Want an extra boost in the digestion, heart health or post-workout recovery? For customers looking to support their best health, hospitality management group Restaurant Associates (RA) recently unveiled a new program, Taste+.
Launched in January, the program is a menu of mindful dishes that combine functional food with mouthwatering flavors. “It showcases the positive attributes of both familiar and new-age ingredients in combinations that promote optimal health,” says Serena Crutchfield, Restaurant Associates senior director of marketing. But like the name implies, deliciousness is also a key factor. “The dishes are made for information-focused guests who also crave culinary satisfaction,” Crutchfield says. “At the same time each menu selection is full of flavor and appealing to many types of customers.”
Each of the eight menu items is designed with a specific function and flavor in mind. Heart Health highlights foods rich in heart-smart fats like Arctic char, anchovies and olive oil, as well as lycopene-rich foods like tomato, which fights inflammation. Good Gut is filled with sources of probiotics and prebiotics like fermented broccoli kimchi and black vinegar rice noodles. Sustained Energy offers a bevy of high-fiber, slow-digesting ingredients to help customers stay fuller longer, like whole-wheat sourdough crostini, smashed white beans and roasted winter squash. And Fat Fix is high in healthy fats like salmon, almonds, sesame and olive oil.
Striking the best nutritional balance meant working closely with experts like Tori Martinet, MS, RD, Restaurant Associates’ director of wellness. “We wanted to create nutrient combinations to maximize absorption and functionality,” she says. Certain vitamins, for example, are only absorbed in the presence of fats like vitamins A, D, E and K. “So in the Fat Fix, we paired up sources of these vitamins, like sweet potato, with healthy fats from the salmon. Some ingredients and nutrients just do better together.”
Ensuring that café managers and station cooks had a clear understanding of the program, which can be offered as an action station or a chef table, was essential. “To keep with the integrity of the program, substitutes for ingredients or adjusting of recipes is discouraged as it may alter the functional component and the nutritional information will be inaccurate,” Crutchfield explains.
Restaurant Associates cafés typically serve two or three dishes at an action station or highlight one option as a chef’s table, and some locations also offer it as a catering upgrade. But no matter the setting, the goal is for customers to come away from Taste+ with a clear understanding of a menu item’s health benefits. “It’s advised that a manager accompany the team members during peak service times and upon the rollout of the program,” Crutchfield says. Signage and fliers are prominent at the stations, and nutritional information is also posted online. “And the accounts that have registered dietitians had them speaking to the menu when it was first launched,” says Crutchfield. Some accounts also offered Taste+ as a lunch option during a focus group, where the dietitian and chefs explained the program, the benefits of the menu items and what they tasted like.
The menus are set at premium price points for most accounts. Seafood and meat dishes are $12.95 to $14.95 and poultry and vegetable dishes are $10.95 to $11.95, which still aligns with Restaurant Associates’ food costs. “On average food costs for the program is between 35% and 40%,” says Crutchfield.
Despite the amount of nutritional expertise required, the Taste+ rollout faced few challenges. “There is no investment for the program as it utilizes current vehicles already in-house and most ingredients are easily sourced,” Crutchfield says. And with eight different menu options, units have plenty of variety to choose what works best for their clientele.
Prior to the program launch, directors and executive chefs met for a program demonstration to taste the dishes, ask questions and review the marketing collateral. A Restaurant Associates dietitian was on hand to answer nutritional questions, and managers and chefs were given a manual with recipes for each dish. “I think this was a huge reason why our launch was successful,” Crutchfield says.
Restaurant Associates introduced Taste+ to all of its corporate dining businesses, including those in finance, education, fashion, media and entertainment. And it’s been a big success. “When reviewing results from a cross-section of cafés in the RA portfolio, Taste+ yielded the same average covers, yet higher station sales at action compared to average,” Crutchfield says. “This also boosted our check average around 1%.”