Food Transparency in Restaurants
Restaurant owners often deal with the difficulties that come with trying to design a menu that meets their customers’ different tastes and preferences. Further still, they have to accommodate for the ever-increasing list of special dietary restrictions that many Americans follow. More and more, customers want to know where their food came from, whether it’s organic, how fresh it is, and how the livestock was treated. Making this information available is food transparency, and it is one of the biggest trends in the foodservice industry right now. The following post will walk you through the ins and outs of ingredient transparency to help you give some tips on how your operators can incorporate it in their restaurants.
What is Food Transparency?
Ingredient transparency is all about being open and honest with customers about what is in the dishes operators are serving. This could include very basic information, such as whether or not cookies contain peanuts, or more detailed information, like the name of the farm where they source their beef.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries provides an excellent example of ingredient transparency. They devote a section of their website to stating meat sourcing information and allergy warnings, along with a complete list of ingredients for all the products they serve. In stores, they also have a board that lets customers know where the french fry potatoes came from for that specific day. For added customer convenience, Five Guys even offers a handy checklist that allows diners to see whether the food they’re ordering contains ingredients like MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, and wheat gluten.
Why is Food Transparency Important?
Unlike other trends, ingredient transparency is here to stay. In fact, as of May 2017, chain restaurants with 20 or more locations are legally required to offer calorie and ingredient information online and in person (if requested by the customer). This new law shows that consumers aren’t going to stop caring about what’s in their food any time soon. Even if your operator doesn’t own a chain restaurant, the following reasons should be enough for your operators to consider being more transparent about the ingredients they’re using.
You and your operators never want customers to get sick from something they’ve prepared, so knowing exactly what’s in the dishes they’re serving is important. Even if they’re not in a position to be able to label everything they’re cooking with, operators should consider marking the menu items that contain the top eight food allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
Many customers who don’t have allergies simply want to know what they’re eating for dieting purposes. With the growing popularity of smartphones, diners on a diet expect to be able to visit a restaurant’s website to determine what menu item is the healthiest. If your operators are lacking a nutrition facts section on their menu, they could be losing out on these customers.
Not only is ingredient transparency helpful for customers, it also provides a trendy appeal. Chipotle Mexican Grill has made a name for itself by emphasizing the use of ethically sourced, organic, and non-GMO ingredients. As industry trendsetters like Chipotle continue to stress the importance of food transparency, customers will come to expect other restaurants to follow suit. (Note, the image accompanying this article is an example from Chipotle’s online menu.)
How Can Your Operators Incorporate Food Transparency into Their Business?
If your customers are looking to be more transparent about the ingredients they use but don’t know where to start, we’ve put together a list of changes your operators can make, from small and simple switches to large-scale business shifts.
Open Up About Your Menu
A great way to get on board with ingredient transparency is by putting together a list of ingredients in their most popular dishes. Highlight any potential allergens, and if your operators have a website, post this information there. Operators should also keep a hard copy of this list in their restaurant, and let their staff know that it should be shared with customers upon request. If possible, they can also provide the nutritional information for their food in this same format.
If operators source any ingredients locally or ethically, they should make this a focal point on the menu. They can also let customers know what changes they’re making to become more transparent on social media. Chances are, if customers like what they see, they’ll pass the information along.
Change the Business Model
If your customer is just opening a new business or are looking to completely overhaul their existing restaurant, they have the opportunity to make dramatic changes towards ingredient transparency. They could provide a complete nutritional breakdown of all their dishes, switch to locally sourced meat and produce, or change their marketing to brand their restaurant as food transparent.
All of these ideas can either be slowly introduced or incorporated all at once. If they can’t make any of these changes immediately but want to become more transparent with their ingredients, operators should try to think about how they could shift their business over time to incorporate them. From changing what is served on the menu to switching suppliers, there are many ways to work towards this ultimate goal.
Adopt an Open Kitchen Concept
To make a restaurant more food transparent, operators can also consider an open kitchen restaurant concept. If the operator is running a pre-established business, this would be a major construction project, but if they haven’t opened their restaurant yet, this could be a great opportunity. Many customers want to feel connected with the food that they’re eating, and this includes everything from knowing where it comes from to watching it be prepared. Open kitchens allow customers to see that the operator is taking the utmost care in the kitchen, and that is an important aspect of food transparency.
Whether an operator runs a mom and pop pizza shop or a national chain, there is always something that can be done to increase transparency between their kitchen and their customers. As this trend continues to grow, diners will expect to know where their food comes from, what it’s made of, and how it’s being prepared, which is why ingredient transparency is so important.
Source: greatmenusstarthere.com, 3-18-2018