Operators are ramping up training to meet customers’ current eating preferences.

A customer walks into a restaurant clutching the Whole30 diet book in her hands. As she looks over the menu, she consults the book to see which items fit the diet’s guidelines. Then she engages the server for help. Is he expected to know enough about the diet to make recommendations?

The answer is yes, according to most full-service operators.

It started with gluten. “We got down and dirty about the ingredients in all our dishes, training servers on the recipes so they would be able to react quickly and pinpoint menu items that were gluten-free,” says Marc Jacobs, executive partner and divisional president of Chicago-based multiconcept operator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

When other allergies and sensitivities gained widespread recognition, LEYE created an allergy matrix for every restaurant, highlighting items that met restrictions on soy, shellfish, nuts, etc. and inputting new dishes as they were developed. Fitting menu items into today’s diets is easier than making them gluten-free or nondairy, Jacobs says, but training to meet the different demands is key.

Personalizing the lesson

Jacobs began by trying Whole30, paleo and other current diets himself “to see what guests would need,” he says. This firsthand experience opened up the opportunity to teach the chefs and cooks about the eating plans and work with them on ideas. To get buy-in and have some fun with it, Jacobs has staged competitions among his cooks to create winning diet-friendly dishes.

Preshift meetings proved to be a good venue for front-of-house training. When new dishes are put on the menu, the team gets a list of all the ingredients used—a list they are later tested on. The kitchen also relays how a new or signature item could be tweaked to meet a low-carb or other diet by eliminating an ingredient or substituting something else—an option the FOH staff could pass on to a guest.