Top Shelf Gluten Free Restaurant Awards

19 March, 2018 by

Establishing foundations.

Look for this logo to find accredited food outlets

Coeliac Australia Gluten Free Accredited logo for food outlets

Gluten Free Restaurant Awards or any awards in the allergen catering space for that matter are particularly rare.

Coeliac Australia has been particularly busy across most states supporting the accreditation process of gluten free restaurants, cafes and various food outlets. This is a great program and making many coeliacs very happy.

This accreditation is a great way to increase the education and awareness of those providing meals and helps them to improve their standards. In many cases, those seeking accrediation are required to pay for specific and formal training for their staff on an ongoing basis.

An all too familiar view for a coeliac.

Bathroom Blues.

Fantastic! That means anxiety levels will be reduced and we don’t have to know where the nearest bathroom is. Well, that’s the idea.

I do wonder how long the small to medium businesses can keep up with the costs of training staff each year, or if the return on investment is really there. I suspect maintaining accreditation will be a big ask for some.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that accreditation is a massive improvement. It is definately a necessary foundation to a high quality catering industry that is also safe. Something that is greatly needed in our catering industry.

It’s a great contributor toward a safer catering culture in Australia.

It does feel however, that once accreditation is achieved, the newly accredited restaurants and cafes are released into the wild with the occaisional audit scheduled for some distant date.

I don’t know about you, but I feel as if there is a whole other half to this situation. You know, the part that demands the food look and taste good, that expects good service and reasonable prices for what is being delivered to your table.

Accreditation is only half of the solution to ensure diners are safe, satisfied and feel as if they have received value for money.

Why worry about it?

Ever summoned up the courage to venture to a restaurant that serves you a safe but incredibly unappealing ‘cardboard based meal while all

PJ Blands Patty

Image sourced from PJ Blands (Flickr)

your friends are provided with the most amazing looking (and smelling) delicacies?

Safe food is all that matters, right? Wrong. I don’t know about you, but I actually enjoy food that tastes good and don’t want to have to win the lottery to do it.

If I support a restaurant or cafe because I know it’s safe and delicious, then they are probably putting in a lot of time and money to make it that way. I’m hoping that they also get a lot of business as a direct result.

You see, that’s the key. We need businesses to be allergen aware as well as make it tasty. Theorectically, this means that they will get more customers and ride the wave of a sustainable business. Oh, and we get another option for eating out safely as a consequence.

From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t always work like that. High prices, frequent closures and low patron numbers…the killer of any small business.

How do we help them to help us?

Simple, we expect the same of these specialty meals as we do of main stream meals. We critique them, we encourage them to do better, we motivate and praise them. We also appreciate and thank them when they do a good job.

That’s the clincher. Rewarding them.

It’s not easy being different in the catering world. You have to make most of the food on site because you can’t just order and pay for products that someone else has made, you have to prove provenance of your supply chain, you have to pay extra because your ingredients are not main stream and cost more to manufacture. Y

ou also have to spend more hours away from your family and friends to bring it all together. Gluten Free Restaurant Awards would make a lot of difference to the day to day slog of running your business.

Going Mainstream.

So what options have we got to actually provide a tangible reward to caterers in the allergen space?

We can keep eating at their restaurants and cafes…right? Sure, keep doing this. Keep recommending them in the social media space and telling your CD friends and family about them. Never stop doing this – ever.

Another option is get them right up there, competing in the main stream catering world for official main stream recognition.

To do this, there needs to be formal encouragement and recognition of restaurants, cafes and other food outlets that establish and maintain a high level of dining excellence in the allergen space.

It is one thing for a restaurant or cafe to work with an accrediting organisation to establish processes and certify supply chains. It is quite another for those food outlets to be visited by a food critic and be judged on the quality of the food, it’s taste and the overall dining experience from an allergen (GF in this context) perspective.

Gluten Free Restaurant Awards.

Free From Eating Out Awards (UK) 2017

Be sure to look for this symbol if you are out and about in the UK.

The United Kingdom has been fortunate to have the Free From Eating Out Awards since 2014.

With the Foods Matter team at it’s core, these awards have established a wonderful approach to rewarding caterers who accomodate allergens and do it well.

It’s not just about the provision of safe gluten free meals to coeliacs, but the 14 major allergens listed in the European Union’s Food Standard Agency’s Allergen Registry.

It’s whole purpose is to encourage innovation and to celebrate excellence in the provision of allergen free service in the catering space. They do it with high media exposure and all the pomp and ceremony you would expect with any main stream catering awards program.

Let face it, the food outlets concerned really do work incredibly hard to provide a great service and dining experience. They deserve every little bit of ceremony afforded them.

How does it work?

The business model has a light touch financially on entrants, with a modest entry fee. A very fair approach!

There is, as always, the need to finance the awards themselves as it is a big public event. To do this, there are category sponsors and partners of the awards program. These are usually organisations such as Coeliac UK and the Anaphalaxis Campaign as well as large manufacturers who align with the philosphy of the awards program.

This is a very important point. Sponsors have to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’ – they have to demonstrate that their products are primarily focussed on consumer safety, not just the financial bottom line.

Independance is key.

By doing it this way, there is no question about the independant position of the Awards program. I regard this as critical to the success and integrity of the entire awards structure. Bravo!

The establishment of this reputation for integrity and trust is paramount in creating awareness that there is no commercial compromise by manufacturers ‘buying in’.

Entrants are required to fill out a comprehensive entry form that at times takes on the appearance a pop quiz. This is to make sure that the entrants are valid, take allergens seriously and actually know how to provide safe dining experiences. It’s good to see there is no such thing as just putting your name down for this competition.

Gluten Free Restaurant Awards

Feel confident dining in the UK whenever you see this logo.

The award program itself encourages entries from a large range of food outlets and categorises them into collections of like dining themes. You can see the categories used below. If you click on the links, you will be able to view this year’s category award winners.

The Judging Process.

A publically available judging process is then triggered and those shortlisted for awards are visited incognito to confirm they are adhering to safe food preparation processes and that the quality of their food is ‘top shelf’.

This means that not only does the dining have to be safe from an allergen perspective, it has to be exciting, innovative and delicious.

Ah, there it is! The missing link here in Australia.

To be able to easily locate a restaurant you know to be both safe and delicious would be an incredible feeling. Also knowing that the restaurant, cafe or fast food outlet actually puts in the effort really, goes a long way toward leaving that dining anxiety at the door.

We want more!

So how do we establish an understanding amongst the catering community that we actually want the dining experience to be more than just safe?

It’s not an easy or quick fix. Furthermore, we need to sit up and observe what is occuring in other countries and realise that we are not just confined to the wonderful advocacy of Coeliac Australia. There are other, complimentary approaches to address the motivation of food outlets.

Safe places to eat are becoming a rare find

Caterers in the Allergen space have to fight harder and harder to keep their doors open.

We all know that many 100% gluten free food outlets seem to be closing more often than those that provide a less niche menu. The costs are higher and the targetted market smaller. It’s hard. Really hard.

So establishing a reward & recognition system for the provision of great safe food would be a win-win situation.

It’s important, however, not to confuse accrediation with a reward system.

Accreditation is simply a certification, it is not an award. It does not require that a dining experience include excellent taste, service or price.

Where to from here?

That’s the big question. What advocacy organisations do we have in Australia that are suited to this kind of program? Can’t think of any? Me either.

Maybe that’s the issue. Outside of Coeliac Australia, there is no depth in the allergen space.

Consequently, taking the first steps to establish such an awards program in Australia requires fortitude, finance and an incredible team. Do we have the market to support such a program in Australia? Who knows, but I do know we definately have the motivation and a collection of gluten free advocates in every single state who put in many many hours of blogging, dining reviewing, supporting and advising our growing coeliac and greater gluten free community.

How about we get together and see if we can come up with a solution? Is this a call to arms? Maybe. At the very least, it’s a starting point.

If you would like to know more about the Free From Eating Out Awards (UK) or the wonderful team that makes it all happen every year, then why not check out their website.

Founder of Kiss My Gluten Free