More and more diners are expressing desire for healthier dining options, and this growing market certainly warrants restaurants’ menu revisions. At the same time, however, consumers are also up on their indulgent dining choices. Same-store burger sales, for example, have increased from last year. To add to the complexity, the same people are just as likely to fit into both categories…even over the course of a single day!
So how is a restaurant supposed to cope with these polar trends for both healthy and hearty? The answer, quite simply, is to tack on a little bit of both to your menu.
Understanding Consumer Psychology
The most efficient way to understand your target customers is to group them into segments, typically by taste preference in a restaurant’s case. Few diners, however, will ever fall into the same segment every time. Sure, someone may be vegetarian, but that’s not going to stop them from ordering a lite salad for lunch followed by an eggplant Parmesan with extra cheese for dinner. On the other hand, a man who frequently feeds his inner child with Dr. Pepper ribs and mac ‘n’ cheese may want to buck the trend one night with a turkey burger.
Additionally, restaurants must always be mindful of members of the group who don’t necessarily fit their target profile. Spouses, children, business clients and friends along for the ride may not have your place as their first choice, but incorporating variety to appeal to these people may ‘wow’ them enough to come back on their own.
Restaurants cannot predict what mindset their customers will have on arrival, but they can prepare for the possibilities through an adequate array of offerings. Ingredient-specific food trends will come and go, but the menu itself should always carry a healthy variety [no pun intended] of healthy and hearty options.
Preparing a menu that caters to body [read: healthy] and soul [read: not] does not have to entail extensive changes in inventory or back-of-house operations, and nor should it. The easiest option is likely the most profitable—customization.
Let’s take the burger as an example. Many establishments offer one, and it so happens that intriguing burger add-ons are all the rage right now. A restaurant can easily transform their basic burger option to include extensive upsell opportunities:
Healthy—Turkey patty, veggie patty, no bun, no cheese, wheat bun, gluten free bun
Hearty—Add bacon, double meat, double cheese, add signature sauce, onion strings
"Your most important marketing tool is your repeat customers. Keep their favorite items on your menu."
These are just a few of the seemingly endless list of bells and whistles used to modify burgers nowadays. However, each one becomes quite easy to implement as long as you have other items that use the same ingredients. Creating web of dishes from the same ingredients will expand your offerings and appeal across the nutrition spectrum, as well as reduce the risks associated with unsold food.
Keep your Brand Intact
While offering both healthy and hearty options adds tremendous value to a restaurant’s reach, be sure to not take it too far to the point where your variety clouds your identity. If you run a smoothie shop, feel free to include a chocolate or peanut-butter based option, but don’t feel pressured to form half your menu from those bases. A burger joint doesn’t have to serve a dozen organic salad options; a veggie burger may be all the place needs.
Your most important marketing tool is your repeat customers. Keep their favorite items on your menu. Talk to them, and certainly their guests who they bring along, frequently to assess their satisfaction with your menu. Only toy with an item if it’s not selling.
If you’re going to add a healthy or hearty option, think about how that item relates to the rest of the menu. A smoothie shop doesn’t need to sell burgers, and vice-versa. If a new item is closely related to a pre-existing item on the menu, consider listing it as an add-on/variation within the same line. Dedicating entire sections to healthy and hearty is definitely okay, as long as these sections don’t deviate too far away from your menu’s current offerings [as well as follow the facets listed above].
As trends fade in and out at an increasingly faster rate, restaurants are finding it even more difficult to satisfy these ever-changing needs. The most successful establishments will certainly respond to these trends, but in a way that keeps their brand intact and keeps their operations at status quo. Innovation and consistent change is quintessential to the industry, but these facets should never come at the cost of your restaurant’s identity. Do add healthy and hearty menu options for your customers, but be sure that you’re making the most out of your menu expansion in the process.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.