Vegan. No Tree Nuts. Whole30®. No Soy. You might know someone who falls into one of these categories, or you might fall into one of these yourself. If you have a food allergy or follow a particular diet, you know that it can sometimes be impossible to eat at restaurants. You might be Celiac and worried your “Gluten-Free” request won’t be taken seriously. Or you might be lactose-intolerant and wonder if omitting the cheese will compromise the culinary intent of a dish.
I’ve personally been prescribed the Low FODMAP diet by my doctor a few times, but I can never stick to it for long. The rules can be very specific: you can eat the green part of the scallion, but not the white part. You can have an under ripe banana, but not a fully ripe one. You can’t have garlic, unless it’s just garlic-infused oil. It’s difficult enough sticking to that at home, much less a restaurant! But the fact is: Food allergies are on the rise and so is lifestyle eating. More and more we are discovering how food impacts our bodies and are trying to optimize how we feel through what we eat. These complex customer needs can be difficult for most restaurants to meet.
What We’ve Learned: Dietary Needs & Restaurant Painpoints
In the first version of Spyce, we realized how important it was to personalize our menu to the way customers wanted to eat. Our kiosk had 3 simple personalization options: Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten-Free. About 20% of our orders came through one of these categories. Customers appreciated the ease of ordering from a menu that was tailored to them and they were excited enough to tell their friends about it! We knew we were onto something.
So, while we were designing our latest iteration of Spyce, we dug into this even deeper by talking to our early customers. We asked diners with dietary restrictions what they did to accommodate their needs at restaurants and how they felt about it. Here are a few highlights:
- “I don’t want to be the annoying Vegan.” Diners felt guilty burdening their friends or restaurant staff by taking extra time to clarify their order or sending food back. One person said they were Vegan at home, but Vegetarian with friends to make it easier to dine out and prevent any socially awkward situations. Another described skipping out on dinner and only going for drinks, or sometimes packing their own food.
- “Trying someplace new is a tall order.” One friend with Celiac disease described asking the server 3 times if the food was gluten-free, and still getting sick afterwards. They preferred dining at the 4 to 6 places that they’d already been to and had success with. One restaurant that handled food allergies well put a “Gluten-Free” label on their plate, a confidence-inspiring signal from the kitchen.
- “If I were more militant, I think I’d end up having a lot of meals that I didn’t really enjoy that much.” One diner with severe lactose-intolerance really disliked when the Dairy-Free menu was just the regular menu with a bunch of toppings crossed out with a marker. They felt that simply omitting the cheese would compromise the meal and be less flavorful. They wanted to enjoy the dish as designed and not feel like the changes were an afterthought.
Over and over, diners with dietary restrictions were saying the same thing and feeling the same pain. We knew this was a problem worth tackling. Inclusivity and convenience have always been at the core of Spyce’s value proposition and the precision enabled by our technology makes us uniquely positioned to solve this problem.
Our Process: Ensuring Dietary Adaptability
So, we iterated and tested. And iterated and tested. And iterated and tested again.
We looked at market data and conducted our own market survey to determine which diets and allergens were the most important to address. We made changes like removing any refined sugar from our dressings and using extra virgin olive oil in all of our roasted ingredients. We consulted with a registered dietitian. We got our meals Whole30® approved. We sent out our food for nutritional testing to make sure the numbers were hitting the right targets. We tested our app and kiosk designs with people around the city (and beyond over video chat). We picked the brains of friends and employees with food allergies or who already followed certain dietary preferences. We even followed some of these diets ourselves!
The Result: Curated Recipes & A Personalized Menu
We’re proud to say that at Spyce, dietary preferences aren’t just accommodated, they’re encouraged. Recipes aren’t just edited, they’ve been curated – for each of these 16 diets and allergens.
- Tree Nuts
- Low Carb
- Low FODMAP
*We don’t have peanuts on our menu.
One common pain point in our research was that diners were just tired of needing to do so much work to figure out if and what they could eat at the restaurant. That’s why we built a dynamic menu on our kiosk, app and website. With just a click, the entire menu will be curated for your dietary needs – no thinking required. If you’re Vegan, the Cotija Cheese in the Sierra salad will be replaced with Vegan Cashew Parmesan. In your protein options, you won’t see chicken, only tofu and portobello. If you’re Keto, all our warm grain bases will be automatically replaced with our hearty steamed greens mix. You’ll also see a net carb calculation for each item. Our salads and bowls start at 11 – 16g of net carbs and can easily be customized lower.
We also found that diners were looking for confirmation that their dietary preferences were known and accommodated. So at Spyce, you’ll see your dietary preferences noted throughout your experience. The app saves your preferences and displays a banner noting that the menu has been curated according to your settings. In your cart, “No Soy” will continue to show on the applicable item. It will also display on your receipt, on the bowl label itself, and even on your delivery slip! We want you to trust us when we say that your needs are being heard and handled appropriately.
Cross Contamination Preventative Measures
The Infinite Kitchen, our cutting-edge culinary tool, dramatically reduces the risk of cross-contact so that you can feel safe about your Spyce bowl. Ingredients are loaded into their own dedicated hoppers and portioned automatically and precisely. Nobody is accidentally flinging almonds into the cucumber pan as they’re rushing down the assembly line! You can be confident knowing that there won’t be any mistakes.
In our prep kitchen, we do our very best to eliminate cross-contamination using our standard operating procedures, which include:
- We wash, rinse and properly sanitize surfaces, cookware, utensils and equipment after they’ve come in contact with allergens.
- Allergens are stored in clearly marked containers separate from all other ingredients.
- Our team washes their hands and changes their gloves before and after handling all allergens.
- When we restock the Infinite Kitchen, we use specifically identified utensils for each allergen.
We set out to make a menu closely aligned with our mission: to enable more people to live fuller, healthier lives. For us, this meant lowering the barriers for guests to having healthy, delicious meals. We all eat in different ways, so at Spyce, we do what we can to make the perfect meal for you.
Of course, we’re always looking to improve. Let us know how we did and what dietary preferences you want us to add next!
-Elina Hu, Product & Design Lead