Restaurants around the country are changing their menus to include more nutritional choices and smaller portions.  This change is a result of increased consumer demand for healthier options, as well as pending federal regulations mandating calorie count information.  Historically, customers have gravitated towards the restaurants offering larger portions.  Restaurant owners are finding that making the shift to lighter options is not improving customers’ health, but it is also improving the bottom line.  Lower calorie menu items are definitely one of the primary drivers of restaurant growth in today’s economy.

C01-016A-888484Healthy Dining Finder is a website that helps customers find restaurants within their zip code that offer healthy options.  Website founder, Anita Jones-Mueller, estimates that the number of restaurants with vetted healthy options listed on the site has increased more than 2,000 percent in the past few years.

Federal regulations will soon mandate that food establishments with 20 or more locations post the calorie count of standard menu items.  Some restaurant chains have already begun posting calorie counts.  In addition to reducing calorie counts, many restaurants are also finding that cutting sodium, sugar, and fat is important to customers as well.

Some examples include:

Sbarro is offering the skinny slice with a different mix of cheese and more vegetables for 270 calories.

Longhorn Steakhouse is offering smaller portions of beef for its Flavorful Under 500 menu.

Wingzone is offering its Skinny Dippers, which are fried chicken breast nuggets with no breading.

Mooyah, a build-a-burger chain, offers a 200 calorie turkey burger as well as a black bean vegetable burger.  The company also offers customers the option of sweet potato fries instead of regular French fries.

Pita Pit has a Resolution Solution menu that helps customers build their pitas using healthier options.

Discussion Questions:

What are restaurants doing to lighten up their menu?  Why are they doing this right now?


SOURCE: Stephanie Strom, New York Times, February 6, 2013