The Healthy Living menu has been rolled out in all eight restaurants in the group and is designed to help diners know “exactly what they are putting in their mouths in terms of calories, fat, carbohydrates and salt”.
Although fast becoming law in many states in America, placing nutritional information on menus is not yet compulsory in the UK.
However, Tim Bacon, Managing Director of Gusto’s owner Living Ventures, said he hoped to be a step ahead of the Food Standards Agency which is currently looking at ways restaurants can include details of fat, salt, sugar and calorie content on menus in a bid to encourage healthy eating.
He said: “I am hoping to lead what the government want to do, not be told what to do. If we can get out there and come up with a template that works we are not forced down a path”.
The idea came to Bacon on a recent holiday in the Maldives where he saw a similar menu approach at the hotel he was staying in.
“I didn’t take an awful lot of interest in it at the start, but as the week progressed, I started to order from it and see the benefits,” he said.
To create the new menu, Living Ventures’ Executive Chef John Branagan worked with nutritional biochemist Jeannette Jackson.
Bacon said many of the dishes were ones already being served in the restaurants with some “tweaked” to better their nutritional content. The most calorific dish at 570 calories is Lobster & Spaghetti with Chilli and Garlic in a Light Tomato Sauce.
“Healthy doesn’t have to be tofu and flavoured water. The flavours are there and in fact we didn’t have to make many changes to what we offered already,"†said Bacon.
“The downside is it was quite expensive to get the products tested and it has taken us since February to do that, but we have done all the ground-work so it shouldn’t be that labour intensive in the future.”
Bacon said he plans to incorporate parts of the healthy menu into the main menu in the future for a 60/40 split. He is also looking at introducing the same concept at Gusto’s sister group, Blackhouse by the end of the year.
A survey of 2,000 diners by the FSA found that 80 per cent of them wanted nutritional information available to them on menus and the organisation is currently working with the catering industry to develop ways in which to do so.