Eight reasons to offer more healthy choices at your restaurant

By Diane Chiasson

There is definitely a growing market for healthier menu items in restaurants, with over 40 per cent of consumers claiming that they would prefer to visit a restaurant that offered healthier options. More studies have shown that the addition of healthier menu options also helps to increase business.

While the majority of customers will not necessarily order the healthier items, the idea that your restaurant offers them is enough of a draw.

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consultancy firm in Toronto believes that adding more healthful menu items will help your restaurant succeed. Below are some of the strategies consumers use to eat more healthily at restaurants, and how you can use their strategies to your benefit:

1. Customers will skip dessert

The number one way that consumers try to eat more healthily at a restaurant is to skip dessert. Consider adding more healthful dessert options in order to recapture consumer spending in this area by developing items that are sugar free and lower in calories (but still tasty), and promoting them on your menu. Offering half portions, bite-sized treats, or pre-divided desserts that can be shared may also appeal to customers. Include an innovative fruit salad on your menu.

2. Customers will skip the appetizer

More than half of consumers surveyed said that they would skip ordering an appetizer to try to stay healthy. One strategy that restaurants are now taking is to offer an array of smaller dishes to encourage customers to order several small dishes instead of just one single entrée.

3. Customers want a healthy item integrated into their meal

Lower your customers’ guilt for ordering their favourite treat by integrating something healthy into all your menu items. Replace white breads with whole-grain, add flax seeds, flax powder, spelt or other types of nutrient-rich ingredients to recipes, and always try to include something fresh on the plate, even if it is just a slice of melon, fruit or a small side salad.

4. Customers want to substitute a healthier side dish

Instead of the usual fries, baked potato or side salad to go alongside their entrée, offer customers a wider variety of healthier, gluten-free side dishes like quinoa, beans, chickpeas, grilled vegetables or wild rice. Be open to substitutions, and always offer your guests a choice.

5. Customers will cut back on beverages

Selling beverages is key to greater profit margins for restaurants, so it is important to win back beverages sales. Be sure to include non-alcoholic, low-calorie and gluten-free beers on your beverage menu. Consider selling fruit-based homemade seltzers instead of soda pop. Offer freshly squeezed juices and smoothies, soy milk and almond milk alternatives, and sell organic and fair trade coffee and tea.

6. Customers will consider an item’s nutrient content

Be sure to include symbols on your menu that indicate items that are healthful or less than 400 calories. Many customers count their calories, so if they know exactly how many are in each dish, they may be inclined to order more food until they reach their maximum number. Be sure to offer a healthy appetizer, entrée and dessert combination that adds up to less than 600 calories. This will allow even the most extreme dieter to enjoy a three-course dinner at your restaurant without breaking their diet.

7. Customers will split a menu item with someone else

One way of encouraging customers to split several menu items but not decreasing your average check is to offer your food “family-style”. Consumers look for variety when they go out to eat, so it is more than likely your guests will order more than one dish.

8. Customers want healthier options for their kids

As childhood obesity rates continue to skyrocket in North America, restaurants should offer healthy kids’ meals. Instead of the typical burger, pizza, chicken fingers, pasta and fries that are found on some menus today, offer grilled chicken and fish, wholegrain pasta, turkey burgers, Panko-crusted oven-baked chicken nuggets or thin-crust pizzas made with whole-wheat flour. Substitute French fries with oven-baked potato wedges, brown rice, sweet potato fries, fresh vegetables, corn, kale chips, chickpeas, etc.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FSCI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., is recognized as the world’s best restaurant, foodservice, merchandising, hospitality and retail consultant based in Toronto. She has been helping restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 30 years.Her company provides innovative and revenue-increasing consulting services including restaurant and retail merchandising, interior design, marketing, brand identity, menu design and training. 

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