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Do Customers Really Want to Eat Healthy When Eating Out?
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Are you a restaurant owner debating whether to add more healthy items to your menu? You might want to think twice, according to a new report from The NPD Group. The study found that, rather than picking healthier menu items when dining out, customers who are trying to eat healthy are more likely to cut out an item (such as dessert), order water instead of another beverage, and order smaller portions.

The study, Healthy at Foodservice–Consumer Expectations Put in Perspective, found the number-one choice healthy diners were likely to make was ordering a salad (39 percent). Some 38 percent skip dessert, 37 percent don’t order a beverage or just have water, and 23 percent have a smaller portion.

What’s the reason for the seeming disconnect? Well, although more than half of adults say they always or usually eat healthfully at home, just one-fourth do so when they go to a restaurant. Some 37 percent of those who admit they don’t dine healthy when dining out say they want to eat whatever they want, and 23 percent say they specifically go out in order to indulge.

“The bottom line is that even with an increasing number of restaurants offering healthier menu items or posting calories and other nutritional information, at the end of the day, consumers see dining out as a treat, an indulgence,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, explains.

So how can you balance what customers say they want (healthy) with what many of them really want (indulgence)? And how can you avoid losing profits when customers come in but don’t order high-margin items such as beverages and appetizers? The answer is in seeing what tactics customers use to eat healthy.

  • Offer healthier proteins, such as chicken, seafood or even tofu, as alternatives to beef or pork. Nearly 30 percent of diners seek healthier proteins to make their meals more palatable.
  • Downsize portions slightly while keeping prices the same. Almost one-fourth of diners want smaller portions. Smaller portions make customers feel they’re eating healthier while also keeping your profits in line.
  • Make it easy for customers to choose items prepared in a healthier way. Nearly one in five customers uses this strategy to eat healthy when dining out. Make sure your menu states that all items can be prepared according to dietary needs (if this is the case). If customers know they can order that fish prepared without the butter sauce, they may be more likely to buy.
  • Enable sharing. Don’t make customers feel bad when they ask to share an entrée (12 percent do this) or order just an appetizer as a meal (10 percent do this). In fact, your servers might even want to encourage sharing, such as sharing an appetizer or salad along with the meal.
  • Provide plenty of salad options. With salads the most popular choice for healthy eating, make sure you offer a range of salads at lunch and dinner. Offering the ability to customize salads with add-ons such as protein or toppings (at extra cost) helps your profit margin while also helping customers feel like they are choosing a healthy meal.
  • Create light beverage options. To get customers to order high-margin drinks, develop a menu of low-calorie alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and promote them, particularly to female diners.
  • Make the effort to upsell. If customers have enjoyed a healthy meal, they may be more in the mood to share a dessert—so make sure your servers still make the effort to upsell to extras whenever possible.

Image by Flickr user NatalieMaynor (Creative Commons)


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