Health and freshness have always been priorities for diners, but today they want something more – to know where the food comes from and what’s in it, so they feel better from the inside out every time they eat.
Food has become so much more than nourishment; it’s an experience, a story, a lifestyle. These days, diners come to the table with high hopes and hotels are expected to deliver food that is organic, natural, minimally processed and – more importantly – sustainable, locally produced and environmentally friendly.
So chefs need to create meals that don’t just make diners feel good on the outside, but on the inside too.
On the health side, market research company Mintel reported diners specifically want less salt and sugar, and zero trans-fats or preservatives. Similarly, researchers at Nielsen found that 43% of people choose food without genetically modified ingredients.
More and more, diners are looking for foods to make them feel healthier from the inside out, and statistics have shown that one third of diners prefer food that is high in fibre and protein or is fortified with minerals, vitamins and calcium.
Now that’s only the science – but each dish is more than just vitamins and fibre. Every dish on every table tells a tale and people want to hear that story, to reassure them that the food doesn’t just taste good, it’s good for them as well.
For instance, diners prefer locally sourced food which has travelled less than the industry average of 1,000 miles from farm to plate. Significantly, this is not just a ‘nice to have’ but will soon become something they expect from their food.
Backing this up, the US National Restaurant Association found that over 80% of chefs saw locally sourced meat and seafood as a hot trend. These expensive local ingredients that can be supplemented by products which simplify catering, come with high levels of food safety and integrity. With diners demanding greater transparency about what they are eating, many professional kitchens are now making their menus healthier by banning artificial ingredients and additives, Food Technology magazine reports.
Hotels are taking note too; Marriott International and Starwood Hotels, among others, have removed trans-fats from their kitchens, while Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston and the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas both offer gluten-free dishes. These menu changes are not just for people with gluten intolerance; many consumers are already asking for gluten- and dairy-free products because they think they are better for health.1
This move towards healthier eating is most noticeable among diners in Asia Pacific and amid the younger crowd, proving that it’s not just a passing fad in the US but a trend that’s growing worldwide. The same is true of illness-preventing superfoods such as kale and berries, as well as sustainable food: the younger the customer, the more likely they are to support the trend.
Healthy food isn’t just about salad and steamed vegetables though. Switching ingredients in well-loved recipes to organic, low-salt, low-fat options, for example, means that diners can enjoy the full flavour of their favourite food while feeling good about choosing better alternatives. A Nielsen survey even found that 93% of diners in Asia Pacific are prepared to pay a premium for food that they know is the healthier option.
Yet, this enthusiasm for feel-good food doesn’t mean diners are denying themselves the occasional treat. Even though sales of healthy foods like non-dairy-based shakes and fresh vegetables outpaced sales of indulgences like chocolate and cookies, overall sales of both kinds of food grew, reported Nielsen.
So if there’s a message to take away from diners, it’s that chefs not only need to create dishes that taste and look good, but that these exquisite dishes should make diners feel good too.