Restaurant websites lack information for special dietary needs

Restaurant websites often don’t provide any of the information you want from them. They are generally centered around close-ups of dishes that were removed from the menu years ago. Oh, and the atmosphere. Anything practical like opening hours or their address on a map, maybe included as an afterthought if at all.

The problems are many and there’s an established list of shortcomings with most restaurant websites. I want to add one item to that list: Please include some information for special dietary needs. A small notice would suffice. Saying something like “Vegan? Gluten-free? Common allergies? We can definitely serve you a delicious meal!” It is reassuring and gives anyone with special dietary needs confidence that going to your restaurant isn’t going to be disappointing.

This information is about accessibility. Knowing beforehand whether you will feel welcome or be restricted to the most boring salad on the menu. It isn’t a happy feeling when you’ve to take your tow of people to another restaurant because the group’s first choice did not have a gluten-free option.

From personal experience, I can say that far from all restaurants can provide a gluten-free option. Waiters may not even understand the term due to lack of training. At least 7 % of Norwegians are on a gluten-free diet, according to the consumer food manufacturer Orkla. That is a large market share that will cost a restaurant business to ignore.

I believe my desire to seek out this information beforehand — from the restaurant’s official website, where else? — is similar to a wheelchair user’s desire to know that a business is wheelchair accessible beforehand. It gives you confidence when you know that your errand will not be defeated by an unclimbable staircase. Of course, you seldom see this information posted on a restaurant’s website either.

Unfortunately, as many restaurant websites fail at providing their own address and opening hours; I don’t have high hopes for seeing improvements to accessibility or dietary information. However, the business review website Yelp.com already gathers information about wheelchair accessibility as part of the community-driven knowledge base they’ve for each listed business. Maybe someone like Yelp.com can source information and experiences with special dietary needs in the future.