BigHospitality's 2012 look-back: Catering for diners with special dietary needs and the London 2012 Olympics

Prezzo and Pizza Hut made the first big steps in the industry this year to improving options for customers who are unable to tolerate gluten

The third instalment of our 2012 look-back feature sees us take a closer look at two big stories from the year, including one about the impact of the London 2012 Olympics on the hospitality industry and another about how restaurants are better catering for diners with special dietary needs. 

For the third part of our feature we enlist the help of Sam Rooke of Jellybean Creative Solutions and Petra Clayton of Custard Communications to talk us through the issues and tell us why they think they were so widely-read and talked about over the last year. 

6: Prezzo and Pizza Hut add gluten-free options, is the industry doing enough?

Talk to those who are unable to tolerate gluten in their diet and they will tell you that eating-out is not an easy experience. However, according to charity Coeliac UK, the industry does want to make it easier for diners with special dietary needs, but it just needs some guidance. When Prezzo and Pizza Hut, two restaurants who rely on wheat-based ingredients for the core of their menus, announced they would be selling gluten-free pizzas there was instant interest, both from other restaurateurs and their customers. 

Comment from Sam Rooke, Jellybean Creative Solutions

It’s fair to say that the UK gluten-free market has exploded in the past 12 months. With a current worth of £108m and expanding rapidly, you need only look at the growing provision of gluten-free options on offer in supermarkets up and down the land as evidence of their approaches to coeliac focused category management. The out-of-home market is following suit with prominent players such as Pizza Hut, Prezzo and Carluccio’s developing their own menu options to meet the needs of coeliacs and 2013 represents a fantastic opportunity for caterers to capitalise and grow their gluten-free offering accordingly. 

Perceived barriers to growth include the new EU rules, brought in on 1 January, 2012, that sought to tighten up the terms used to describe food that is either ‘free from’ or low in gluten. The changeover wasn’t widely reported at the time, leading Coeliac UK – the charity dedicated to fostering the understanding of coeliac disease – to hold a briefing event to help caterers better understand the laws and ‘access the gluten-free pound’.  In truth, the legislation should hold no fear for the out-of-home market. The key to sparking further growth is by helping to raise awareness of the legislation itself, and also on gluten intolerance and what it means for sufferers.

The rise of social media and the support of organisations such as Coeliac UK mean that caterers have far more access to information on special diets than ever before. They have a crucial part to play if the gluten-free market is to flourish. 

Research from Coeliac UK suggests that, just like vegetarians, the coeliac customer drives the decision when choosing where to dine. With as many as 1 in every 100 people being diagnosed as coeliac, remember that if you can cater effectively for this demographic they are likely to return and recommend you to others. Take time to educate yourself and your staff.

5: City restaurant lands Boris Johnson with £90k bill for Olympic losses

Taking middle place in our list of the top 10 most-read stories of 2012 is an Olympic's themed story. We wrote a number of stories on the London 2012 Olympics in the run-up to, during and after the worldwide sporting event, highlighting the affect it could, did and perhaps should have had on the industry. This article, written as the Olympics came to a close, struck a chord with many readers, particularly those in central London and the City, after they experienced a dramatic drop in trade as soon as the Games opened. 

Comment from Petra Clayton, Custard Communications 

Naturally, the Olympics dominated the press this year and the hospitality industry became the central focus. It’s therefore not surprising that the trade press were there to support all businesses in hospitality throughout the summer to share their experiences and to drive issues back to Government. 

From the initial excitement of promises of a gold rush to the capital, to the throes of disappointment, every story propelled the complexities and the opportunities hospitality offers the UK economy, whether that was hotels over-charging or cafes going out of business. The media was awash with a broad range of industry horror stories. 

Whilst the story reported in BigHospitality highlights how one restaurant took drastic steps to make a point to the Government, what it really demonstrated was why the industry was led to believe that the Olympics was the golden egg. 

The comments supporting the article were missing the point. Disgruntled restaurateurs and businesses were bitter about the promises that LOCOG made and the recommendations they made to the public to get out of town, but what needs to be addressed is far greater. We should have a big and united voice, be clearly represented and above all respected for the economic contribution the industry provides to the UK on a daily basis. 

It was devastating to hear about the loss of some of those businesses who had limped through the previous two years and were then reduced to closing when the promise of thousands of diners just didn’t materialise. We may now all have Olympic fatigue, but we should be focusing on what we have learnt, as well as what the Government are going to do to work harder at their relationship with all of us.

Read the rest of our look-back 2012 articles here

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