February, 2014:

Is “Gluten Free” a New Element of Customer Service?

At first I thought there would be only a special few in certain industries who might need to pay attention to the rising interest in “gluten free”. However, I’ve now realized first hand that this gluten-free fad might not be going away and a lot of industries should pay attention.

It all started after someone told me to try going gluten free to see if I felt better. I said, “No way – I love my bread too much.” Although I felt I had no need, I thought, “Okay, everyone is doing it.” And with seeing the book “Wheat Belly” in every airport, I thought, there must be something to this; I’d tried most every other fad diet – why not this one?

Lo and behold: three days of going with no gluten and my stomach went flat. I was not considered “overweight” either, but in six weeks of gluten-free eating, I lost seven pounds without really trying.

I do work out about three times a week and thought I was pretty healthy – just trying to ward off bone loss and the enjoy some other benefits – but all of sudden I increased my weights and could really pump it on the elliptical without much effort. In addition, I felt no more 3:00 PM need to reach for something (usually coffee). My head was clear, my stomach was flat, and I’d lost weight. Then someone said, “You should not be feeling this good – you should go get tested for celiac.” I replied, “I have no symptoms, I don’t have that!!”

The next time I waited for a prescription, I asked my doctor what I needed to do to get tested for celiac. He said, “Oh that is simple: it is just a simple blood test; it is only around $50 now versus a $5,000 endoscopy (the test where you swallow the camera). We send everyone now. We only used to send the worst cases as a last resort.” Four days later my test came back: I was celiac! That meant no gluten for the REST OF MY LIFE! All the way home in my car, I grieved the thought of never having a Yorkshire pudding or sausage roll again.

I looked everything up online; I bought books, and started cooking a whole new way. I feel amazing, weight has stayed off, and found it “kind of easy” to do this….except going out to eat, and when traveling through airports (especially international routes where you are not allowed to take food with you). As I continued studying and living gluten free, I realized I also had to change my cosmetics, creams, lotions, shampoo, prescriptions and even some pharmaceutical products— even my prescriptions were now making me sick.

Gluten seemed to be in everything and everywhere. In most restaurants (even top end hotels) both chefs and wait staff ignored or didn’t really understand the concept of “gluten free” and avoiding cross-contamination (and the consequence of “…if that happens, I can’t come here again, nor will my family and friends if I’m with them”). That’s potentially a lot of business they would be losing out on — especially if this is not a trend. Unfortunately, the staff brought whatever they usually served as I looked down in horror at the croutons on my salad, or I found out later by looking online that their sauce did indeed have “modified” corn starch.

Believe it or not, it seems corn starch is okay, but “modified” corn starch is not. What an education process this is going to take in any business with their staff that uses gluten in or near their other products. Will the world split in half with those business offering gluten free and (advertising it) and those who don’t?

The awareness of gluten intolerance is getting better, but I ask any of you who produce or provide a product with gluten: are you getting more requests to go gluten free?

I realized it is not just me who chooses not to go to your store, brand, hotel or pick up your product; it is my entire household, so that is up to five of us no longer purchasing.

Most grocery stores in North America now have an aisle or section dedicated to gluten free. Is it a trend that will fade, or is it here to stay?

For me to keep feeling well, the only treatment is to live 100% gluten free without cross-contamination. That means that the food you eat, the cosmetics you use, or the prescriptions you take must not contain gluten, nor be manufactured in warehouses where wheat products are used. Once I started to remove it completely, I now feel the effects of gluten within 10 minutes: I get a sharp pain at the top of my stomach and then brain fog sets in. I have to be really careful and I now travel with my own food. Airports could get much better at offering readily available gluten free food. Lays “regular” potato chips are gluten-free and have become my best friend in an airport (their sales may be up if the gluten-free trend continues!). As I searched, I found several progressive restaurants with gluten-free menus, so of course I take all the family there now and avoid the other establishments.

Last August, I spent a week on the island of Grand Cayman, known as one of the culinary capitals of the world. I was amazed how most restaurants and hotels there have got on board with delicious appetizers, breads/toasts, entrees, and a variety of desserts that all met my new dietary needs. My waiter and the chef from the Westin 7 Mile Beach hotel took such good care of me during my stay. From the time I entered, they stated “No problem, our chef will accommodate your needs.” It was exquisite dining, and they even made up four sample desserts “all gluten-free” just for me. Thank you for taking care of me.

Will gluten-free and other dietary requests become the new customer service norm in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical services industries? We will have to wait and see. I will continue to mystery shop and keep my eye on this trend – mostly because I have to.

Is this a new customer service trend? If it is it will take some staff training and probably you could combine your menus with nut free, dairy free as well. For your staff send them for more information about celiac and those who are adversely affected by gluten, visit: http://www.celiac.ca/

For more information about our training or keynotes on customer service visit: www.elaineallison.com “Transforming Teams into Customer Care Crusaders”.

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