Cutting calories can fatten profits because diners increasingly seek healthier food choices when eating at restaurants. Cities are rapidly responding to media pressure to regulate restaurant nutrition and require restaurants to cut fat and calories from their menus. Beat stifling (and expensive) regulations by getting in front of them and making calorie-counting a signature feature of your restaurant. By owning the issue of reducing calories, restaurant owners increase profits and distinguish their eateries from competitors.

Restaurants can offer low-fat, low-sugar and low-calorie dishes as alternatives to traditional menu items and change recipes for high-calorie foods without sacrificing flavor. Using fresh herbs, substituting healthier oils and eliminating trans fats from menus deliver fresher flavors while cutting calories from menu items.

Strategies for Cutting Calories

Restaurants can find many ways to cut calories just by rethinking preparation options. Restaurant chefs are uniquely qualified to help with menu planning and creating healthier dishes. Restaurants can reduce portion sizes, use smaller plates and offer dishes in regular and light versions to cut calories for health-conscious diners. Other successful strategies for cutting calories from menu items include the following ideas:

  • Include more whole grains in menu items, and offer alternatives for people who are abstaining from wheat products.
  • Follow the classic practice of serving a fresh fruit course, but use the fruit as a substitute for carbs or calorie-rich desserts.
  • Use the “fifth” taste umami to heighten food flavor by seasoning foods with aged cheeses, soybeans, mushrooms and sweet potatoes.
  • Intensify flavors with herbs, spices and aromatics.
  • Use techniques that intensify flavors such as slow-roasting, grilling, searing and preparing dishes sous vide.
  • Cut sodium from restaurant dishes, and promote lower sodium content so that diners can add as little or as much salt as they want.
  • Provide signature spice blends, sea salt and freshly ground pepper at tableside to add flavor.
  • Offer dishes baked in parchment for healthier food profiles and dramatic presentations.

Restaurants can get help in cutting calories by contacting local health departments and national health organizations. Cutting calories by enlisting support from organizations that are committed to health helps restaurants cut calories without affecting flavor. Restaurants receive promotional benefits by getting support for the restaurant from public-service organizations.

Marketing Healthy Restaurant Menu Changes

Making changes in menu items can apply across-the-board or only on certain foods. Regardless of strategy, promoting healthier changes is important if restaurants want to increase profits by cutting calories. Cutting sugar and calories from restaurant desserts can encourage diners to increase the size of their checks by ordering dessert. Promote any changes in nutrition on blackboards and menus, and include nutritional profiles of selected menu items prominently. Start a conversation through online forums to generate publicity and attract health-conscious diners. Put a star on heart-healthy menu choices or lower calorie foods to generate sales.

Marketing possibilities for healthier restaurant menus are almost endless. Savvy restaurateurs can promote sustainability issues and include them in marketing that targets healthier and calorie-counting diners. While average commutes for restaurant fruits and vegetables run 1,500 miles., local foods only need to travel short distances, and local fruit and veggies taste fresh, look good and retain nutrients without bioengineering. Chipotle has distinguished itself in this type of advertising campaign by becoming the driving source behind the Internet satire “Farmed and Dangerous.”

Publishing nutritional information conspicuously and offering to accommodate diners on special diets go a long way to establishing a restaurant as health-friendly. Restaurateurs don’t need to abandon proven menu items to profit from cutting calories—just ensure that people who are looking for healthier alternatives have seats at the table.