Mäni’s Smart & Simple Menu (400 calorie) Question


We need your help.  We’re having a bit of a conundrum about menu substitutions on the Smart & Simple 400 calorie menu. Please help us decide our policy on menu substitutions. 

Here’s the issue:  If we accommodate substitutions on the Smart & Simple 400 calorie menu, then those substitutions change the calorie content and the mix between balanced macronutrients… carbs, lipids (fats) and protein.

So please help us decide how to proceed.  Do we or don’t we allow menu substitutions on the Smart & Simple menu?
Your feedback will greatly help us decide how to proceed!!  Use the comment link to give us your opinion.

  1. Wasn’t really sure what you’re asking.  But if you’re looking for things to put inside an existing item, I think guacamole and black beans are always a welcome substitution.  Yes, they may be higher in calories, but they’re healthy and make it seem less like a diet meal.

    Comment by Steve  on  10/16  at  4:12 pm


  2. Hi Steve.  Thanks for the comment. 
    Let me clarify the issue and question:
    We’re asking if we should have our 400 calorie balanced macronutrient Smart & Simple Menu, fixed, so we serve that item the way it was designed by our nutritional consultant and chef, or change the make-up, thus changing the item to just a menu item, no pre-balanced make-up, no calorie counts, just like any other item.  In which case, why bother having this menu??!!??

    Comment by Larry Maiman  on  10/17  at  6:13 am


  3. Speaking as someone who has allergies to certain foods – such as carrots – and being a vegetarian, I always appreciate it when places make substitutions for me. No matter the nutritional consequences. To be frank, if a place DOSE NOT substitute what I request, I don’t go back.

    Comment by Maya  on  10/17  at  10:45 am


  4. sorry for the type-o….

    Comment by Maya  on  10/17  at  10:46 am


  5. This one is easy.
    Offer the choices and let the customer order what he or she wants.  That way, he or she will be happy.
    If someone wants the 400 cal balanced version, great.  if they want to substitute, great too. 

    This is not a real problem.  It’s good that people are ordering the items, and it is good that they feel comfortable making substitutions that improve the item for themselves.  Isn’t that the way you want it to be?

    Comment by rick  on  10/17  at  10:48 am


  6. I think if you’re so frustrated by people asking for substitutions on items in this special menu, you should just institute a no-substitutions rule.  And have your servers explain to people why if they complain.

    Comment by BT  on  10/17  at  10:51 am


  7. I think the 400 calorie menu is great!  I like going to restaurants that offer me this sort of healthy option.  I say keep it as it is.

    Comment by Calila  on  10/17  at  10:52 am


  8. I always appreciate a cafe that accomodates substitutions, and I don’t think substitutions invalidate the 400 Calorie menu. If your customers are interested in a 400 Calorie entree, they are most likely informed enough to make a substitution that works well for their particular needs. I think the 400 C menu is great, keep it and allow substitutions.

    Comment by melinda  on  10/17  at  11:06 am


  9. It seems that Mani’s is great when it comes to substituting ingredients within their main menu, but when it comes to substituting on their set 400-calorie menu, they are less inclined to. This is not because they are uninterested in pleasing their customers, but more to maintain the overall purpose of the Smart & Simple menu.

    BUT, there are things you can do to get around the no-substitution-rule if you just really enjoy a specific Smart & Simple item. You like the Mountain Climber? Why not order a build-your-own omlette with similar ingredients? How about the New Mayan? Try starting with one of Mani’s great wraps and substitute any ingredient you please.

    In my point of view, though, keep the 400-calorie menu substitute free!!

    Comment by Craig  on  10/17  at  11:13 am


  10. I agree with Rick.  I would allow substitutions, but inform the customer substitutions may change the caloric value as well as the balance of macronutrients.  Also, depending on the substitutions, obviously, additional charges should be considered.  An accomodating restuarant or cafe is sure to win customers!

    Comment by Daniel  on  10/17  at  11:30 am


  11. If people want to substitute, let them deal with the caloric changes. Not a big deal.  This does not negate the purpose of offering the menu at all.

    It is wonderful to have the option.

    Comment by vanessa  on  10/17  at  12:05 pm


  12. As a Registered Dietitian I applaud your offering a balanced 400 calorie menu! It feels like you have put a lot of thought and love into your work to put together these menus. May be you could offer specific substitutions that do not change the balanced/calories that much. For example, substitute the spinach with another green veggie, substitute potatoes with corn or beets. Obviously they are not exactly the same, but it can be in the ball park. Most people appreciate the option and will come back for more.

    Comment by Linda Cohen, R.D.  on  10/17  at  12:39 pm


  13. I think the 400 calorie menu should have no substitutions but should have options to TAKE OUT items. Susbstitutions change not only coloric intake but also fats and carbs.

    Comment by Kate  on  10/17  at  12:40 pm


  14. I would suggest that the substitutions be made with other nutritional foods that have comparable values.  There are some people that can only eat whole grains, and this needs be accommodated.

    Another suggestion is not to deviate from the menu so the calories will remain the same.



    Comment by Annette  on  10/17  at  12:48 pm


  15. I think you should allow substitutions, but just have a disclaimer about it altering the nutritional make-up.  I also like Annette’s comment about having comparable options…like a half cup of blueberries or a half cup of raspberries.

    In Light,

    Comment by Atheria  on  10/17  at  1:56 pm


  16. You should not dictate what people can/cannot eat.  Let the menu speak for itself.  A disclaimer on the menu helps, but who doesn’t know that adding anything will change the caloric intake?  We’re adults here.

    Thanks for asking for this input though!

    Comment by John Trosko  on  10/17  at  3:43 pm


  17. Like Atheria, I think you should allow for substitutions with the disclaimer.  This will please those who want the 400 calorie meal and those who are accepting a difference in the nutritional value—a fine balance.

    Comment by Aya  on  10/17  at  3:56 pm


  18. I think that you should not mess with the items.  If they were designed to be a certain way, then let them be.  But, you could maybe have the 400 calorie menu and the one with substitutions on the regular menu.  But you would have to stste that there ARE differences.  Just a thought…

    Comment by Duffy  on  10/17  at  5:48 pm


  19. Allow for substitutions. offer a disclaimer that the menu item no longer is the 400 calorie meal. PERIOD. a good eatery OFFERS options to the PAYING customer.

    Comment by hellena  on  10/17  at  5:59 pm


  20. My idea would be to keep the 400 cal menu and also offer a choice of about 5 items from any of the 400 cal dishes for a set price with the disclaimer.  Keeps the 400 cal menu true to carefully composed nutrition, taste and calories while offering customers freedom to create their own custom meal with personal dietary preferences and desired calories.

    Comment by Deb  on  10/17  at  7:52 pm


  21. I say keep the 400 calorie menu and if somone wants to request a substitution fine, but that they know this will change the nutritional info printed and you cannot guarantee specific nutritional numbers based on their selection.

    I for one really appreciate the fact that a restaurant goes above and beyond to create some strict healthy choices for people who are leary of eating out due to dietary constraints.

    This allow the BEST of both worlds.

    Comment by Anne  on  10/17  at  9:45 pm


  22. As a restaurant owner, I know how exasperating it can get when people make substitutions.  I think that with the 400 calorie menu, you should have a “no substitution” rule.  If you find that a few of the plates are very popular, you can add a similar type meal to the regular menu and let the customer make substitutions there.  Keep up the great work!

    Comment by Kiva Morita  on  10/17  at  10:04 pm


  23. If others want substituions and don’t care if the nutritional values change, isn’t that what the rest of the menu is for???  I agree with Kiva Morita and if a few choices are popular, make them regular items that are regular size on the regular, substitutable menu.

    I’ve had 2 items on the 400 calorie menu.  I’m a vegetarian but still had enough to choose from. Actually, because no substitutions were allowed I ended up trying something new—and loved it!  Just about anywhere in L.A. you can have anything substituted, SO I sort of like the structure that this menu provides, knowing that the calorie count and nutrient balance is set for me.  Sort of like Zone Delivery, only better (‘cuz it’s Manis’!).
    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Sue  on  10/17  at  11:26 pm


  24. I’ve actually tried to get something off your 400 calorie menu, but was thwarted by the no-substitutions rule.  I’m a vegetarian who does not like the “fake meat” option so prevalent now on your menu, so the 400 calorie menu, while quite enticing to me nutritionally, leaves me flat.  But I have an idea.  What if you offered a very limited range of substitutions that still conform to the model of the 400 calorie, balanced meal?  That way people can feel they are being offered a choice, but you don’t have the “why bother” aspect of it?  Just figure out how much chicken/veggie sausage/tofu equivalent you need.  Or, allow people to leave things out, rather than putting anything else in.  At least that way, they’d know they were getting no more than 400 calories, no?  Just my two cents.  Thanks for all your wonderful menu items!  I wouldn’t mind knowing the nutritional skinny on all your meals!

    Comment by Kristen  on  10/18  at  6:40 am


  25. I believe that the customer should always have the right to substitute, and if the ingredient cost more pay the difference. If I can’t substitute what I want so that I will like the dish that limits my options and makes me less likly to go back. If people want to order the 400 calorie dish then great and if they are happy with the ingredients then great. If they want to change it who cares it is their life and you can’t control what they eat. What you can do loose some business for trying to.

    Comment by Adrienne  on  10/18  at  7:44 am


  26. Substitute on the main menu is OK, I feel.
    No substitute on the 400 cal menu, please

    Customers can still choose which menu to order from and can ask for something to be left out.  However, the 400 cal is balanced so why mess with it?  Allergies?  Order something else!

    True, not all can eat all ingredients.  Too Bad!
    I can’t climb Mount Everest or play the piano.  That does not mean I can’t enjoy the outdoors and good music.  I just find other ways of enjoying what is available.

    You can’t remain successful in business attempting to be all things to all people.  Being accommodating is good business.  However, it ceases to be so when it changes your core objective.

    For those posters who won’t go back to a “no substitute restaurant” I say, stay home or go to “McBarfells” or “Barfin King” and get it your way.  Stop whining and start dining with healthy well prepared food items.

    Because you have food allergies does not mean everyone / store / location has to accede to your request(s).  Choose something else.

    Larry, in my humble opinion, many times the customer is not always right.

    I agree with many others here that the concept of a build your own on top of a basic would cover those that feel they should have “preferential treatment”.  The substitutions could have an estimated caloric / nutritional value / additional cost values assigned per item.

    Hearing the wining about substitutions is akin to the irritation I get when a customer goes to an ethic restaurant and complains that there is no traditional American food.

    You are attempting to provide a healthy, portion controlled alternative to the trashy “American Diet”.  Thank You!!!

    To those that demand substitutions … if you don’t / can’t / won’t eat something that is your choice.  Be responsible for your own environment and thankful that at least one restaurant is attempting to institute calorie / portion control.

    Thank you Manis’ for the wonderful menu ideas and please keep up the innovation and healthy choices and let the detractors, winers, and misanthropes take their “money” elsewhere!

    Sorry for the rant and the fifty cents worth wink


    Comment by Stewart  on  10/18  at  8:21 am


  27. intersting…

    Comment by Maya  on  10/18  at  9:52 am


  28. I like the idea of a 400-calorie menu with no substitutions and noting that the items are also on the regular menu, in full-fat versions.  However—this will probably make the menu huge and who needs that?

    Simplify:  Just offer the items and substitute as appropriate.  This isn’t Europe where substitutions get a major frown from the Chef.

    Also, there are people who go to Mani’s for their sugar-free, fruit juice sweetened desserts with organic flour and they throw TWO OR THREE Equals or Splendas into their coffees!

    Comment by John Trosko  on  10/18  at  9:55 am


  29. Substitutions are okay – but charge
    a fee – which is customery – for each
    10 calories over 400 – charge $1.00
    (just kidding) But a small fee should
    be expected for your flexability and
    Customer service is key. We
    are all consumers after all.

    Comment by Julie  on  10/18  at  8:27 pm


  30. This is an interesting discussion.  Customers will vote with their wallet or their feet.  You give them the information to make informed choices.  If they choose something different, that’s their perogative.  On something as specific as the Smart and Simple Menu, if someone wants a substitution, it should be clear that it will no longer conform to the nutritional guidelines.  People who are serious about following the 400 calorie menu probably won’t make changes.

    Comment by Denise  on  10/19  at  12:02 pm


  31. To Our Valued Customers:
    When I posted this article on Monday, our intention was to involve you in our decision making.  We really wanted to know how you felt about our Smart & Smile 400 calorie menu.

    And we sure did find out!  Your responses are certainly passionate, and controversial.  I think you can see that no matter which way we decide to go, not eveyone will be pleased.  But we did involve our customers.  Your comments will help us decide… Subs or no Subs!

    More to follow….

    Comment by Larry Maiman  on  10/19  at  7:57 pm


  32. Hi there……I love what you are all about.  I feel that the only way to remain true to the concept is to figure out the calories, macronutrient grams and portion size that can be successfully substituted within the 400 calorie restriction.  Booster foods such as nutritional brewer’s yeast, ground flax seeds and sea vegetables pack a low calorie/high energy profile.  Keep up the strong health.

    Comment by kathy cummins/holistic culinary instructor  on  10/24  at  5:32 pm


  33. Allow for the customer to make substitutions, but inform him/her that doing so changes the micro/macronutrient composition and caloric value of the dish.  As long as the customer is INFORMED, he/she should be satisfied.  I think customers appreciate restaurants that are willing to accommodate special requests, and the rigidity of a set, untouchable menu contradicts Mani’s personable and alternative nature.  You guys are the best!

    Comment by Jennifer Katz/Clinical Nutritionist  on  10/26  at  3:23 pm


  34. I think a 400 calorie “Smart and Simple” menu is a genius idea! 
    The idea that a patron can order an item from Mani’s invoative menu, delight in the amazingly delicious food with the confidence and peace of mind that it bears Mani’s high quality seal of approval for healthy and whole foods….AND have the nutritional measures there at the ready for you…. MY G=D!  Pure GENIUS!

    Comment by Suzanne  on  8/03  at  7:55 am