Saturday, July 28, 2007

If You Offer It, They Will Come....

I’m no economist, but simple notions of supply and demand seem to dictate that if you offer a service to a captive market and meet with success, an inevitable increase in demand (and then more supply) will follow.

As logical as this sounds, I have to admit that for awhile I didn’t think the restaurant industry would take notice of what I already knew to be a clear demand for gluten-free dining—or at the very least, increased understanding of what gluten is and how it is incorporated in dishes.

Check out this interesting NYT article on GF dining in NYC. Turns out, savvy GF diners are proving that if restaurants cater to their needs, they will come. In droves, apparently. Long-standing mecca of gluten-free goodness Risotteria is mentioned (I am still dreaming of the breadsticks and chocolate frosting-stuffed cookies from last April), along with other restaurants that offer separate GF menus ripe with two things long absent from the GF dining experience: options and variety.

We’re a loyal lot, this band of celiacs who refuse to give up on eating out, and as the article illustrates, I’m not alone when I say that if I know of a restaurant that caters to my dietary needs, I will go out of my way to try it, and I’ll spread the word. Win-win situation, yes?

This has been a good week for me in terms of GF tolerance. I’m still adjusting to a dairy-free existence (I admit, I am a bit frightened to try the dairy-free, soy-free “cheddar flavored rice product” my well-meaning husband brought home from the grocery store today, but I’ll try it at least once), so knowing the GF horizon is a little less bumpy makes that easier. It can get somewhat daunting to plan a meal or peruse a menu when there are so many ingredients to avoid. I’m energized about the decision to go dairy-free—anything that even marginally reduces the mucus that chokes me is well worth it—but like going GF, it is still an adjustment.

The same day a friend forwarded me the NYT article, I had a more local encounter of the celiac-friendly kind. I think I’ve mentioned The Fireplace before for its gracious, accommodating nature and abundant native produce, but they’ve upped their GF game a bit since I was last there. They now offer a menu for celiacs that lists every item on the “regular” menu with a bold YES or NO next to each entry—yes meaning it is totally safe from cross-contamination and has no gluten, and no meaning it is not an acceptable offering.

The food and the menu were fabulous. And I think offering something like this is just as helpful for the servers, too—after all, if you don’t have celiac disease, it’s hard to keep track of all the things that contain gluten, especially if it’s a crowded night and there’s an extensive menu to check. It takes the pressure of both parties—I could make an informed order without needing to flag down our waiter with questions, and he could spend his time extolling the virtues of the great wine list with us instead.

Of course, at the end of the day it is my responsibility as the consumer to be educated and prepared, whether that means calling restaurants ahead of time, looking over the menu online, or being willing to be flexible when it comes to ordering off of smaller menus. Gluten and dairy will always have a large presence in most mainstream establishments, and it’s up to me to make sure I choose a restaurant where I can eat something.

But I’m not going to lie; when I walk into a restaurant and open up an entire menu where every single item is safe, it translates into one thing: a celiac foodie’s heaven.


Lisa I said...

I think I actually dropped a tear into my gluten-free beer at Risoterria the first time I went there, and laughed at my gluten gluttons that felt uncomfortable being the odd ones out at the table! Our dollars count, and businesses have noticed, and we are a population willing to pay a bit extra for something that doesn't taste like cardboard with sauce! hahaha! Your blog is great, writing style is unique and I am officially a fan today! Thanks - Lisa

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