Restaurants are not known for health food, but times are changing. Because of an increase in interest in diet and healthy living in recent years, many people that like dining out are having to forego that option because of lack of choices. If you’re a restaurant owner, this is bad news.
There are ways to keep your business operating while satisfying your customer’s needs for healthier fare, but it means scrutinizing your menu and tweaking it to include nutritious options. Read on to learn why having healthy menu options is a must in this day and age, and what you can do to make sure your restaurant does it well.
Why Add Healthy Options? Everyone needs to eat, and most people enjoy eating in restaurants on occasions, some even on a regular basis. Unfortunately, restaurants (even fine dining establishments) have a reputation for being less than nutritious. This is because customers dine out to eat food that tastes good — and it’s easier to make food taste good with not so healthy ingredients like fat, sugar, and salt. This makes it extremely difficult for those that care about what they’re eating to enjoy a meal out. Healthy eating is a huge food trend right now, so to keep up, you’ve got to get on board.
Adding healthy menu options is now a necessity for most restaurants, even those that are known for unhealthy food (it’s why you’ll find salads at most fast food joints.)
If you’re going to stay afloat in a world with restaurants on every corner, you have to have options. Few restaurants can get by without at least one or two seemingly nutritious menu item. Even most bakeries offer low-fat or sugar-free items for those looking to watch what they eat.
Deciding What’s Best For Your Customers. How will you know what kind of healthy food to serve? Well, the first place to start your journey into healthy fare is where the heart and soul of your business lies — your customers.
Start by paying attention to what customers say, and ask your staff to do the same. If you notice you are getting a lot of requests for vegetarian items, make a note of it. If a lot of people are turned off by certain unhealthy items, take that into consideration as well.
Pay attention to what other restaurants in your area are serving, especially those that always seem to be busy.
Before making changes, it helps to know exactly what your customers want, and why they may be going somewhere else before entering your doors.
Challenges. Unfortunately, adding healthy menu items does not come without challenges. Some of these are more difficult than others, but still must be addressed.
One common challenge faced by restaurant owners is that even though customers say they want healthy choices, when faced with the choice between a cheeseburger and a salad, they actually order the burger. This is one of the most difficult problems to solve, because you want people in your doors, and you can’t exactly dictate what they order, even if they’ve expressed an interest for something in the past.
One way to alleviate this is to tackle another problem — creating nutritious menu items that actually taste good. If you’re used to cooking with rich meats, butter, and cheese, it can be difficult to create a salad tasty enough to choose over a more indulgent dish. Experimenting with various nutritious foods, as well as getting outside help if necessary, is the way to make sure you’re adding dishes that people will actually order and enjoy.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge of all when trying to add healthy options to your menu is answering the question of what exactly is health food? Everyone has their own opinion of what they deem to be healthy, and it can vary widely. Some think meat is a healthy choice, while some eat no animal products at all. There are vegetarians, vegans, Paleo dieters, raw food dieters, and those that subscribe to the low fat regimen. In addition, food allergies are at an all time high, so you’ve got to deal with those that eat gluten-free, dairy-free, or peanut-free.
How can you possibly accommodate everyone?
First, relax. Second, realize that you can’t please everyone without having an extensive menu that is impossible to keep up.
Creating the perfect menu for your restaurant is going to depend on a number of factors, such as your customer base, location, and type of restaurant. If you own a barbecue joint, most people aren’t going to expect a lot of vegetarian options, although will appreciate if you have at least one on the menu.
So the first thing to do is pay attention to what your customers have been asking for, as well as the type of people that are in the neighborhood. If you get a lot of inquiries about gluten-free options, it may be time you add a few. If you’re in a trendy neighborhood with a gym on one side and a yoga studio on the other, some vegan options will be appreciated.
In general, no matter what type of restaurant you run, it’s smart to include at least a vegetarian dish or two, and probably a gluten-free option. Again, these don’t please everyone, but there are enough vegetarians and gluten-free eaters that it’s safe to assume a few will land in your restaurant once in awhile.
Creating The Right Balance. Once you’ve decided to add some healthy items to your menu, how far do you go? Do you need to divide your menu in half? Probably not. It really depends on what the majority of your customers are coming in your doors for. A burger joint probably isn’t going to attract tons of healthy eaters, but a few may be amongst larger groups that patronize your restaurant, so you want to be able to offer them something. In this case, one or two options will suffice.
One way that many restaurants have found to solve this is by making a menu of mostly whole foods. While most people have different opinions on nutrition, one thing almost everyone can agree on is that processed foods are bad for you. Using real food in your menu will put many health conscious minds at ease.
Sourcing Healthy Ingredients. If your current menu consists of processed or unhealthy foods, you’ll need to find a source for your healthier ingredients. The first place to start is where you currently buy your inventory. Food purveyors also deal with health food trends and may have some options for you.
In addition to being concerned about health, many diners are also environmentally conscious as well, so locally sourced items may also be a hit. Visit your local farmer’s market and talk to merchants about buying ingredients for your restaurants.
Pricing Healthier Options Right. It’s no secret that fresh foods are more expensive than processed. In addition to higher costs, not using fresh ingredients right away can cause spoilage, which costs even more money.
In order to avoid losing money, you’ll undoubtedly have to charge a premium for fresh menu items. Higher costs means higher expectations, so this means that you must make sure that your dish is worth what you’re asking. Serving someone a small salad but charging more than a steak will definitely not win anyone over, and even more so if the salad isn’t particularly interesting or tasty.
Before making any major additions to your menu, visit local restaurants and see what they are offering and for what cost. Try different items, decide what you like and don’t like. If you have any health conscious friends, invite them along for their opinions. Having as much information as possible will help avoid wasting money.
Creating a menu that includes healthy options is not without challenges, but it is necessary in today’s world. With more and more diners staying home to avoid unwholesome choices, the only way to get customers in your door is by having options they can feel good about ordering.
Do you have tips for adding healthy items to your restaurant menu?