Although the Government may be adopting a nanny-state approach in its Obesity Strategy, it is not the responsibility of hospitality operators to determine the public’s eating habits, MCA’s The Conversation has heard.

Speaking at the event, Green King Premium, Urban and Venture Brands managing director Karen Bosher argued that whilst operators have a “duty of care” to provide healthy options on their menus, businesses must ultimately provide an offer that leans to consumer demand.

“We have lots of healthy options on our menus, but we also have lots of chips on our menus, and we will always provide options that the guests want to eat,” she explained. “So, if we’re getting a demand for healthy food, and we believe that it is what is required from our customers, then we will always do that.”

Bosher revealed that the group’s most popular menu item in most of its pubs is fish and chips, and although there may be signs of a shift towards healthier eating habits in general, given the current eating-out climate, that treat-led demand profile is not likely to change immediately.

“[Consumers] are coming out to the pub at the moment as a treat, and I don’t think it’s our job to lecture people,” she said. “Clearly, if we’re not providing the right things, then they’ll let us know quite quickly, and we won’t have any guests.”

“But good food shouldn’t always be seen as unhealthy, and certainly going out shouldn’t be seen as an unhealthy thing to do.”

Pizza Pilgrims non-executive director Ian Edward echoed this view, adding that whilst the logic in the government’s Obesity Strategy is understandable, its timing and approach is far from ideal.

Edward explained that a move towards greater calorie transparency across the sector has been inevitable for some time, but the government’s decision to drive this initiative at a time when things are “difficult enough” for pubs and restaurants is “regrettable.”

In order to ensure the strategy isn’t at odds with sector recovery, he suggested that operators ensure they engage with the health conversation “in a positive way,” and partake in the drive to improve public health without patronising the consumer.

“We can [introduce calorie counts on menus] in a positive way, and be a part of the conversation in a positive way,” he said. “Eating out you’ve got all sorts of choices from low calorie to high calorie, and the Great British public are on the whole pretty adult, and pretty grown-up.”

“They don’t need to be spoon fed and they don’t need to be patronised.”

But unfortunately it is this patronising attitude that has fed into the argument, promulgated by the mainstream media, that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and various other sector support initiatives are somehow at odds with the health drive, added UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls.

Referring to the suggestion as a “false dichotomy,” Nicholls explained that in her understanding, the Obesity Strategy is “a longer-term objective about encouraging people to take more responsibility about their health.”

“The Obesity Strategy needs to make sure that we are talking to people as grown-ups, accepting that not all calories are created equal, and that people will make decisions about their own health.”

“And fundamentally, the [Eat Out to Help Out] scheme isn’t at odds with that.”