Build Your Own Meal

When it comes to accommodating special dietary needs, customization is king. Whether it’s a food allergy or intolerance, or someone needing detailed menu labeling to fit their diet, guests find success when they can get creative with their meal. “Build your own,” or BYO, is certainly not a new trend for the industry. However, it can be a great tool to reach new demographics.

For a guest eating out with a dietary restriction, a full menu can be daunting. Even with menu labeling adding more information for consumers, there can still be lingering questions. What’s in the house sauce? If I get rid of the bun, is my burger gluten-free? Where in the world is all that sodium coming from? When a guest can see each piece of their meal individually, it can make the decision making much easier. BYO meals can fit any food style or service model. Pizza and salads are likely the most obvious ones, but the options are endless. Even a high-end steakhouse can take part. Grilled sirloin paired with a baked potato – great for folks watching their calories. Ribeye topped with garlic butter and served with sauteed spinach – a keto eater’s dream!

Apart from a choice of sides and toppings, different cooking types can be a way to entice new guests. 2019 saw a trend of “protein plates,” which let guests pick their protein, but not always how it was prepared. Letting the diner choose between grilled or fried, blackened or simply seasoned, cooked in butter or seared on a dry grill, etc., puts the power in their hands. Restaurants that are complying with menu labeling will recognize an added benefit of promoting some lower-calorie alternatives to guests. When it’s offered as a totally customizable experience (within reason, of course), your kitchen also doesn’t need to worry about overwhelming amounts of substitutions to existing menu items. It just becomes a matter of putting the right combination of items on the plate.

To successfully offer a BYO experience for your guests, here are our top tips:

  • Make sure you have reliable nutrition and allergen information for every item you’re offering, and that your menu labeling is on point. Otherwise, you’ll be back to square one with guest questions.
  • Don’t drive yourself crazy with options. Your guests probably don’t want to pick from 20 different salad dressings. Plus, the more products you introduce, the greater chance of an allergen mishap in the back-of-house.
  • Consider kiosks, tablets, or even just pen and paper for your guests. It can be intimidating to rattle off a list of ingredients at your server. Letting the guest type or write in their choices and hand it off gives them more freedom to build exactly what they want and may eliminate communication errors during ordering.

Set yourself up for success by giving diners with special dietary needs exactly what they want. You’ll quickly learn how BYO can become your brand’s BFF.