CHICAGO – Opening its first location just a little more than three years ago in Palo Alto, Calif., LYFE Kitchen, Chicago, a socially responsible lifestyle restaurant chain, now has 13 locations spread across California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and Texas, and soon will be in New York City.

LYFE, an acronym for “Love Your Food Everyday,” captures the brand’s philosophy that food choices are important each day. It also extends to one of the brand’s core principles of offering food, products and programs that are good for the planet and one another.

Diners are more likely to choose dishes designated as fresh, locally sourced food, items containing whole grain and anything deemed to be all natural.

“We believe LYFE Kitchen is a response to one of America’s most significant unmet needs: the consumer’s demand for delicious, affordable food that is good for you,” said Mike Roberts, LYFE Kitchen’s founding chief executive officer and now a member of the board of directors. 

Mr. Roberts is the former global president and chief operating officer of McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., and previously oversaw more than 31,000 McDonald’s restaurants in 118 countries. He rose through the ranks of McDonald’s over a 30-year career during which time he was involved in the chain’s introduction of premium, value- and health-conscious menu items. He also led the charge with adding more flavor and spice to the McDonald’s menu, all while promoting a more balanced lifestyle and increasing corporate responsibility.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Chicago’s downtown location, the company hosted a health and wellness seminar on Nov. 12. The roundtable discussion, entitled “Truth and transparency behind the foods you eat,” included Jeremy Bringardner, corporate executive chef, who is based in Culver City, Calif.

Jeremy Bringardner, corporate executive chef

“Our philosophy at LYFE Kitchen is ‘Eat good. Feel good. Do good,’” he said to the group while standing in front of a wall with the painted scripted verse: The food policy that matters most is yours.

“We want to turn upside down everyone’s preconceived notions of healthy foods,” he said. “We show you that healthy foods can be, first and foremost, delicious, as well as convenient, affordable, responsible, personal and an experience. These are the six truths about LYFE Kitchen.”

Mr. Bringardner listed LYFE Kitchen’s standards, which include microwave-free kitchens; monosodium glutamate- and bioengineered organism-free ingredients; and no butter, cream or high-fructose corn syrup.

“Our beef is grass fed; chicken is free range; and the seafood is sustainably raised,” he said. “Whenever possible, we use local, organic and sustainable.”

That led into a discussion about local vs. sustainable.

“Local is good but sustainable is better,” he said. “The locavore movement is based on air miles while sustainable considers all factors that impact the environment.”

He also explained how the company does not get too hung up on organic.

“Organic is great, but our top priority is to get more fruits and vegetables into people,” said Mr. Bringardner. “We would not be affordable if we were 100% organic. We have to pick and choose our battles.”

All of LYFE Kitchen’s menu items contain fewer than 600 calories and 1,000 mg of sodium, with most choices containing much less. Many feature plant-based proteins and most rely on herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables to deliver on flavor.

Mr. Bringardner said, “Chefs and restaurants have a responsibility to nourish. We have to educate and inform, build trust and confidence, and change the perception of healthy eating. Here at LYFE Kitchen, we are trying to inspire ‘LYFE-long’ habits.”

On trend, on target

The mindful dining movement will continue to grow, as consumers seek out restaurants that mirror their values and adhere to their standards.

LYFE Kitchen is on target with its approach to feeding America, as its philosophies and business style complement findings from The Culinary Visions Panel, Chicago, a research and trend forecasting firm that explores a range of culinary topics with food industry professionals and consumers. It is a division of Chicago-based Olson Communications.

The Culinary Visions Panel recently surveyed 1,227 restaurant diners about the factors that motivate them when they dine away from home. The study, entitled “Dining ethics,” was released in November 2014. Topics included motivating factors in choosing restaurants, the importance of local ingredients, allergen information and attention to dietary needs, the influence of menu claims, ordering challenges, and preferred service styles.

Today’s consumers not only expect good food, attentive service and value for the dollar when they dine out, but also are more likely to choose restaurants that treat employees well and support the community, according to the survey. Further, mindful dining has become a way of life for a growing number of environmentally and health-conscious consumers, who are not only scrutinizing the restaurants they visit, but also the menu items offered.

Diners’ expectations for food taste and quality continue to grow. Yet, in today’s fast-paced society, the convenience factor has become just as important. Consequently, consumers say they are most likely to seek quick-service restaurants more often than casual or quick-casual establishments. These time-starved consumers are looking for fast and affordable options when on the go.

Healthful living has become a lifestyle for a growing number of consumers who are making more of an effort to eat nutritious meals and also minimize their impact on the environment. Diners are more likely to choose dishes designated as fresh, locally sourced food, items containing whole grain and anything deemed to be all natural. By the same token, a majority of consumers are avoiding foods that contain bioengineered ingredients and those containing high fructose corn syrup, hormones and antibiotics. The appeal of humanely raised meats and sustainably caught/raised seafood also is evident among today’s diners, who tend to order these items when available.

Even with economic conditions on the upswing, affordability remains a primary factor for consumers when choosing a restaurant. As a result, the perception of value still plays a primary role in the decision-making process, with many saying the biggest challenge when ordering is finding food items that are worth the price.

Still, dining in restaurants is about indulgence, and consumers are more likely to forego their diets and calorie counting when eating out. Palates have become more sophisticated, so while many still stick to ordering their favorite dishes, the opportunity to explore new foods and flavors is difficult for the growing number of adventurous diners to pass up.

In the year ahead, the mindful dining movement will continue to grow, as consumers seek out restaurants that mirror their values and adhere to their standards, according to the study’s findings. Diner decisions will continue to be dictated by value and convenience, along with a menu that includes high-quality, responsibly produced food items, and topped off with exemplary customer service.

Additional highlights from the study include:

• Eighty-three per cent of consumers like to patronize restaurants known for treating their employees well.

• Seventy-three per cent of respondents choose to patronize restaurants that support their local community or causes they believe in.

• At restaurants that promote positive business practices and responsibly source  ingredients, 52% expect fresher food, 48% expect healthier food, 45% expect the food to taste better and 33% expect the food would cost a bit more but be worth it.

• The top menu claims that influence consumers’ menu choices are: fresh (86%), local (73%), whole grain (68%), natural (66%) and no high-fructose corn syrup (62%). Other menu claims that influence ordering include: grass fed/pasture raised (59%), hormone free (57%), antibiotic-free protein (56%), free range/free roaming (55%), non G.M.O. (55%), sustainably caught/raised (54%), fair trade (54%), heirloom fruits and vegetables (52%), cage free (52%) and organic (50%).