KEY POINTS:
* It’s increasingly important to have menu offerings that cater to customer dietary requirements
* The definition of what constitutes ‘healthy’ varies from one consumer to another, but there are some menu additions that will resonate for those looking for healthier meal choices
* Showcasing fresh vegetables and fruits, organic ingredients and healthy side dishes on the menu is a good idea
* You could also include the option of smaller portion sizes for those customers watching their waistlines

AS A QUICK GLANCE at the supermarket shelves will show you, ‘better for you’ food items are much in demand. But while this is increasingly the case for food prepared at home, dining out has always been seen as an opportunity for indulgence. In the case of pizza, pasta and Italian style food, this often equates to large portions, rich, heavy sauces, and pizzas piled high with extra toppings.
In recent times this has started to shift, with foodservice businesses increasingly recognising the need to cater to customer’s dietary regimes. The rise in popularity of gluten free food is one obvious example — many restaurants and neighbourhood pizzerias now offer gluten free pizza bases, because they know that if they don’t they’ll be missing out on business.
While gluten free food is only a healthier option for those with gluten intolerance, the growing demand for such menu options underscores the fact that the definition of what constitutes ‘healthy’ varies from one consumer to another. Luckily, there is enough agreement around the basics of healthier eating to recommend a few changes to your menu that will resonate with those customers looking for healthier meal choices:
* Create menu options that showcase fresh vegetables and fruits, including several vegetarian and/or vegan options — and make sure these are clearly identified on the menu
In the case of pizza and pasta, this isn’t difficult to do — most pizza menus will include at least one vegetarian option and usually more, and traditional Italian cuisine includes a wide variety of vegetarian pasta dishes. Vegan (which means no animal products, including cheese) is a little more difficult, but again with a little research and experimentation you’re sure to find recipes which work.
Aside from vegetarian dishes, you can highlight the use of fresh vegetables and fruits on those menu items which also contain animal protein. You don’t have to ditch your Meat Lover’s Pizza from the menu — just emphasising your use of healthy ingredients will make a positive impact on customer perceptions.
* Organic produce is often perceived as a healthier option, so consider sourcing organic ingredients and including these in several dishes
You don’t need to go all out and change everything on the menu — but simply including one or two dishes which feature organic meat, vegetables, fruits or grains will call out to customers your commitment to offering these choices, and may increase patronage and encourage repeat business.
* Showcase healthy side dishes such as salads and greens along with low fat dressings and sauces in your menu descriptions
Again, calling out these healthy options in your menu descriptions is an effective way to highlight your awareness of customer demand. By paying particular attention to the words you use to describe these dishes on the menu, you can make them sound not only healthier but appetising too. That said, it’s also important to maintain a balance between ‘better for you’ options and the more indulgent menu favourites — don’t skew your menu too far in one direction.
* Include several menu options of smaller portion size for those customers watching their waistlines
While indulgence = generous portions, diet-conscious customers will often prefer smaller portions. A common trend these days is for couples to share one dish between two, especially when it comes to desserts. You can make it easier for customers by identifying a selection of smaller portioned meals on the menu, and by offering pasta dishes in entrée and main sizes so they have a choice of which they order.
By combining effective portion control with lighter ingredients, you can be sure of having some healthier menu options which will draw customers in.
And a final important point to bear in mind — consumer surveys often find that customers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy options, even if they don’t end up ordering them! A recent report by foodservice market research organisation Technomic found this was the case for almost 40 per cent of surveyed consumers — and that positioning your business as health-focused will enable you to the reap the benefits of increased patronage.
Pizza and side salad
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