Healthier Menu. Healthier Profits?

Whether you consider healthier menu options a fleeting trend or something that’s here to stay, the fact of the matter is that the most successful restaurants change with the times. If you believe the latest foodservice industry statistics, diners are becoming increasingly interested in menu choices that are altogether healthy, flavorful and affordable. According to a recent study by The NPD Group, a Chicago-based foodservice market research firm, consumers over the past decade have been cutting down on foods that are high in sugar or fat, and shifting more toward items that could be seen as being more nutritious.

Add to that the requirement in the 2010 U.S. Healthcare Bill that says chain restaurants must include calorie counts on menus, and you may find that if you’re not offering options for health-conscious customers, you might need to makeover your menu.

Make It Healthy, But Make It Good
While the general consensus is that diners want healthier options, the statistics are somewhat inconsistent. According to a recent Mintel survey, only one in five or 20 percent of diners rank healthiness as an important factor when ordering dinner. Taste and hunger satisfaction rank significantly higher at 77 and 44 percent respectively. However, over three-quarters of the same survey sample say they want to see more healthy items on the menu. Confusing things further, only 51 percent of these people actually order healthy meals. This could be attributed to the typically higher cost of healthier menu items, but more than likely, customers simply don’t believe the healthier meals will taste as good as the ones that are higher in calories and fat.

The ultimate goal, then, seems to be creating options that are healthy, but still make diners’ mouths water when they see them on the menu. Using terms such as “fresh ingredients” and “flavorfully seasoned” can help appeal to the health-conscious crowd without making the food seem boring and uninviting. Another simple option is offering your regular dishes in smaller portions and listing the nutritional information. This will let diners feel like they still indulge in their favorite foods without compromising their diet.

Healthy is Trendy
A previous post listed some of the latest trends in the restaurant industry according to a National Restaurant Association survey. Several of these trends indicate that more than ever, diners are ordering healthier meals, which doesn’t just include lower fat and fewer calories. In fact, it appears that organic and gluten-free foods top the list of options customers want to see more often on restaurant menus.

You may not want to transform your eatery into a 100 percent organic establishment, but there are ways to incorporate organic elements into your menu. Certain meals can be made with all organic ingredients, or you could only use organic vegetables for your signature sauce. While ordering organic ingredients can be more expensive, it may be worth it if it caters to a growing trend.

It appears “gluten-free” has become the new buzzword in the past couple of years, and it may seem like it’s just the latest diagnostic fad in health care, with doctors telling patients they need to stay away from wheat, barley, rye and the like. But, according to, 1 in 133 Americans can’t consume gluten and are restricting their diets for health reasons, so restaurants may find themselves losing customers if they don’t cater to their needs. Chains such as Carabba’s Italian Grill and P.F. Chang’s are already featuring menu items that are gluten-free. It may be beneficial to follow their lead.

The Skinny
Whether you’re thinking of opening a restaurant that only offers healthy options or you just want to keep up with industry trends, the bottom line is that if you consider the needs and preferences of health-conscious diners, you can broaden your customer base and possibly bolster sales. Not to mention the additional benefit of knowing that you’re contributing to diners making healthier choices.