The survey of 1,000 diners by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) indicates a large shift in attitudes over the last four years. In 2009, the majority of diners said having locally-sourced produce (67 per cent) on the menu was the most important issue for restaurants to focus on, while in 2013, health and nutrition and food waste (both 53 per cent) topped the poll.
However, the biggest change over the last few years has been attitudes to organic food. In 2009, 45 per cent of diners said it was important that restaurants serve it. Today that figure is just 5 per cent with the fact that the argument in favour of organic has not advanced in recent years believed to be the reason for its decline.
While having locally-sourced food on the menu is still something 46 per cent of diners want to see, it is less of an issue now for diners, possibly because it has become more standard practice across the industry, whereas health and nutrition and food waste being so high up now indicate an interest in the wider workings of a restaurant, said Linehan, who said diners had now adopted ‘a broader, increasingly informed approach’ to eating out.
“In 2009 diners’ priorities were focused very much on the food on their plates. These latest findings show that the dining public is taking a more sophisticated approach, recognising the importance of wider issues like food waste and health and nutrition,” he said.
“Customers are building on their awareness of how the range of issues affects them personally, towards an awareness of how they affect society as a whole. This increased understanding has been aided by much wider mainstream coverage and discussion in the media.”
While it found out what diners believe is important when eating out, the report, supported by Unilever Food Solutions, also questioned 17 restaurants on their perception of what matters to customers and found a huge disparity between the two.
According to the report, 84 per cent of diners said they wanted to know more about the social and environmental standards of the restaurants they eat in, yet only six per cent said the restaurants they frequented communicated this.
And when it came to nutritional information, 81 per cent of diners said they wanted to see it included on menus, but 89 per cent said the information was not present, a fact which is supported by the findings of Horizons' latest Menurama survey which showed a decline in the use of healthy eating descriptions and the emergence of more meat-based and arguably less healthy American-style dishes on menus.
The survey of menus across 115 chain pubs, restaurants, hotels and quick service restaurants revealed that 85 per cent more of them feature hot dogs this year than last with other fatty meat dishes such as pulled pork dishes, chicken wings, and ribs also featuring more heavily. Beefburgers were also the most frequently listed main course on British menus, growing 13 per cent in the last year.
“We have been surprised by these Menurama results, which show a significant growth of meat-based, American-style dishes across the menus of a broad selection of eating out establishments,” said Horizons’ director of services Nicola Knight. “Since last year we have also seen a decline in the use of healthy eating descriptions, perhaps as operators steer their menus towards indulgence."
Linehan said restaurants would be advised to take note of the issues important to consumers and communicate their stance on sustainability better.
“The restaurants that respond to the wide-ranging demands of increasingly savvy diners and communicate what they are doing effectively, are the ones that will prosper," he said. "Restaurants will ignore these findings at their peril as, traditionally, British diners tend to vote with their feet, rather than ask difficult questions or complain.”