This article first appeared in the 1 November 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
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Consumer tastes may evolve slowly rather than quickly and radically, but foodservice menus have proved much more nimble. Diners say they now eat more healthfully, despite indications that indulgence often trumps good intentions. But what R&I's 2007 Menu Census finds is that consumers can't complain that they don't find enough healthful foods on menus. More fruits and grains are available; healthful preparations such as stir-frying, grilling and baking are more common.
The magnitude of the menu shifts is most evident with salads. In the 2003 Menu Census, about 20% of foodservice menus included fruit salad, but this year that percentage has nearly doubled to 37%. The share of operations preparing spinach salads jumped from 8.6% four years ago to 34.6% this year.
Lighter dressings also are more common: The percentage of operations offering balsamic vinaigrette, for example, has risen to 52.7% from 30.7% in 2003. Caesar dressing is on more menus and ranks as a best seller at more than one-third of operations.
Better-for-you foods are on offer throughout the day:
Breakfast: Yogurt and fruit plates make the top 5 among breakfast foods that operators say are increasing in sales. Hotel restaurants, especially, cite both items as sales builders, and 19% of fine-dining restaurants report strong sales for morning fruit-plate offerings.
Oatmeal ranks in the top 10 among foods increasing in sales, and organic cold cereals rank second among breakfast items under consideration for addition to menus. Granola/muesli and smoothies also are among foods operators are thinking of adding. Turkey bacon, yogurt parfaits, and chicken or turkey sausage are among the top 10.
Lunch: Grilled chicken-breast sandwiches are on more commercial-sector menus than are hamburgers. Turkey sandwiches are among the top 5 sandwiches operators cite as increasing in sales. Veggie burgers are increasing in sales at college/university dining programs.
Dinner: Grilled beef, chicken, fish and shellfish entrées are increasing in popularity, and a wider variety of fish species is on menus. Salmon is one of the most popular entrées of any kind. Lentils are offered on more than one-quarter of menus, and whole-wheat pastas continue to show gains. -Scott Hume, Editor-in-Chief