As a restaurateur, your mission and your joy lie in taking superb care of your guests. Your passion rests in providing your customers with the best possible experience, nourishing your patrons in mind and spirit as well as body.
In other words, it is both your responsibility and your privilege to serve your guests’ needs, no matter what they may be. This is by no means an easy task, particularly as you seek to offer guests with special needs the exceptional dining experience they expect and deserve. Patrons who have been diagnosed with diabetes, for example, can face particular challenges when dining out, challenges that restaurateurs may struggle to address.
The good news, though, is that it is possible to meet the needs of your diabetic customers without compromising either their health or the quality of their experience. This article provides strategies restaurant owners and managers can use to meet the needs of customers with diabetes.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects persons of all ages, genders, and racial and ethnic categories. Diabetes generally takes one of three forms. Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood and refers to a condition in which the body is unable to produce insulin. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and often resolves after childbirth.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disorder and is, in fact, one of the most common causes of serious chronic disease in the U.S., affecting more than 37 million Americans. The disorder is characterized by persistently high blood glucose levels, often resulting from insulin resistance.
Though most people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are over the age of 45, the number of children and teens experiencing the disorder is surging. This is largely a consequence of lifestyle factors, including an increasingly sedentary culture combined with surging sugar consumption. Americans consume significantly more sugar than any other nation in the world, with sodas, packaged snacks, and processed foods being the primary culprits in the nation’s dangerous sugar obsession.
However, excess sugar intake isn’t associated only with the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Mounting evidence suggests that too much sugar in the diet significantly increases your risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
The Challenges of Restaurant Dining
Despite the immense and rapidly increasing prevalence of diabetes in the general population, diabetic guests can face enormous challenges when dining out. Perhaps the most significant of these is the simple reality that even ostensibly “healthy” options often contain hidden sugars.
For instance, oatmeal, pasta sauce, and even ketchup can be a significant source of added sugar. This means that even patrons who believe they are making healthy choices and limiting their sugar intake by avoiding desserts and sodas can still exceed their recommended daily allowance.
For this reason, informed meal planning is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and, in particular, to managing sugar intake. When guests dine out, however, they not only have little to no control over the amount of added sugars in a recipe, but they are also unlikely to have access to the meal’s nutritional information.
How Restaurants Can Help Diabetic Guests
Not surprisingly, perhaps, one of the first and most important things restaurateurs can do to meet the needs of their diabetic guests is to prioritize transparency. This means providing clear and comprehensive nutritional information on all menu items.
This should include a complete breakdown of carbohydrate and sugar counts, including the types and quantities of sugar and carbohydrates in each item. Such granular nutritional information is imperative for guests seeking to manage their glucose, as the body metabolizes different types of carbohydrates and sugars differently.
Fructose and dextrose, for instance, are natural sugars that generally do not spike glucose levels in the same ways that sucrose and high fructose corn syrups do. Likewise, complex carbohydrates typically produce a “slower burn” and, thus, a lower glucose increase than do simple carbs, such as white flour.
In addition to providing clear and complete nutritional information, it’s also important to educate staff on strategies for meeting the needs of diabetic guests. This would include education on the best substitutions to recommend to patrons attempting to limit their sugar intake or manage glucose levels.
It’s also important for staff to recognize that diabetic guests, especially those who are older, may struggle with appetite, which can contribute to disordered eating and malnutrition. Thus, restaurateurs and staff must prioritize the creation and promotion of highly palatable, nutrient-rich, and low-glycemic dishes for diabetic guests who experience poor appetite.
Restaurant owners, managers, and staff are dedicated to providing guests with the best possible dining experience. However, meeting patrons’ diverse needs is not always easy. This is especially true when it comes to overcoming the challenges that diabetic guests often face. Through careful menu planning, transparency regarding each recipe’s nutritional content, and comprehensive staff training, diabetic guests can enjoy a truly exceptional dining experience.