By Peter Martin

I was sitting at my kitchen table contemplating how to lose a couple of stones in weight after the excesses of the summer, when I opened a letter from my old mate Tim Bacon.

As they say, timing is everything. The correspondence from the boss of Living Ventures was promoting the new Healthy Living menu being launched at the group’s Gusto restaurant brand - and, as it happened, just what I wanted to hear about.

The menu gives calorie, fat, salt and carbohydrate content for 25 or so dishes and at the back puts together two three-course menus, each with under 700 calories. It also uses a lettering code to guide diners to low cholesterol, high omega 3, calcium-rich, energy-boosting and detoxifying ‘superfood’ choices - something to plug into just about any diet.

But this is no dull slimming sheet. It’s a stylish and seductive selection of often sumptuous dishes that anyone would want to eat. Who wouldn’t want to sample seared sashimi grade tuna loin with wild rocket and coriander salsa or lobster and spaghetti with chilli and garlic in a light tomato sauce or flattened 28 day aged fillet steak? Almost worth going on a diet for.

If eating-out is now an every day activity, health has to be a part of the mix. Making it sexy rather than boring is the trick.

As Tim explained, he got the idea on holiday from a restaurant in the Maldives: “Why not develop a menu that allows people to eat out yet see exactly what they are putting in their mouths in terms of calories, fat, carbohydrates and salt, and also gives an overview of what that dish does for them nutritionally?”

All excellent stuff, showing customers you care about them. Tim says around 15% of Gusto customers are already eating off the new menu, but a similar letter accompanying a copy of the menu will also soon be posted to everyone on the company’s customer mailing list.

Living Ventures is good at keeping in regular touch with its customers, and reminding them that it might be about time that they went out to eat again. In tough times, companies can’t afford to miss the opportunity to interact with and market to their regulars.

There are lots of issues tied up in this exercise. The first is that eating-out may not yet be a major casualty of the downturn, but people still need to be given a reason to go out.

Second is that health remains an important issue for a significant proportion of the population, and one that doesn’t seem to be going away because of tougher economic times. In fact, there is an argument that being less indulgent chimes well with the growing sense of austerity in the nation.

Also, as Peach Factory research has shown, it is basic issues like salt, fat and sugar content that people are most concerned about and want addressing.

A third point is that it is better to start doing something about menu labelling for the benefit of your own customers before the politicians start interfering, as they are already doing in the United States. Many people believe that restaurants and pubs should be doing more, with, for example, 43% of adults thinking they have a role to play in reducing obesity, according to latest Peach Factory research.

What’s also impressive about this apparently simple promotion is that Tim and his team have employed a nutritional biochemist to work with their chef director John Branagan to produce the menu, demonstrating a level of seriousness and professionalism, and have also applied some commercial leverage through a tie up with the Adidas Wellness Clinic.

The final point is that with the majority of Gusto’s restaurants in the North West, it should remind people that it’s not all pies and black pudding in the North, which, of course, could have been my excuse for my expanding waistline.

We will see how well the Gusto promotion goes - not to mention how successful my efforts to lose weight will be by eating-out more.