The Perceived Nutrition Dilemma of Restaurants

By Total Food Service - December 21, 2017

Article contributed by Edamam

Nutrition is often an afterthought when developing a restaurant menu.

The opinion is that to focus on the nutrition of a menu is to compromise on the three things that are typically the most important: the taste of the meal, how the menu draws in customers and high margins. However, can one not have all these things plus a nutritious meal?

Opinions are starting to change. Nutrient-packed food is drawing customers in droves. There are even restaurants and chains built on this phenomenon – think Juice Press or sweetgreen. In addition, nutritious food, which tends to be plant-based, often affords higher margins and easier sourcing than a meat-heavy menu. For instance, rice bowls at $16 have higher margins than a steak with a side at $36. And, then of course, there is taste. The palate of the American is changing and consumers are increasingly enjoying nutrient-rich plates with ingredient diversity and varying textures and flavors.

Perhaps restaurants would like to address the nutrition problem but do not understand how? Perhaps they are too preoccupied with busy everyday life in a restaurant to make nutrition a priority? Perhaps they believe that rich and creamy dishes with generous helpings of butter, sugar or salt are what make people happy? Regardless of the roadblock, one thing is certain – in many markets of the United States, dealing with nutrition is a topic that has become of immediate importance and will continue to prevail. In the media and in everyday life, the ever-growing importance of nutrition is clear. Understanding this, however, is one thing. Applying this to your restaurant concept or menu redesign is quite another.

So what is a chef or restaurateur to do? Does one jump in headfirst on the health-obsessed bandwagon or stay with the tried and true? The answer is neither. There is a middle way to the nutrition dilemma.

The engineer’s approach:

While restaurateurs are engineers of food, they might be able to pick up a few tips from engineers of data. Software companies, for example, use data in their business on a daily basis to measure, change and improve their products. Gathering data on a menu’s nutrition is not all that different.

The same approach used by engineers in the software space can be applied to a restaurant’s menu. First, start measuring the data. That means, having the nutrition of each meal – not just calories, but everything, from protein, fat and sugar to applicability for new diets such as gluten-free and paleo. Restaurants do not have to show the data to the end customer to measure it. Having an awareness of the nutrition data of menu items will help restaurants stay informed of what is selling well and how their menu can evolve to continue to attract and retain customers. For instance, if a restaurant notices that customers order meals heavy on protein, they can adjust menus favorably in this direction. Menus do not need to be re-conceptualized or substantially changed. The key is to measure and experiment with a new dish or ingredient and track what people do. Over time, restaurants may find themselves with a completely new menu, but one that brings in a lot more customers, has better margins and draws rave reviews on Yelp and shares on Instagram.

Getting nutrition data in a timely and affordable way:

Does a chef or a restaurant owner really have the time and the money to play around with data? Nutrition data is not easy or cheap to come by, especially if you are going to switch things around all the time. Right? Wrong! For most restaurants, if a nutrition-driven menu is not their focus or they are not required to provide this information by law, nutrition data is a burden and a drag. However, obtaining nutrition data is not as difficult, time-consuming, or expensive as one might think.

What restaurants often do not realize is that there are several ways to obtain accurate nutrition data, ranging from the very expensive and time-consuming, to the cheap and easy. If one approaches nutrition data the traditional way, it can indeed be a slow and expensive proposition. Hiring a nutritionist can cost $100 per recipe. A chemical analysis is even more expensive and both this and a nutritionist take time and the attention of the chef, who would rather be cooking.

Other solutions on the market can be just as accurate as a nutritionist, but quick, cheap and easy. Edamam’s Nutrition Wizard Pro is a self-serve nutritional analysis tool that costs $22.95/month and can analyze the nutrition of any recipe or ingredient list in seconds. It will give all the data restaurants need to track nutrients, diet and allergen appropriateness and lets restaurants get on their way to tackling nutrition for their menu, regardless of how small or large of a restaurant they are. So, in the slow hours between lunch and dinner, restaurants can take five to ten minutes at the most to analyze, edit, and adjust their recipes.

Restaurants can try other tools too or hire a nutritionist friend. Regardless of which path restaurants take, the point is to start tracking how customers in a restaurant really eat from a nutrition standpoint.

Where is the dilemma?

For more information on Edamam’s Nutrition Wizard, please visit their website

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