The importance of catering for the health-conscious consumer

Once upon a time, eating healthily was an afterthought. Something niche that only a small group of people were interested in, and that very few indeed would care about when dining out at a restaurant.

And most of those who did care would go to a dedicated health food spot full of greenery and raw things where diets win over deliciousness, rather than a chef-led restaurant.

But that’s not the case anymore. Over the last couple of years — and especially in the past six months — health-conscious dining has put down roots and made it into the mainstream.

Now restaurateurs are finding that offering a range of healthy dishes is important for keeping their business in good shape, as well as their customers.

There are a number of factors at play which have spurred on this turnaround. The so-called clean eating brigade, including Hemsley + Hemsley and Deliciously Ella, have done their bit to make nutrition trendy, while Jamie Oliver is just one of many high profile figures who have been extolling the virtues of eating well.

With this, people’s expectations of how good healthy food can taste has been substantially upped. These personalities and others have shown that a balanced meal doesn’t have to be a boring one, and that there’s no reason why food that does you good shouldn’t taste great.

Also, as the UK becomes increasingly food obsessed and our restaurant industry booms — especially in London — people are choosing to eat out more than ever. In fact, research shows that despite the average price of a meal going down in the last couple of years, the total amount people spend on dining has gone up and up as they do so more frequently.

It makes good sense that people who view restaurant meals as a regular part of their diet, rather than a rare treat, will want to ensure that what they’re eating is balanced as opposed to splurging on a dinner out and making up for it with miniscule meals when eating at home.

Restaurants need to make sure that their menus reflect this mind change, and that they are dishing up a decent portion of choice which allows customers to eat healthily as well as heartily — all the while making sure not to alienate those who want to leave nutrition at home for the night.

Here are five winning ways to ensure the health-conscious consumer is well catered for:

Seasonal supper-heroes

There are many reasons why eating and serving seasonal food is important, but most of all because this is when it is at its most delicious. As a result if you use top produce that is at its prime, there’s often no need to add overly rich accompaniments, making it much healthier. On the new summer menu at Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe, Allan Pickett pairs grilled asparagus with a fried duck egg and chopped hazelnuts. Because it has so much flavour of its own there’s no need to cook it in butter, and he instead opts for just a little rapeseed oil.

Veg up

With vegetarians obviously excepted, most of us eat far too much meat — it’s bad for the planet and bad for our health. More and more people are recognising this and starting to cut back. This might be through ideas such as meat-free Mondays, or simply trying to cut down portion sizes. Restaurants can do their bit by ensuring that they offer plenty of creative dishes that put veg in the limelight so there’s lots to take the fancy of diners that’s not flesh. At Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe a summer dish of steamed Somerset spelt with asparagus, Cornish Yarg and parsley purée is wholesome but also vibrantly flavoured.

Lightly does it

We all love a good gutsy meal from time-to-time, but many dishes are actually better when they’re made a little lighter. Chefs and restaurants are often keen to reach for the cream and butter to make decadent sauces, when actually the modern diner craves something altogether fresher. One of Allan Pickett’s signature dishes on Swan’s dinner menu pairs sliced scallops with Granny Smith apple and a little squid ink mayonnaise. It is vibrant, brightly flavoured and refreshingly light.

Ready for requirements

A health-conscious menu isn’t all about low fat or plenty of veg. Many customers have food allergies, intolerances and preferences. A good menu should be able to accommodate the most common of these while still leaving diners with a bit of choice. It’s worth making sure there is a good scattering of gluten-free, dairy-free and of course vegetarian and vegan options.

A fruity finish

There is excellent fruit available in this country, so use it. Of course, diners will sometimes want gooey chocolate puddings and cheese boards, but if done in the right way almost any final course is all the better for the addition of some fruit — and it means diners finish feeling like they have had a more balanced meal. On his summer menu, Allan serves a steamed chocolate pudding with a berry compote (its sharpness cuts through the rich pudding perfectly), Kentish strawberries with a set buttermilk cream, and a rhubarb crumble tart.

There’s always room for something naughty though, as they say: everything in moderation, including moderation itself!


About Diccon Wright

Christopher Diccon Wright is a restaurateur and property specialist who has established and grown successful operations in the UK and Mediterranean. He has also worked on a consultancy and advisory basis for a wide range of food and property clients.