There is a huge amount of pressure on caterers to help the Government fight obesity.
Last year Health Secretary Andrew Lansley stressed the need for more nutritional information outside the home — so is nutritional labelling on menus a case of when, not if?
The debate, hosted by Unilever Food Solutions, included the findings of a newly-released independent global study on customer attitudes towards what they eat outside the home, and Masterchef presenter John Torode sharing his views on satisfying the customer in today's climate.
Consider 'healthier options' section
Food-led venues should consider adding a "lighter bites" or "healthier options" section to their menus to encourage healthy eating.
Sarah Willingham, the entrepreneur who appeared as a judge on BBC Two's
The Restaurant show, said that "doing nothing is not an option".
But she conceded that, while the industry had a responsibility to give nutritional information, many consumers find the information "confusing".
She argued that chains and brands that had standardised menus would find it much
simpler to offer the lighter and lower-fat options.
This would be the "first step" towards encouraging customers to eat more healthily.
She said: "This is a trend that is not going to go away. The hardest thing is understanding who our customers are and what they want.
"The biggest challenge is that restaurants do not have the will, and they might not have the knowledge. As trends change and people eat out more, doing nothing is really not an option."
Torode: give chefs better nutrition training
Masterchef presenter and restaurateur John Torode has called on the Government to back plans to promote healthy eating by introducing an education strategy for chefs.
He argued that possible legislation requiring restaurants and food-led venues to label menus and provide full nutritional information to consumers would be "very difficult" to implement, because of the fact that most traditional chefs do not have the full training in nutrition.
Torode predicted the market would divide into two types of chef — the traditional type — such as himself, who he described as "bloody-minded" and "dinosaurs" and who are unlikely to change their approach.
And he said there are also young chefs who need better education on nutrition and a different set of skills.
Torode said: "Education for the public and industry is paramount. People coming through the ranks now will need a different skill-set from what we were trained with. If the Government wants to pass laws like this, then it has to be able to put the training system in place."
He added: "I think putting the onus on us as operators is rubbish. The responsibility has to also be on the consumer.
"We can take a certain responsibility but, if the consumer decides to have a salad and no dressing but then drinks two pints of ale, it's not my fault if they get chubby."
Unilever Food Solutions' managing director Tracey
Rogers said it was unlikely the Government would legislate on the eating-out sector and said it was more likely it would insist on a voluntary code.
The Department of Health is expected to release details on its plans at the end of this month.
Diners crave food labels
More than 73% of people in the UK would like to know more about their food when eating out, new research from Unilever Food Solutions has revealed.
The survey of consumers in the World Menu Report also revealed that 61% of people said food labels including fat and calorie content would be a welcome addition to the menu when eating out.
And a whopping 75% said the reason they wanted nutritional information was so they could make healthier choices.
The majority of respondents (59%) said they would make healthier decisions when choosing what to eat if they were provided with nutritional information, and 68% wanted more transparency about the content and sources of food when eating out.
The research was conducted by interviewing a representative sample of people from seven countries — the UK, United States, China, Germany, Russia, Brazil and Turkey.