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From a nutrition perspective, Richard Martin of Nation's Restaurant News says that the restaurants in our country are currently engaged in a delicate balancing act while trying to cater to their customers' alternating inclinations toward "good-for-me" foods and "dietary self-indulgence."
At the same time restaurants are attempting to attract customers looking for "healthy" foods, they still want to do business with those who seek immediate gratification. For example, fast-food chains are trying to cater to health-conscious customers with salads and grilled-chicken items while, at the same time, they have introduced high-calorie items such as Hardee's Monster Thickburgers and Burger King's Enormous Omelet Sandwiches.
The consumption of restaurant breakfast meals has increased during weekdays as well as on weekends. Fast-food restaurants are now selling lots of French toast, bacon omelets, fajita omelets, and bacon/eggs in a biscuit. While dietitians may be happy that the general public is eating breakfast, they are not always thrilled about some of the high-calorie and high-fat selections that are being consumed.
Kids' meals have emerged as a major marketing ploy in the industry because it has learned that children are often the major decision-makers when it comes to selecting a restaurant. Due to the fact that childhood obesity has become a concern, some restaurants, such as Ruby Tuesday, have tried to address this problem. Last year, it introduced health foods on its children's menu. However, just as many adults have resisted "healthy foods," children were found to do the same. Because the attempt negatively affected sales, Ruby Tuesday discontinued this program.
Some interesting research has been conducted by Joel Waldfogel, a business professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He analyzed the educational level of the U.S. population in a cross section of zip codes and correlated these data with the number and types of restaurants in these areas. One finding was that zip codes with more college graduates had fewer fast-food chain restaurants and more coffee houses or bagel cafes.
For 2004, the National Restaurant Association reported that menu selections made by college graduates also appear to be different from those made by people without college degrees. For example, French fries and burgers fall fifth and sixth on the top-10 list of foods ordered by college graduates while these foods were ordered more often by non-college graduates (second and third on their list).1 College graduates were also found to order chicken/turkey, coffee, and diet carbonated soft drinks more often.
While the income level of the college graduates may have been the underlying factor in their preferences, these results may also indicate that people with a higher level of education take more personal responsibility for their health and are more apt to select the foods that are good for them. This, in turn, offers great hope for the power of nutrition education not only for the 27% of Americans over 25-years of age who are college graduates but for the population in general.
1. Spielberg S. Dining-out choices a matter of education. Nation's Restaurant News. May 23, 2005;39:21,102,106. [Context Link]
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