Diners Weigh In on Healthy Menus


To better understand consumer preferences and expectations for healthy menus, FSR and Study Hall Research conducted a nationwide survey of full-service restaurant patrons in February.

Healthy, fresh, organic, low-calorie—these buzz words are inundating menus in chains and independent restaurants alike, all across the U.S. For instance, Cracker Barrel, which has locations up and down the nation’s interstates, introduced its Wholesome Fixin’s menu in September, hoping to capture the market on low-calorie Southern cooking.

Cracker Barrel’s Wholesome Fixin’s menu limits the calorie count to fewer than 600 calories per item, and the breakfast options are all under 500 calories. Even pancakes—a Cracker Barrel favorite—are included as a Wholesome Fixin’s option, but are offered with fresh berries and whole grains to cut back on the calorie count.

“Beyond meeting guests’ desires for healthy options, the addition of Wholesome Fixin’s to our menu increases the appeal of the Cracker Barrel brand and provides guests with better-for-you fresh ingredients,” says Janella Escobar, head of corporate communications for Cracker Barrel, adding that sales from the lower-calorie menu suggest diners appreciate having those alternatives.

That was certainly one of the main take-away messages from a consumer survey conducted in February, when FSR teamed up with Study Hall Research, a market research firm based in Tampa, Florida. The exclusive nationwide survey was conducted to better understand consumer perceptions and preferences regarding healthy menu options.

The survey results, compiled from 451 respondents, showed that diners believe caloric intake is one of the best measures of how healthy a meal is. Consumers across the board think that adding more fresh vegetables or fruit to the menu is the best action a restaurant can take to make its menu healthier, but adding more low-calorie meals to the menu is the next best move.

Other ways that respondents said restaurants could make menus healthier would be to add more low-calorie beverages, add options for half-portions or shared meals, and add more low-fat options. To a lesser degree, respondents indicated adding more low-sodium and low-carbohydrate items would make the menu healthier, and adding more vegetarian options was another way restaurants might make menus healthier.

Additionally, respondents were overwhelmingly convinced that serving portions are just too large—presenting an obvious and easy opportunity for restaurants to reduce calories on the plate.


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