Three Ways Independent Foodservice Operators can Benefit from the Healthy Eating Movement
By Dwayne Reno
There are things I enjoy about fast food chains and things that I really love about independent foodservices operators. For one fast food is quick and great if you’re on the go while independents have a unique quality you can’t find at many of the fast food chains. Also, the food offered by independents is of a much better quality than offerings provided by even the best fast food chain. This is because the chain operators are highly dependent on convenience foods (frozen or prepared foods).
In a highly competitive foodservice marketplace with consumers who are much more health conscious chain operators have found themselves branded as unhealthy. In an attempt to regain foot traffic the chain operators are now offering discounted menu items and re-branding themselves as healthy fast food. McDonald’s recently reintroduced a revamped dollar menu which offers $1, $2 and $3 menu items. Also the fast food giant has started using fresh (not frozen) beef in their Quarter Pounder hamburgers and announced plans to reduced the calories, sodium and sugar in 50 per cent or more of their Happy Meal Bundles which now come with organic fruit juice.
Chain operators like McDonald’s are borrowing from their independent competitors in an effort to re-brand their unhealthy public image and it is working. In this article I’ll suggest three daily actions independent foodservice operators can do to help them differentiate themselves from fast food chains and standout with health conscious consumers.
Start Experimenting with From Scratch Recipes
Unlike large chain operators independents have the ability to change up the flavors and taste of their menu items without ridicule. However, like fast food chains, many independent operators have also developed a reliance on convenience foods. This is because in some cases cooking from scratch can be expensive if the dish requires a lot of prepping which can increase labour costs for an independent operator. However, if the item does not increase require a lot of prepping then cooking it from scratch is a great way to reduce food costs as convenience foods are more expensive then fresh ingredients.
To determine which menu items you should be cooking from scratch independent operators must keep the theme of their restaurant in mind, or what you want to be known for. If you want to be known for great tasting burgers and fries then you should put the emphasis on making all your burgers and fries from scratch with the freshest local ingredients available to you. Also, cooking your burgers from scratch with fresh (not frozen) beef and using fresh cut potatoes over frozen fries is a great way to differentiate yourself from the traditional fast food burger which lack fresh ingredients.
Listing Calories Offers Advantages
Listing calories for menu items is also a great way to stand out from the fast food chains. In 2017, to help curve the rise in obesity the Ontario government made it mandatory for chains with 20 or more locations in Ontario to display calorie information for every standard food and beverage item on their menus, and on display tags/labels or signs to help customers make healthier choices when they eat away from home.
While it’s not necessary in Ontario for an independent eatery to list calories it can be a great way to help you differentiate yourself from the large chain operators. Again what is the theme of your restaurant, what do you want to be known for? If you are a taco eatery making great tasting tacos with less calories and more fresh ingredients than chain operators listing this information can give you a competitive advantage. Recently, Pita Pit, a well know chain with more than 200 locations across Canada called upon the restaurant industry to expand calorie transparency across Canada instead of just in Ontario.
"We are constantly pushing ourselves to be the best option for our customers," said Kevin Pressburger, President of Pita Pit Canada. "While calorie compliance in Ontario has been a great start – Pita Pit Canada is taking this a step further. All Canadians should know what is in their food and shouldn't be surprised by the nutritional information after the fact. Pita Pit has always been transparent about our offerings to our Pita Fanatics, and our national calorie roll-out will take this promise to the next level."
Pita Pit’s national roll-out of the menu labelling compliance will give Pita Pit a competitive advantage over other fast food chains since pita wraps are seen as a healthy and fresh alternative to frozen beef burgers and frozen fries.
Seasonal Menu Options
Seasonal menu options have grown in popularity over the years and have become a staple with many fast food chains. The problem again is that fast food chains rely on convenience foods and don’t cook from scratch so many of their seasonal offerings are filled with more preservatives and additives than actual produce. Seasonal food offers independents a great competitive advantage because seasonal options can lower your food costs and provide creative additions which are unique to your menu.
Introducing seasonal ingredients may increase your labour costs as some menu items like pies made with fresh seasonal apples may require a lot more prep than bag or canned filling. Again independent operators must ask themselves what is the theme of my restaurant and what do I want to be known for? If you are a juice bar try purchasing fresh locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables whenever possible to keep your food costs down. This will also provide you with a competitive advantage and more ways to differentiate your establishment with unique beverage offerings not found at competing juice bar chains.
As a child growing up I can remember my mother starting her work days at 4am at the restaurant she owned and operated. She used that time to help her get a head start on the prep work required for her breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. My mom always know what she wanted to be known for and that was quality food cooked from scratch with fresh local ingredients and a side of great customer service. Also, remember these three actions will work best if served with a big smile and a side of awesome customer service.
Until next time your customers want to know why they should spend money at your restaurant, bar or cafe. So give them the goods!
Dwayne Reno CEO & Founder
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