Diet Revolution

Local restaurants change their menus to cater to health-conscious diners



With Americans currently following the trend of eating healthy and trying new diets to shed a few pounds, local restaurants are changing their menus to keep customers happy and give diners more reasons to eat out.

Studies have shown restaurants that capitalize on America's diet craze are reaping the benefits. According to the publication LowCarbiz, the low-carb trend generated $15 billion in sales last year in the United States. This year, it predicts the numbers to surge to between $25 billion and $30 billion as new corporate chains such as Subway and McDonald's adapt to the new-diet craze.

Local Bloomington restaurants have taken the cue from national chains and begun changing their menus so customers can continue to eat at their favorite places without worrying about excess fat -- or carbohydrates for the ever-present Atkins dieters.

Scotty's Brewhouse, 302 N. Walnut St., has introduced a section on its menu titled "Body by Scotty." The list of items includes the calorie, carbohydrate, protein and fat content of each selection. The new section caters toward the Atkins diet and has one selection targeted toward the South Beach Diet.

Assistant General Manager Bryan Scantland attributes the change in menu to recent trends.

"Studies show that these items have sold well," Scantland said.

Since the menu was introduced in early January, the restaurant has seen no significant difference, but Scantland said people are ordering off the new addition to the menu.

Other restaurants are making smaller changes to their menus but still feel the changes will make a difference.

Chili's, located at 2811 E. Third St., has had its "Guiltless Grill" section on the menu since 1993 with food of a healthier content and has recently added an "It's Your Choice" card to the menu. The "Guiltless Grill" includes platters served with steamed vegetable sides instead of the traditional french fries. The "Guiltless Grill" menu also outlines fat content so diners can track their fat intake.

According to a Jan. 14 press release from Brinker International, owner of Chili's, Guiltless Grill selections have always been about lower fat content -- not carbohydrates -- and the new "Your Choice" selections are targeted toward a lower carbohydrate diet.

According to a statement issued by Wilson Craft, president of Chili's, the new menu selections were created because Americans are always interested in healthier dining. But because no diet is right for everyone, Chili's is trying to find the right balance, Craft said.

Jennifer Morris, general manager of Chili's in Bloomington, said the restaurant updates its menu every four to six months because customers are always looking for new options.

Despite this growing trend, some local restaurants have not made changes to their selections.

Village Deli, 409 E. Kirkwood Ave., has not made any changes, and there is no indication a change will be made in the future.

One of the reasons Village Deli does not plan on making changes to its menu is because customers create their own meals when ordering, said owner and operator Bob Costello.

The restaurant also already offers many low-carbohydrate side dishes on the menu for Atkins dieters such as fruit salad and cole slaw, said general manager Craig Lill.

But Costello said he has noticed a change in his customers' ordering habits with the growing diet trends.

"A lot of customers are ordering sandwiches without bread or ordering breakfast items without home fries," Costello said.

Because the Village Deli offers a large selection of breakfast foods such as omelettes that can be made with egg whites, Costello believes the restaurant is already catering to the Atkins diet.

"I think people are already coming to us because of what we offer," Costello said.

With diet trends changing so rapidly, restaurants will be in a rush to keep up with the growing demand from their customers.

"We're just looking out for the people that are out there," Chili's Morris said.

-- Contact staff writer Samantha Blau at sblau@indiana.edu.

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