3 tips for making menus cleaner

natural organic eggs

Consumers continue to show interest in clean, natural ingredients on restaurant menus. It’s easy to see why: Mandatory nutrition labeling for chain restaurant menus has pushed the idea of transparency to the forefront. Now that consumers get an in-your-face look at the calorie count and fat, sodium and other nutrients found in menu items, restaurants face even more scrutiny from consumers.

Restaurants are responding to the consumer desire for clean ingredients by scouring their menus, removing artificial ingredients and offering more insight into the sources that supply them. According to Technomic, clean-label mentions spiked 19% on restaurant menus in 2016, and 82% of operators expect clean labels to have a moderate or greater influence on future purchasing decisions.

But because consumers define “clean” in different ways, operators must focus attention on all areas of the menu. Consumers associate the following claims with clean eating, according to Technomic:

  • No artificial ingredients (61%)
  • No preservatives (58%)
  • Fresh (53%)
  • Hormone-free (51%)
  • Unprocessed (50%)
  • Antibiotic-free (49%)

Executing a transparent menu makeover isn’t the simplest process, but three elements are key to making an impact.

Do your due diligence

Several chains have made an exhaustive inventory of every ingredient they buy, identifying those that don’t conform to a standard they have promised to follow and revising recipes as needed. This can be a time-consuming process, especially when it involves working with current suppliers or lining up new suppliers and testing ingredient replacements.

A less ambitious approach for smaller operators might be to target key standards—eliminating antibiotic-treated proteins, or artificial flavorings and colorings—and tackle them one or two at a time.

Focus on training

Cooks, counter staff and servers all need to be on board with menu transparency. Being able to answer questions or point guests to resources that will do so, such as a searchable database or printed list of recipe ingredients, is essential.

Because switching suppliers or product choices often pushes food costs up, cleaner menus are often costlier to produce, so coaching staff on ways to answer questions about higher menu prices is another process to manage, preferably through a script that underscores quality. Fortunately, many devotees of clean eating understand its value and are prepared to pay a premium.

In the kitchen, if a menu promises options for guests following special diets or those with allergy concerns, procedures must be put in place to avoid cross-contamination.

Keep the lines of communication open

The first place clean eaters are likely to seek information about a restaurant’s commitment to transparency is the brand’s website; therefore, detailing clean-ingredient claims is a must. One innovative tool is Taco Bell’s interactive calculator, which breaks down all menu options and allows users to build virtual dishes that eliminate offending ingredients and add on desirable touches.

In the restaurant, creating a detailed list of ingredients for each dish, condiment, drink, etc., and making it available on request—as a printout or on a tablet—is another step to reassure diners that their dietary concerns are being addressed. And if a restaurant buys locally, mentioning those suppliers is not only transparent, but smart marketing. Social media, loyalty club emails, table tents, menu icons and in-store signage are additional ways to reinforce the message.

By focusing on menuing clean, natural ingredients across menu parts, operators can satisfy guests and stay ahead of the curve.

This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice