Gone are the days where perusing the menu at a restaurant is a laid-back affair based on what dish takes your fancy because it sounds nice or you’ve ‘not had a good steak in ages’. Menus now require a concerted effort. They now present an ever-increasing number of factors for diners to weigh up while making their choice. Here, we look at the trends that are driving changes on menus that brands need to be aware of.

Demonstrating value for money

Cost is becoming a more important factor as consumers look to tighten their belts in the current economic climate. Restaurants do not have the option to lower prices, so they must find other ways to offer value for money.

The types of menus available is increasing, with versions aimed at cost-conscious consumers including early-bird specials and set menus. Some establishments are also broadening their demographic with additional eating occasions from bottomless brunches to afternoon teas.

Restaurants are increasingly replicating the ‘small plates’ concept, driven by the rise of casual dining. Forgoing the traditional starter, main and dessert offers a more relaxed and often cheaper dining experience.

Getting the balance of health information right

Last year, legislation came into force requiring all restaurants with more than 250 employees to put calorie counts on menus. The measures are designed to ensure people are able to make informed, healthier choices when eating out.

There’s no denying this is a step in the right direction. However the number of calories contained in a dish doesn’t accurately portray its health credentials. Operators could influence diners to opt for a low-calorie dish on the understanding it is healthy but in reality, offers little nutritional value.

Tristan O'Hana H2O PublishingTristan O’Hara, Editorial Director of H2O Publishing, one of the leading foodservice and hospitality publishers in the UK: 

“The menu labelling debate rolls on, but for good reason. While many people don’t want to see the calories a dish contains when treating themselves, some consumers find it useful. But with rumours of drinks calories potentially having to be shown in the future and the government now reportedly reviewing its own anti-obesity strategy, it’s no wonder venues are getting fed-up with the conversation. In most parts, these businesses know their customers better than anyone else. Perhaps it should be left to the operator to decide what’s best for their operation?”

So, now we have taste, price and health considerations to factor into our meal selection criteria (not forgetting allergens, intolerances and various lifestyle choices), but it seems we aren’t stopping there. Yet another purchase driver may soon make an appearance on our menus.

In the not-so-distant future, servers politely asking ‘are you ready to order?’ will be met with customers, beads of sweat upon their brows, weighted by the enormity of their decision between saving their bank balance, waistline or indeed the planet…

Showing sustainability credentials on menus

With an ever-increasing focus on the environmental impact of brands and ourselves as individuals, sustainability (or to be more accurate, carbon footprint) is also in the spotlight. It is becoming an increasing consideration for many when making purchase decisions. As a result, a growing number of restaurants are introducing eco-labels to help customers make informed choices on the impact of their meals.

A well-known chain to recently make this addition to its menus is Mexican restaurant Wahaca. Its website states: “Food is responsible for 28% of global emissions. More than ever before we’re thinking about how what we eat can make a difference. You can now see on our menu which dishes have a low, medium or high carbon impact, so you’ve got the tools you need to make more informed choices about what to eat.”

A study referenced by The Grocer reported carbon emissions fall by 13.5% when restaurants label the comparative carbon impact of each dish, so perhaps for the sake of the planet, adding this not-so-minor detail may be worthwhile after all.

More: How brands can support hospitality through the cost-of-living crisis