Inclusiveness is a value that governments, societies and businesses are currently encouraged to embrace, because of the dividends of sustainability and general well-being it is expected to deliver in any environment where it is practised.
Entrepreneurs, therefore, as path beaters and solution providers need to explore this emerging global thought to create businesses that provide for a wider range of interests.
A few years ago, I was hospitalised for an ailment and part of the recovery process required a modification in diet.
At home, I could adjust my menu and eat as directed but, while still in hospital, I needed a restaurant where they could buy the prescribed foods for me and there was none. No one knew of any eatery, anywhere in the city, that would cook meals for people who have special needs.
This experience unearthed in my mind, a business area which I intend to share with my avid readers who are in search of a new area of cache to explore.
While still a student at the university of Benin in the 1980s, we had an imposing edifice we called the café. With monthly N30.00 tickets, you could eat the world and there was a compassionate side to this food providing structure. Each time we joined the queue for dinner, you had to find out if the line was for the pepperless group or the rest. It was well understood that people with gastric disorders like peptic ulcer would not do well on peppery and spicy foods so, their meals were prepared and served on a separate file. Pepperless thereafter became a coinage for people who were weak and the ‘aje butters’- the spoilt children who could not withstand stress.
There were also water dispensers and you could choose whether you wanted your drink hot, warm, ordinary or cold. Now when you do not have health issues, you may not appreciate the relevance of such provisions but, it is not a bad idea to deliberately re-cultivate the sensitiveness in our erstwhile cultures.
With such provisions, people undergoing treatment for ulcer could stay in school because they could readily find what to eat. You could walk into a joint and realise that they have only very cold drinks to serve; unaware that some people, on doctor’s advice, may not take their food with cold drinks.
Back to my matter, the doctor reeled out a list of don’t-eats and a well starched nurse stalked in to ask if I had eaten so I could start my regimen of injections and infusions. But, from all that the doctor had just weeded off the regular menu, I suddenly found out that I could not get anything to eat from any restaurant anywhere around and the hospital, as is the case with many private and sometimes public hospitals of today, does not have a kitchen. I wondered how many people could have found themselves in such circumstances before. It got me thinking about the business philosophy behind our eateries and I wondered how many would be prepared to go into the business of running inclusive cuisines to bridge this gap.
On the special needs list would include people with chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. For such groups, doctors and nutritionists recommend foods with low-fat cooking and slow cooking rather than high-heat and high-fat cooking like frying; and to choose carbohydrates high in fibre. They are also advised to limit saturated fat, trans-fat and hydrogenated fats/oils such as shortening and hard margarine used frequently in baked goods and frozen foods and limit processed meats and remove all visible fat and skin from animal meats.
Before you wonder if your restaurant should modify its menu just because of a few people, I would like to state that the modification would serve many more people than you know. Most people who eat in restaurants are adults and according to America’s Centre for Disease Control, CDC, figures published in 2004, “Half of all adults in the US have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity”.
While we may not have figures on prevalence rate in Nigeria, the figures may actually be higher here and our food routine might be worsening the situation.
A new concept in food business would be to serve an inclusive clientele- serving both the traditional dishes and the peperless menu for people who may already have or who wish to avoid health challenges; this represents a huge market that cannot be ignored. Food ventures are missing out on a lot of business because some people avoid eating out just to stay away from ‘poison’. Some take their own food to work and would be relieved to learn that the restaurant at their place of work is prepared to go the extra mile by catering to their needs. As a food vendor, you would also be pleased when you know that adults are not eating to their early graves by patronising your joint.
This is a good venture area for the discerning entrepreneur. It is socially responsive and will also yield goodwill.
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