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More and more diners are searching for restaurants that serve gluten-free meals. More and more restaurants are adding gluten-free dishes to their menus – and making the effort to ensure those dishes stay gluten-free from prep to table. So, how do customers find the places they are looking for? And how do they know what's in what they're ordering?
They turn to our friend the Internet, of course, and its wildly popular offspring, mobile apps. A whole family of online services that offer guidance to diners with food allergies, gluten intolerance, or just watching what they eat are now available anywhere. Savvy foodservice operators can now literally reach into their potential customers' pockets with their daily specials.
Find Me Gluten Free (www.findmeglutenfree.com) is an app available for both iPhone and Android devices. The service already has over 20,000 restaurants offering GF items on its database as well as user-generated reviews and is always adding more. It is searchable by city, state, zip code, chains, with or without a dedicated GF menu, as well as by type of meal, from burgers and beer to fast food and grocery stores.
The Gipsee app (www.gipsee.com) is also available on both Apple and Android platforms. It goes beyond the standard allergen disclosure that many restaurants already feature on their menu or website.
Consumers enter whatever ingredients they want to avoid into the Gipsee app – anything from The Big 8 allergens to coconut oil or celery seed. Then the proprietary software compares that unique set of restrictions with all the ingredients in all the dishes on the menu and returns a list of items that may be safe for consumption. The process not only identifies known food allergens but also considers food derivatives and their potential allergenic properties, according to the company's website.
Mad Greens, a Denver-based salad concept, was named to FastCasual's 2012 list of technology Movers and Shakers for implementing the Gipsee system chainwide.
If diners are looking for standard nutritional content – calories, fats, fiber, cholesterol, sodium and the like – they can turn to Nutritionix (www.nutritionix.com). Click a restaurant logo, pick an item on the interactive menu, add a side, a drink or optional toppings or ingredients, and the nutritional content is displayed in the format familiar from the side of the can from the grocery store. There's also an option that allows diners to compare different menu items side by side in a list.
Nutritionix's database also contains more than 60,000 different verified food items from 5,000 different manufacturers in its searchable public directory. It is signing up developers to create mobile apps by the end of the year.
When the FDA finally releases mandated nutritional disclosure requirements, Nutritionix will be ahead of the curve, providing the information everyone wants to know, not just those on restricted diets.
Do you have an app that you use to preview menus before you eat out? Let me know!