Quick-serve food industry exploring alternatives to portion shrinking by increasing number of healthier menu options, giving consumer more control over portion size and pointing them toward healthier options

LOS ANGELES , November 8, 2011 () – Casual restaurants in the quick-serve industry are looking at more creative options for creating healthier menus while still managing customer expectations for portion size and pricing, QSR Magazine reported on Nov. 8.

Strategies include increasing the number of low-calorie options on the menu, giving the consumer more control over portion size and toppings, and keeping big portion sizes but increasing the healthfulness of the items.

McAlister’s Deli increased the number of smaller-portioned 500-calorie menu items and reminding customers that they can pick a half-sandwich with soup or salad to watch weight, said Annica Kreider, the company's vice president of marketing. Kreider expressed concern over risking the deli’s loyal base when the company tested smaller portion sizes with focus groups who liked the presentation but not smaller amounts.

Qdoba gives the customer greater control over the amount of higher-calorie items they could potentially order with a setup that allows them to dictate exactly how much cheese is added, said Ted Stoner, head chef and director of strategic product development. Stoner said regional expectations are among their considerations — he said customers in Manhattan prefer quality over size, whereas other customers may be more concerned with value in terms of price as compared to portion.

Los Angeles chain Veggie Grill offers large sizes of vegetarian and low-calorie menu items to appeal to the health-conscious consumer with a big appetite, by reducing the amount of cheese or using smaller amounts of beef, said CEO Greg Dollarhyde. Managing partner Ian Gutierrez of Miami’s OYE Cuban Grill said the company focuses on smaller steaks but traditionally sized portions of healthier roasted vegetables.

All of the company representatives interviewed expressed that monitoring customer feedback was critical to finessing ongoing menu innovations.

The primary source of this article is QSR Magazine, Durham, North Carolina, on November 8, 2011.

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