Using healthy options to attract new customers.

By registered nutritionist Dr Carina


When the powerful restaurant chains introduce healthier menu options, it must make business sense. And you can be sure that, once a canny business knows they’ve got a competitive edge, they’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. But you don’t have to be a big multinational to take advantage of the new generation of healthy eating customers. And you can maintain your competitive edge.

Not all of this article will apply to you – the options available to a fish and chip restaurant will be different to, say, an Indian takeaway. But anyone can make simple tweaks to their menu in order to increase its nutritional credentials. The big nutritional bugbears to tackle are calories, fat, salt, and sugar. Probably the main consideration is fat, especially the saturated fat that’s linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). Also, because fat is the most calorific nutrient (a gram of fat provides double the amount of calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrate), when you cut the fat, you’ll slash the calorie count at a stroke. So reducing fat provides a double benefit.

Could you offer some ‘lighter bites’ on your menu, and flag them up as lower in calories? You could also offer some of your most popular dishes in different sizes, such as ‘mega’, ‘regular’ and ‘snack-size’ or ‘taster’.

Deep-frying is obviously a high fat cooking method, as the food soaks up a lot of the oil. But even here you can address your meals’ healthiness. What oils do you use? Consumers know that hydrogenated or ‘trans’ fats are bad for their hearts – can you say you use ‘no trans fats’, or that your food is fried in monounsaturated oils such as rapeseed, corn or sunflower oil?

What about salad dressings? You do offer salads, don’t you – they’re a nutritional winner, being low in calories and high in vitamins and beneficial plant compounds. But an oily dressing can let a healthy salad down, boosting its calorie and fat content to as much as a burger. Provide salads ‘naked’ as an alternative to dressed, or offer a range of low fat dressings.

Another area to keep up with the big boys is by offering fresh fruit and veg. You don’t have to emulate their little portion-sized plastic bags – plastic tubs of ready prepared salads and fruit salads, or a selection of pieces of fruit, are just as good. Let all your customers know they’re low in calories, high in fiber and rich in vitamins. If you have the equipment, you could even add fresh fruit juices and smoothies to your range.

Which brings us to the subject of drinks – another area where the big multinationals know the benefits of offering healthy options alongside their ‘treat’ choices. You could extend your range to include fruit juice, sparkling fruit juice drinks, diet drinks and bottled water. It’s really not difficult – the healthy edge really is just down to offering your customers nutritious choices alongside the ‘treat’ options, and telling them about it.