5 Strategies to Revitalize Your Restaurant Menu

5 Strategies to Revitalize Your Restaurant Menu By Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, President, Healthy Dining 

These days, health is a constant in the headlines.  As the largest industry in the United States, it is more evident than ever before that the restaurant industry is poised to be a leader in health.  Restaurant dining is no longer the occasional treat it once was.  Restaurants are an integral part of consumers’ daily lives, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and serving as celebration venues for busy Americans with a love of dining out.
Over the last several years, this love of dining out has equated to eye-opening growth in the restaurant industry.  According to the National Restaurant Association:

  • Industry sales are projected to reach $798.7 billion in 2017.  That’s up from $586.7 billion in 2010.
  • The restaurant industry’s share of the food dollar is currently 47%.  In fact, according to Commerce Department data release in 2015, restaurant spending has now overtaken supermarket spending.
  • 9 in 10 consumers say they enjoy going to restaurants.
  • Half of consumers say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle.

Year after year, restaurants are becoming more important to consumers, and these statistics only underscore that fact.  Of course, with this growing importance comes the need to meet and exceed guest expectations in a highly food- and nutrition-focused environment.  In fact, the National Restaurant Association has found that 70% of consumers state that they order more healthful options at restaurants than they did two years ago.  While it is an exciting time to be a part of this extraordinary industry, it also requires dedication to continually grow, reinvent and revitalize your menu in ways that resonate with those guests seeking more healthful options.

Embrace the opportunity now with nutrition strategies like these for healthier and more profitable year:

Increase produce in your recipes.
Surveys indicate that Americans are prioritizing the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables in their diets.  Whether it’s as a result of successful public health campaigns such as MyPlate, increasingly sophisticated palates or the overall shift of consumers to focus on prevention through diet and exercise, restaurants are facing growing demand for produce-rich choices on the menu.  Increasing fruits and vegetables on your menu , especially when locally sourced, can be a relatively straightforward strategy to improve nutrition and grow a healthy reputation.  

Simplify recipes.
Restaurant guests are more nutrition- and ingredient-savvy than ever before with expectations of “natural,” “clean,” and “minimally processed” choices that can help diners feel confident about your brand’s commitment to health.  Getting back to basics with whole foods and simplified recipes is a smart nutrition strategy to attract guests, build loyalty and create transparency.  Reducing processed foods in your recipes can often have the added benefit of reducing sodium.  Focus on using hot ingredients, such as ancient grains, exotic herbs and spices and beef alternatives, to further increase your visibility.

Recreate your kids’ menu.
Today’s kids and parents are raising the bar when it comes to dining out.  With guests’ evolving tastes and nutritious expectations, the average kids’ menu must become fresher, more sophisticated and more nutritious than ever before.  Consider reinventing your current choices to be leaner and healthier or take on the challenge of creating something new for your youngest guests that reflects your brand with their health in mind.  Some of the easiest changes can also be the most impactful, increasing nutrition without hurting your bottom line.  Try adding more fruit and vegetable side items, whole grain ingredients and grilled lean proteins to your kids’ menu.  

Offer smaller plates.

It’s not just consumer taste for ingredients that’s changing.  So is the consumer experience around food, making “small”, “mini” and “bite-sized” big opportunities for restaurants.  For some guests, it’s about portion control, for others, it’s a way to experience a variety of flavors with dining companions without overeating, and for some it’s a way to indulge without food waste.  For restaurants, this top nutrition strategy can help you shine with healthy portions and reduced calorie and sodium counts to post.  Look for opportunities to offer these full-flavored, smaller plates on your existing menu or create new options to appeal to a whole new group of guests.

Create some meatless meals.
Research continues to emerge touting the myriad health benefits of a plant-based diet, translating to growing demand from consumers for meatless, vegetarian and vegan choices at restaurants.  Whether you are starting small with a few Meatless Monday choices or are creating a variety of vegan and vegetarian options to serve and promote, this nutrition strategy can help boost your restaurant in several ways.  Not only are you serving your guests and their dietary needs; you are also seizing an opportunity to potentially reduce costs and demonstrate your restaurant’s commitment to an eco-friendly way of doing business.

Smart nutrition strategies like these can help give your menu fresh appeal to entice increasingly nutrition-savvy guests.  Restaurant operators nationwide are incorporating strategies like these to build a stronger brand and healthier bottom line.