Sparked by the country's ongoing obesity struggles and a general desire to know more about the food we eat, Americans are looking to eat healthier even when dining out. Seventy percent are trying to eat healthier at restaurants compared to what they did two years ago, Joan McGlockton, president of industry affairs and food policy at the National Restaurant Association, said during a panel discussion called “The Changing Landscape: Today's Restaurant Consumer.”
The panelists discussed how to get more fruits and vegetables onto plates at restaurants, but the lessons could also apply to supermarket foodservice operations.
When you add healthier options, especially for kids, many parents will cheer, but others may get annoyed if you take away unhealthy options, said Cheryl Dolven, a registered dietitian and director of health and wellness at Darden Restaurants.
At Olive Garden, kids' menu sides have been replaced with grapes, broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes. “Grapes has been tremendously well received by families,” said Dolven.
On the other hand, some parents complained that French fries were no longer an option at some restaurants.
Darden has worked on “making the healthy choice the easier choice,” said Dolven. That means a produce side and non-sugar beverage are the default options for the kids menu. Customers have to go out of their way to ask for fries and sodas.
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts pursued a similar strategy, said Kara Cressey, manager of health and wellness and food and beverage for the company. However, Cressey added Disney has also had to alter its computer systems so the default choice when servers enter an order into the system is always the healthy choice.
It's also important to make produce exciting, the panelists agreed. Customers may complain, “I don't want just steamed broccoli. I can do that at home,” said Dolven, so fruit and vegetable dishes should be made “in a differentiated way.”
Finally, you can't get discouraged if healthy items don't produce strong sales immediately, Dolven said. It may take time for consumers to get on board or for chefs to perfect the dishes.
Cressey said the healthy items may not be the best sellers at the Disney parks, but the sales are strong enough that they're worth keeping on the menu.