The January blues come in all shapes and sizes. If your customers are not bemoaning the bulges and heartburn they've acquired following the Christmas and New Year revelries, then they're probably mourning the dent in their wallet. Either way, it can all take a toll on your restaurant as the Great British public decides to go on a diet or cut back financially.
A quick flick around the Internet, however, shows that this January many of your competitors are fighting back with a detox menu - or at least a few healthy eating options. Arguably, perhaps, restaurants serving lighter Asian food such as London's Awana and Mango Tree have a head start in tempting a market that might otherwise stay at home, but many other cuisines are in the line-up.
Among the non-Asians tapping into the annual fad for healthy New Year's resolutions is HUNter 486 at stylish London boutique hotel the Arch, which is advertising two January detox menus on its website (www.thearchlondon.com). At £16.95 for two courses or £19.95 for three, starters include roast beetroot and halloumi salad with goji berry dressing, while mains include the likes of poached Scottish salmon with a black sesame crust on sea vegetables and yazu dressing and puddings include sheep's milk yogurt with aromatic honey and blueberries.
General manager Beccy Gunn explains that they've launched the menus for the first time this year in response to customer demand and market trends. While there's no change to the food budget, it did require some research. Gunn says the menus were devised through talking to personal trainers and trawling books such as The Good Food Doctor. The upside is that she is confident there will be a higher than average take-up of lunches this month.
Other restaurants are simply making the most of what's already on the menu. The 54-strong Japanese conveyor belt chain Yo! Sushi, for instance, has devised four guilt-free menus for lunch that notch up fewer than 400 calories. There are four items in each of the sushi, hot, veggie and no-carbs menus, all of which have been chosen from the restaurant's 80 Japanese-inspired dishes. The calories of individual items are listed alongside, so for instance, in the sushi menu, miso soup is 56.3 calories, coriander tuna is 106.5, California roll is 117.6 and salmon nilgiri is 96.8.
Over at Richard Corrigan's Bentleys Oyster Bar & Grill, the head barman has added detox virgin cocktails to his repertoire, while the restaurant is offering half a dozen oysters and a matching glass of wine at the Oyster Bar for £9.95. It's seen as a good time to promote the fact that oysters contain less than 60 calories and are packed with vitamins and minerals that can purify the skin and fend off flu.
What's encouraging for the long term is that all this healthy eating is being embraced by the casual dining chains, too. Whitbread is one of several nationals keen to help guests make healthier choices. This year, its seven-strong affordable family brand, Taybarns, has launched The Little Guide to What's Inside, a range of leaflets with advice such as how customers can get their five-a-day, the importance of breakfast, and how to maintain energy levels.
In addition, nutritional information for the food served in all Whitbread brands - Beefeater Grill, Table Table, Brewers Fayre and Taybarns - can be found on each website. For instance, at Table Table there's a range of dishes of less than 700 calories, including beef lasagne with side salad (651) and bacon and cheese topped chicken breast with salad (520).
Similarly, Beefeater Grills offers fillet steak with Beefeater coleslaw and salad (466), or paprika chicken with jacket potato (673). But to avoid being too goody-goody, it's up to diners to regulate their carbohydrate options by choosing between chips, buttered new potatoes, jacket potato or a side salad.
Certainly, not every business is looking to be a detox diva. It's worth noting that throughout January, north London restaurant Made in Camden is offering a free half-pint of Camden Town Brewery Beer to diners whose name begins with "J".
case study: sumosan
Sumosan in London's Mayfair has teamed up with personal trainer guru Matt Roberts (pictured) to launch rejuvenating, nutritionally balanced menus to counteract the effect of Christmas excesses. Long term, the aim is to offer a healthy option throughout 2011 and to tap into Sumosan's already strong female market.
Japanese dishes are generally quite healthy anyway, but the two new menus go a bit further. The first ensures a well-balanced intake of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, while the second, which is under 400 calories, helps aid weight loss, partly by keeping unhealthy saturated fats as low as possible.
Dishes contain about 40g of protein from sources including fish, tofu and soya bean. Each comes with freshly squeezed carrot juice and is priced at £17.50.
Roberts explains: "The food is either raw, grilled or quick stir-fried in a dry pan. The portions of vegetables and salads have been maximised to ensure these dishes go a long way towards five-a-day. As variety is the key to a healthy balanced diet, each dish is made up of a large number of different ingredients allowing for a good mix of vitamins and minerals."
The two menus run alongside the main Sumosan menu and set lunch and, although they were not necessarily designed to boost income, they are described as "selling well".
case study: sheraton grand
Healthy menus don't have to be about lunch or dinner. Edinburgh's Sheraton Grand hotel is offering a blues-busting "Feel Good Afternoon Tea" throughout January.
It includes no-bread sandwich pots of Scottish smoked salmon with beetroot and crème fraiche, roast sirloin of beef with watercress and spinach, and a curried turkey and roasted red pepper club.
For the sweet-toothed there are carob and hemp seed gluten-free cake, blueberry jelly, chocolate mousse tartlet and plum and goji berry crème brûlée. Scones are on the menu, too, but these ones are freshly baked beetroot and cranberry and golden sultana and orange scones, served with fromage frais and preserves.
"Positive' foods are set to be a major trend in the coming year," says F&B director Kieran Quinn. "The term applies to foods which nourish body and mind, promoting wellbeing from the inside out."
Since it was launched on 1 January, more than two in every five afternoon tea guests have chosen the feel-good option. Quinn admits that the healthy option ingredients are more difficult to source and are slightly more expensive than the traditional afternoon tea, although both sell for £19.95.
10 tips to make the most of health-conscious customers
1 Keep the pricing compatible with the rest of the menu, even if the ingredients are more expensive
2 Decide whether you are trying to boost sales or if you genuinely want to give customers a healthy choice
3 Do plenty of research or get an health expert on board to help you
4 Tell your customers what you are doing - either through the press or by flagging up your promotion on your website, menus, table tents and by training staff
5 Give your customers plenty of naughty options, too - you're not their mother
6 Provide ample portions of vegetables and salads
7 If you are a fish restaurant or serve Asian cuisine, make the most of your already healthy ingredients
8 Note that by using a number of ingredients you increase the mix of vitamins and minerals in a dish
9 Provide a nutritional guide to your menus on your website so diners can check out what they are eating in terms of calories and nutrients before they arrive
10 Assess which of your healthy dishes sell best and consider keeping them on your menu year-round
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