Diet Restrictions? Adjusting Your Menu for Health-Conscious Guests

By Brian Murphy, Foodable Industry Expert

Guests are getting wiser when it comes to their overall health, and the knowledge they are gaining is having an impact on the restaurant’s bottom line. Keeping guests happy and fed in a healthful way is a rising trend in the fast casual market and beyond. Here are some ways to make simple modifications to accommodate the latest trends in health and lifestyle that won’t cause too many headaches for team members.

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Modified Meals

“No onions.”

“Dressing on the side.”

“Is there any gluten in that?”

These requests and inquiries are nothing new to chefs and restaurant owners, but requests and questions about sourcing and individual ingredients have restaurant staff members scrambling in attempt to accommodate them. Customer demands are increasing to the point where the most basic, prepped menu items are in jeopardy of having to be made from scratch in order to meet the expectations of some guests. Depending on the menu item, substitution or omission of ingredients can either happen à la minute or not at all. Cross-utilization of ingredients and adjusting the prep checklist and the menu a little can offer a solution.

Paleo and Beyond

Many chefs and establishments are adjusting for Paleo-ish options that please a significant portion of guests — and are seeing great success. Whole30 is another trend in diet plans that serves as a stricter form of Paleo, eliminating grains, legumes, soy, dairy, alcohol, and all forms of sugar from the diet. Restrictive? Yes. Impossible to accommodate? Absolutely not. Offering guests dishes that “happen to meet Whole30 guidelines” allows people with limited options to see your establishment as a beacon of light in an otherwise dark, off-limits world.

Duck fat potatoes or carrots, roasted vegetables, and roasted meats are all options on the Whole30 plan, provided the seasonings and sauces served with them don’t have any sugar or dairy. Perfect for the upcoming fall season, offering dishes with various roasted squashes will satisfy the seasonal menu shift, but can be integrated into many different dishes. In the event that the new dishes are not moving, mixing roasted veggies and using them with entrées is a great way to move product.

Fortunately, squash has a rather long shelf life. Think of all the options when you consider the fact that most oils, animal fats, and clarified butter are approved! Clarified butter is a great way to offer the richness of butter and still meet the Whole30 requirements when preparing many different menu items, and the higher smoke point is a great benefit as well.

Paleo options are not quite as strict as the Whole30 crew, but limitations leave a lot of this health-conscious demographic asking a lot of questions and skipping out on establishments that don’t seem to “get it.” Most guests are not looking for separate menus, or even symbols indicating Paleo options on menus, but that wouldn’t be a terrible idea if the demographic demanded it. Simply offering items that are not only delicious, but that can also be easily modified or already meet Paleo and omnivore diets alike, is a win-win for everyone involved.

Educate the Team

PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN MURPHY.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN MURPHY.

Preparing staff for menu changes is incredibly important, should either Paleo, Whole30, or any similar diet accommodations be explored. The changes taking place in the kitchen and the options that exist for guests need to be communicated early and often to staff. They certainly don’t need a cheat sheet with every limitation of every fad diet out there, but understanding the broad strokes will get them in touch with guests in ways that are far too rare. Keep the staff from being aloof and not seeming to care about guest diet restrictions and the guests will feel that empathy.

Staff should be well-rehearsed in the ingredients used in dishes to begin with, but giving them some go-to variations on menu items that meet popular customer requests will help make the substitution process a lot smoother. When a server knows that the kitchen has cauliflower at the ready to blitz in the food processor, sauté, and serve as an option instead of rice, they will be able to confidently let a guest know the establishment is there for them.

The kitchen team may need an education on what certain substitutions mean for dishes. Switching the fat in a recipe or making something on the fly with different ingredients can be a simple process, provided that the proper training has taken place and procedures are easily referenced. Be sure front-of-house staff members understand exactly what dishes are able to be modified and exactly how to submit the modifications in the POS system.

Communicate

How will you let guests know you have their backs with new diet fads and trends? There is no wrong answer here if the bottom line means customer satisfaction, but the communications should not feel forced or contrived. Social media is a great start, as many people living the Whole30 or Paleo lifestyle support each other through social media and online forums. Post photos of your new dishes and use important hashtags to show that your cuisine follows these diet guidelines, and this will plant the seed for existing and potential guests.

Use caution of marketing your food as a “diet-friendly food,” as regulars or omnivores could think negatively of the food being “diet” cuisine. Opt, instead, for offering new dishes or variations of dishes that come across as you saying, “Oh, and by the way, this is Paleo-friendly as well.”