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Eating Gluten Free at Today's Top Franchises



Last Friday, I walked in on a personal dietary nightmare.

It was lunch during my first day as an intern at Franchise Times, and the entire staff was dining on an array of pizza, bread and cheesy salad from Davanni’s. Eating any of this would have set my poor stomach into a tizzy.

I’m one of 40 million Americans with lactose/dairy intolerance, and 18 million Americans with gluten intolerance. As you could imagine, finding enough food to eat from franchised establishments isn’t easy.

Avoiding dairy is a simple process: Just order items without cheese, and avoid most milk products. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, is a bit trickier to spot and avoid.

Many fast-casual restaurants include gluten-free items in their selections, and some even have designated gluten-free menus. Fast-food restaurants, though they are getting better, aren’t quite on the same page. With their limited selections, I often find myself indulging in a salad or a limited side selection when stopping at a fast-food joint.

The trio of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s offer almost no gluten-free options aside from their salads or burgers without a bun.

Subway has tested gluten-free bread in a few of its locations, but have yet to implement it on a national basis. Jimmy John’s offers an “Unwich” where any of their sandwiches can be covered in a lettuce wrap.

Pizza places are essentially useless for those with similar dietary restrictions. While many locations offer a gluten-free crust, vegan or dairy-free cheese is not available. In this case, I’d be essentially eating a crispy pie with sauce and a few toppings—not my ideal dinner.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom when I try to eat at major QSR locations.

Noodles and Company has a delicious gluten- and dairy-free pad thai; Five Guys offers gluten-free fries and a lettuce-wrapped burger; and Chick-fil-A offers gluten-free grilled chicken nuggets.

Chipotle and Qdoba are two of the best fast-casual restaurants for those with dietary restrictions. I’ve spent a little too much of my limited college budget on their burrito bowls.

Everything changed last year when Culver’s, one of my favorite restaurants before being diagnosed, started offering a gluten-free bun. I could officially get a full meal there (the fries are fine) without having to pick and choose between limited safe foods.

Hopefully more fast-food restaurants will follow Culver’s lead and start offering gluten-free bread, and more gluten- and dairy-free options overall. And let’s hope they do it soon—I’m getting awfully sick of salads.

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About This Blog

The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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