5 Top Diets and How to Cater to Them

5 Top Diets and How to Cater to Them By Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, President and Sara Lucero, Director of Content, Healthy Dining
December 29, 2016

The New Year is here and with it, scores of resolutions for better health and weight loss. Americans are no stranger to special diets, especially this time of year.  While surveys indicate that fewer people may say they are on a “diet,” the vast majority of consumers are trying to “eat healthier.” For restaurant operators, this translates into opportunity.  Whether it’s one or two dishes, a new section or designation on the menu or a complete revamp of ingredients, restauranteurs can exceed guest expectations, avoid the veto vote and build guest loyalty and a healthier bottom line in the process.

While the most popular diets may change over the years, and consumers’ definition of “healthy” may evolve based on trends or the latest diet fads, strategies to cater to them often translate into simple recipe changes or additional offerings, ingredient transparency, easily available and usable nutrition information, smart marketing and staff training. 

Here are some of the top diets you may be seeing and how to address them:

Vegetarian and Vegan
This trend continues to grow, regularly showing up in trend reports.  Thanks to a growing interest in eating more fruits and vegetables, environmental concerns, Meatless Monday and a wealth of studies indicating that a plant-based diet can have far-reaching health benefits, many consumers are turning to vegetarian and vegan diets.  To cater to guests looking for more plant-based foods, add a selection of vegetarian and/or vegan choices made with whole grains, legumes, meat alternatives, fruits, and vegetables to the menu.  Call out these choices on the menu.  Look for opportunities to add special requests that can turn a standard dish into a vegetarian dish or a vegetarian dish into a vegan dish, making it easy for diners to spot options and your commitment to their needs.  Do work with an expert to certify recipes as vegetarian and vegan before adding them to the menu or recommending them to guests.

In recent years, there has been a lot of hype surrounding “gluten” and a surge in those following a gluten-free diet.  While it may not be the best diet for weight loss, restaurant operators are hearing more and more requests for gluten-free options, essential for those diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  As with allergens in your restaurant, it is vital that gluten-free choices are 100% gluten-free.  Work with a specialist to identify sources of gluten, prevent cross-contamination, create tempting new gluten-free options, sides and special requests to offer on your menu or upon request.  Some restaurants take additional precautions to prevent cross-contact in the kitchen, including training and certification.

Whether it is for weight loss (Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet) or for medical reasons such as diabetes management, many consumers are seeking lower carbohydrate options to support their goals.  Providing a variety of lower carb, high fiber side options such as broccoli, side salads, and vegetable medleys and offering low-carb swaps such as “protein-style” lettuce wraps for burgers, sandwiches and burritos are easy ways to cater to carb-conscious guests.  When developing new low carb dishes for your menu, focus on fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains to appeal to the growing number of guests seeking diabetes-friendly choices at restaurants. 

This “Caveman Diet” has soared in popularity in recent years, and you may be hearing more requests for “Paleo-friendly” menu choices.  This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean mean, healthier oils, nuts and seeds and eggs and cuts out dairy, grains, beans, legumes, refined sugar, potatoes, salt and processed foods.  A similar diet growing in popularity is the Whole30 Diet.  As with other diets, catering to the Paleo Diet can be as easy as offering swaps for approved foods and adjusting existing recipes to develop Paleo-friendly choices guests will appreciate.  Try replacing a side of potatoes with asparagus, a bed of brown rice with spinach, tofu with an egg or similar.

Weight Watchers
This long time weight loss plan has evolved over the years, relying on nutrition information and ingredients to help adherents make the best choices for weight loss goals.  With a focus on more healthful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, it is also in line with the general “eat healthier” trend many consumers are now embracing.  Catering to guests following a Weight Watchers plan includes not just offering these more healthful options but also providing nutrition information for menu choices.  Accurate nutrition information for some, if not all, of your menu, helps guests following Weight Watchers, as well as those managing sodium, calories, fat, sugar and carbohydrate intake, to find exactly what they need and demonstrates your restaurant’s commitment to an exceptional guest experience

Diets may come and go, but catering to guests and exceeding their expectations are at the core of the restaurant industry.  Providing the choices consumers seek, whether that’s new menu choices or the ability to personalize existing dishes, allows restaurants to grow and evolve while maintaining brand identity and building a loyal customer base.

How do you cater to guests’ special diets to tap into trends without losing brand focus?