Despite efforts to get U.S. consumers to eat healthier at restaurants, just 24 percent say they eat healthy when they dine out, while more than half of foodservice visitors say they are healthy eaters at home, according to new research from The NPD Group. The report finds that even with an increasing number of restaurants offering healthier menu items or posting calories and other nutritional information, at the end of the day, consumers see dining out as a treat.

When dining away from home, most consumers primarily seek menu items that are unique, quick and indulgent, something that they couldn't or wouldn't make at home, finds the NPD study, "Healthy at Foodservice–Consumer Expectations Put in Perspective."

Eating what they want to eat and indulging are the top reasons consumers give for not selecting healthy choices when they dine out. According to the report, the most often mentioned behaviors for those not ordering healthy include:

  • When I go out to eat, I want to eat what I want: 37 percent;
  • I want to indulge when I go out to eat: 23 percent;
  • Don't pay attention to healthfulness of what I get: 19 percent;
  • I don't have to watch what I eat: 18 percent;
  • Eating healthy is not a priority in my life: 18 percent;
  • Usually order the same thing and it's not healthy: 17 percent;
  • Healthy items don't taste that great: 15 percent;
  • Not enough variety of healthy items available: 14 percent;
  • Healthy items don't sound or look appetizing: 13 percent;
  • There isn't anything healthy available: 11 percent.

Regardless of their wanting to treat themselves when they dine out, there are aspects of healthy that these more indulgent consumers are looking for, including "freshly made," "fresh ingredients" and "right portion size."

The 24 percent of consumers looking to eat healthy when they dine out still eat what they want but are significantly more likely than others to order their meals at restaurants with a healthy twist, either by switching the protein, the preparation method, or having extras "on the side."

"It would benefit foodservice operators to promote the message that eating healthy at restaurants doesn't always mean giving up your favorite foods," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD's restaurant industry analyst. "Providing the opportunity for menu customization will keep these healthier diners happy, while also satisfying the tastes of the more indulgent consumers."

Read more about trends and statistics.

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