Doing what's best for your customers while trying to make a profit is not easy. A case in point: A recent survey found that consumers clearly support New York City's newly upheld law requiring restaurants with 15 or more units to post nutritional menu information. For a restaurant owner, the law can be a costly nuisance. Yet those who underestimate its relevance to consumers may be making a costly mistake.
The law was created largely in response to the growing obesity problem in this country. With better information about the caloric content of food, consumers could make more informed decisions about what they eat, proponents said. This survey by foodservice consultant Technomic suggests that supporters may be right.
Of those surveyed, 86 percent said they were surprised by “higher-than-expected” calorie counts listed on menus and menu boards. And, more importantly, a large majority of those surveyed said available calorie information is now affecting what they order and where they eat.
This is no joke. Not long ago the industry would laugh and say consumers talked a big game about eating healthy, but would order with reckless abandon. There's still a lot of that going on. Outback Steakhouse, for example, still sells plenty of its 2,900-calorie cheese fries. But the tide is turning industry-wide, and a growing number of consumers are looking for healthful options on menus. If you don't offer some of those options, customers will go to one of your competitors that does.
“Consumers want the restaurant industry to respond more aggressively to nutritional concerns and are in favor of all levels of government playing a more active role in regulating restaurant menus,” says Technomic's Kathy Gaynor, who directed the survey.
In addition to New York's, other menu labeling laws have been approved, including versions in San Francisco and Seattle. And more than 20 other states and municipalities are considering their own regulations that would require chain restaurants to provide calorie and other nutritional information on menus.
The National Restaurant Association is pushing for a national standard “so everyone can have access to the nutrition information they want when they want it.” That makes sense. But until then, there's no point in getting angry or exasperated about government intervention. Instead, understand that there is a growing tide of people who want to eat better when dining out. Use this information to get an edge on your competitors. Make sure your menu has some great tasting, better-for-you offerings. And then market these items to those who are looking to eat more healthfully.
You want people to visit you when they're celebrating and indulging, and you want them when they're trying to keep their doctors happy. Take care of all your customers, and your accountant will be happy.