Diversify your menus - why you need to cater to all dietary needs. Q&A with Carolyn Eglinton, Marketing Manager H&L

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” – Epicurus (341 BC

Dining out is a social experience, an opportunity to get together with friends and enjoy their company. Social trends and food/diet awareness has changed the way we eat and what we eat over the last ten years, and consumers are demanding more of restaurants in terms of choice and options.

Over the last decade, we have seen Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Plant-based (Vegan), Paleo, Low Carb, Raw Food become mainstream and now FODMAP is making it was to the shelves of supermarkets as well. These are no longer fad diets, they are lifestyle choices that are here to stay.

What does this mean for many restaurants? Unless you are a niche restaurant specialising in only one dish, then you need to be providing a menu that offers options for a typical party of six people – most likely one of them will be vegan and one will be gluten-free.

In this Q&A, we interview Carolyn Eglinton, Marketing Manager of H&L Australia, about why offering a diverse menu is important to the sustainability of your restaurant.

What trends have you observed in the way people are now choosing their restaurants to dine out with friends?

“People are going online to check menus now and if a menu is not there, they are more likely to make a booking with a restaurant who does have a menu online. They want to check that the menu caters for all people in their group.

Typically today in a group of people, there will be someone wanting vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. There are many other diets too but these are the most common.

People are expecting to be catered and for restaurants to provide a menu to suit a range of dietary needs. It means change for that restaurant owner to incorporate new menu ideas, but they may lose customers if they don’t.”

What is the market wanting in terms of menu options that many restaurant owners are missing?

“Ten years ago restaurants had more control over their menus and able to make decisions on behalf of consumers. Now consumers are more demanding and asking for all sorts of changes to their meals.

Consumers feel that if they are paying for their meals, they should get more of what they want. The challenge for the restaurant owner is to provide a menu that caters for this and maintains their profitability at the same time.

There is a balanced solution here between menu options and making a good profit The restaurant owner may need some help to come up with ideas and we are here to help them with that. H&L account managers on the ground in each state have come from a hospitality background and are often called in to advise on questions such as these.

For example, you will now see many breakfasts restaurants offering “free range eggs” and then you can add spinach, bacon, mushrooms, etc etc, starting with the basics and then adding to suit each dietary requirement.

This principle can be applied to other dishes, offering people choice along with your standard dishes.

I have also seen people go to extremes and offering too many different cuisines and choices on their menu. This can have the opposite effect of trying to be all things to all people and giving a perception of not being good at any one thing.

On another note, it is important to be very clear on the menu about what is vegan, vegetarian and GF. For example, if you have mayonnaise on a dish, this is not vegan and this is a common mistake. People won’t come back if they cannot trust you with your menus in this way.”

Is there resistance to change menus to diversify and if so, why?

“There is some resistance and this is largely because restaurant owners are not always sure how to bring in choice and still maintain profitability.

This is where having the right data helps make informed decisions.

For example, H&L’s Sysnet POS https://hlaustralia.com.au/our-solutions/pos-solutions reports show what clients are purchasing, what dishes are being bought, how many people are eating gluten-free, vegan and on what nights of the week they are doing so. Once you have this information you can pick up trends and make decisions on new menu items based on factual data rather than guessing – for example, if customers are ordering more vegan on Friday nights because you have more millennials coming in, then you may want to offer vegan specials that night.”

A good local example of changing a menu to suit your clientele is the Duke of Brunswick in Adelaide, who recently changed to a complete gluten-free menu. http://www.thedob.com.au/100-gluten-free-menu-announced/. They found that 1 in 100 people had Coeliac Disease and even though they had a predominantly gluten-free menu, cross contamination would occur.

Can H&L help restaurant owners develop new menu ideas?

“Yes. H&L have account managers on the ground in each state and we are here to help you make educated decisions instead of educated guesses. We have over 400 reports, all included in our base POS package which can give you simple market intelligence to help you choose the right balance of dishes for maximum profitability.”

Call H&L on 1800 778 340 or book a time with your local H&L Account Manager to find out more.