return to with family and friends.
In fact the next question asked was do you return to places that have a good understanding of gluten free. 60 percent answered ‘always’ and a further 30% said that they would return to an establishment which understands gluten free well ‘most of the time’. This further entrenches the view that if it is done well, the gluten free person (who mainly dictates where a group of people eat – see above) will return to the places where they are well catered for. That’s potentially a lot of return covers for any food business.
Without any external advertising such as A boards, signs on the window etc, only 39 percent of those respondents would ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’ bother to go inside and ask whether a gluten free diet could be catered for. Just less than 50 percent of the respondents would only go in and ask ‘sometimes’ and 11 percent would not bother to ask. This illustrates how important the external signage is to show that the establishment can cater for gluten free.
It was interesting to see that 56 percent of diners would ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’ contact the establishment beforehand, arguably giving fair warning of their dietary restrictions.
A significant amount of respondents said that they would steer clear of an establishment if the person with whom they first had contact didn’t understand gluten free – 59 percent in fact would ‘always’ go elsewhere and almost another third would go elsewhere ‘most of the time’. One assumes that there are other mitigating factors as to why they would still eat there – anecdotally speaking – generally because if they are in a group they wouldn’t want to make a fuss and would eat there anyway. This and the previous question shows that it really is important that everyone in the organisation needs to be clued up on gluten free.
A huge 96 percent said that it was ‘very important’ that the server had a good knowledge of gluten free. This was the second most significant response we had. I have experienced many times the server repeatedly returning to the kitchen with questions for the chef. Would it not be so much easier, and far much more of a pleasurable experience from all points of view, if the waiting staff were fully trained in gluten free?
When asked whether the clients would prefer a separate gluten free menu, 30 percent said they ‘would prefer a separate menu’ and 32 percent said that they would not only like a separate menu, but also to discuss the gluten free options with their server. Further reinforcing the need for the restaurant staff to be knowledgeable about gluten free.
Being served a non-gluten free meal by mistake due to a lack of staff awareness returned a staggering 68 percent. This is not only bad customer service, but being given a meal that can make you ill is totally unacceptable, especially if you have gone to the effort of calling ahead and letting the establishment know you require a gluten free meal. Most staff in catering want to ensure the diners have a tasty meal and an enjoyable time. The sheen is really taken off this if the diner then spends the following days ill.
When asked whether they had ever been ill from an eatery that served them a ‘gluten free’ meal, 71 percent had been made ill – this is alarming. Seventy one percent! This high percentage would suggest that there is still so much lack of knowledge that diners are being made sick. Imagine if this was salmonella or botulism – the restaurant would be closed down and with those numbers, the Health Authorities would declare a State of Emergency – and yet it’s okay to give a coeliac basically similar symptoms. Significantly less than half of those made ill actually made a complaint to the establishment, in which case the eatery would have carried on making the same mistakes in ignorant bliss.
I hope that the results of the survey will resonate with those in the food industry who serve gluten free food. Sadly, there is still so much training needed as mistakes are being made due to lack of knowledge. It is very hard to get the catering sector to understand the significance of gluten free, both from a staff training point of view and an overall eating out experience. The irony still is (and as the survey proves) coeliacs dictate where they eat a significant amount of the time…..that is a lot of money hotels, pubs, restaurants, cafés etc are missing out on, due to a lack of proper training and awareness.