Exciting Restaurant Opportunities
Menu labeling laws are creating new jobs for RDs in nutrition analysis, menu development, and more. Despite challenging economic times, people are eating out more than ever.
Obviously, today’s eating-out scene isn’t what it used to be. It’s no longer an occasional treat. In fact, it’s become mainstream. Part of the reason is that reason is that restaurants are reaching more people in more powerful ways. Social media, big-batch couponing, and targeted marketing and advertising are wildly popular, and restaurants often promote nutrition and health-related messages.
Food is a competitive business, and restaurants stand out offering what people want. Weight-conscious consumers demand tasty, low-fat, low-carb, and low-calorie. Eco-conscious customers seek restaurants that promote social responsibility and sustainability and offer local selections. Health-conscious clientele ask for nutrition and allergy info as well as options for special diets such as low sodium, vegan, gluten-free, and oil free. In fact, according to a National Restaurant Association (NRA) survey of 1,800 chefs, health/nutrition, gluten-free/allergy-free fare, children’s nutrition, and healthful kids’ meals are among the 20 hottest restaurant trends of 2012.
The sky’s the limit for RDs in restaurants nowadays. Some of the most important roles RDs can play in the restaurant industry include providing nutrition information, developing menus for special needs customers, helping with food safety and label regulation compliance, and marketing.
Nutrition analysis is one of the many menu-consulting services RDs can provide to restaurants. Others include recipe creation, menu development, recipe makeovers for improved nutrient profiles, identification and development of selections that meet guidelines for specific diets and dietary restrictions, adaptation of recipes for health conditions, and assistance with increasing perceived healthfulness of menus.
RDs with strong culinary backgrounds are ideal for assisting restaurants with developing new flavor profiles and ingredient combinations while meeting calorie and nutrient targets, sourcing fresh/local or unusual ingredients, and even helping with food budgeting. RDs also can train staff on topics that bring together nutrition and culinary arts in unique and interesting ways.
Menu development is another new avenue for RDs in today’s food industry. Niche markets provide consulting opportunities for RDs, like identifying and designing gluten- and allergy-free menu options; developing low-carb or low-fat dishes; promoting healthful kids’ meals; procuring local, organic, or sustainable ingredients; and developing vegetarian/vegan fare.
Developing, defining criteria for, and implementing special dietary meal, such as heart-healthy choices, are other opportunities requiring RDs expertise. In some cases, programs with nutrition criteria already exist, and the restaurant simply needs help identifying and developing menu items that meet the criteria. One example is the NRAs Kids LiveWell program, which already has established criteria for its participating menu items.
Another critical area of opportunity for RDs in the restaurant industry is food safety. Becoming ServSafe certified is one way to get your foot in the door. RDs also can become involved with state-specific compliance measures with the department of health, front- and back-of-the-house food safety training programs, food allergen labeling, and food allergy protocol training, which entails the prevention of allergen cross-contamination.
RDs with experience in public relations and marketing are valuable additions to restaurant teams. For example, experts in customer relationship management give restaurants an edge with the use of social networking tools and social influence marketing. Being the healthy voice of a restaurant can be accomplished through marketing materials, becoming a spokesperson, interviews, food demos, tastings, seminars, workshops, health fairs, lectures, and trade shows.
RDs are in high demand to help restaurants comply with menu labeling laws. In addition to providing soon-to-be-required nutrition information, like calorie counts on menus, menu boards, food display tags, and at drive-thrus, restaurants will need assistance understanding health claims, FDA legislation, requirements, exemptions, and recommendations. Chain food establishments, including grocery store cafés and convenience stores, as well as those managing vending machines soon need to comply with the laws too. These businesses may know less about menu labeling than traditional restaurants and will be receptive to RDs expertise.
Despite mixed study findings on the effectiveness of menu labeling on food choices and behavior and its influence on the obesity epidemic, no one can ignore the fact that people want nutrition information. They also want healthful, tasty, balanced meals. Smart restaurants appreciate the value that dietitians bring to the table and understand the importance of customer loyalty. For nutrition professionals to effectively sell their services to restaurants, they need to be armed with persuasive evidence that illustrates their value.
RDs make the perfect partners for restaurants that care about the accuracy and quality of nutrition information they provide. A restaurant needs to protect its credibility. Restaurant nutrition consulting involves a high level of skill, knowledge, education, experience, and responsibility, and RDs are the best fit to ensure that nutrition information is accurate and doesn’t mislead consumers. And if food labels or nutrient claims are involved, RDs are familiar with FDA regulations.
RDs understand the bottom line.
RDs know that a restaurant is a business, and businesses must turn a profit. They know that being sensitive to the financial challenges of restaurateurs is an important part of forging a successful working relationship. When setting fees, a little creativity and flexibility regarding bulk pricing, package deals, and other compromises may, depending on the situation, result in a win-win.
RDs are also aware that chefs are passionate about the tools they create and may be resistant to standardizing recipes and following guidelines that ensure consistency and accuracy in recipe analysis. It’s important to respect the need for creativity and agree on ways to retain the food’s high quality while providing accurate, reliable information.
As for nutrition professionals, there is no better time to explore career opportunities in the restaurant industry. Restaurateurs need our expertise on many levels to provide healthful foods and accurate nutrition information in creative, innovative ways during a time when obesity and chronic disease is at an all-time high. Without a doubt, our generation has to make a difference….