In health-conscious Los Angeles, restaurants learned long ago to offer low-calorie dishes to their customers. But for adherents to the latest fad diet The Zone low-cal alone isn't enough.
"I'm supposed to eat certain percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that all balance out," said David Stratton, 42, who works at Sony Pictures Entertainment in Santa Monica. "It's a science, not a diet."
Eager to meet the demand , a small but growing number of restaurants have begun incorporating menu items inspired by The Zone, a popular diet book by Barry Sears that spent 45 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list.
L.A. eateries from The Good Earth in Studio City to Smoothie King in Brentwood have menu items that meet Zone requirements. One restaurant, L.A. Farm in Santa Monica, went so far as to offer a special "Zone" menu.
"I don't know exactly how much money we make from customers coming in specifically for the Zone menu," said L.A. Farm chef-owner Jean Pierre Peiny, who himself lost 20 pounds on the diet.
"But the thinking is that there are people who will come here specifically to order off that menu," he said. "They'll tell their friends, and that's where the money will be made."
It makes good business sense in the food preparation industry to be up on the latest fads, said Sandy Lira, who owns A-1 Catering Services in Los Angeles. Her company created a special menu that fits into the diet. The reason?
"Demand," she said. "This is like any other business we need to keep up with the trends or we'll lose money to someone else."
She educated herself on the diet and now offers a special menu should someone ask for Zone food in particular. About 30 percent of her customers ask for a healthy menu and Lira hopes word of mouth will increase business.
Analysts expect more restaurants to pick up on the idea of incorporating specific nutritional programs to menus especially in Los Angeles.
"Southern California has always been the epicenter of diets," said Mark Carlson, an analyst with the American Association of Restaurant Owners. "If there's money to be made on any diet restaurants are going to explore it. It's about what the customer wants."
The Zone diet emphasizes protein and calls for cutting back on carbohydrates such as grains, pasta and bread.
Sears does not license the Zone name to restaurants but expects more eateries will start incorporating his ideas into their offerings.
"Any good restaurateur has their ear to the ground to see what trends are emerging," he said.
At L.A. Farm, Peiny said the Zone menu has attracted a strong following of patrons including Stratton who come for lunch or dinner.
He said about 20 percent of the lunch orders are for the diet. The restaurant offers items like grilled chicken breast and pork tenderloin, which are priced about the same as meals from the regular menu.
Some restaurants around town don't offer a specific menu for Zone followers, but do train staff to point out what meals fit into the diet.
"I do cater to the Zone, but I don't go strictly with their diets," said Todd Trampp, who owns T. Trampp's Bar & Grill in West Hollywood. "Everyone has a different diet. But for the specific ones like the Zone, our waiters can help the customer make a correct choice."
But with so many diets disappearing overnight, does it make sense to market one in particular? Carlson believes that not adapting the menu could be a mistake.
"If this hangs around a while, you don't want to be the last to offer this on the menu," he said. "Right now, these restaurants are building up a client-base that will be loyal. They'll be coming back to the restaurant long after the diet loses wind."
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