How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
As medical research continues to point to digestive health as the foundation for a person’s overall health, both nutrition consultancies and food distributors have identified “gut-healthy foods” as a top food trend for 2019. Food Business News reports that probiotics are finding their way into products such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters and soups. The good news is that it’s easy for restaurants to accommodate the trend. To give your menu a probiotic boost, incorporate cultured or fermented foods like buttermilk, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and yogurt. For prebiotic fiber, try bananas as well as asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions.
There is a new reason to source your protein from farmers that don’t feed their animals routine antibiotics. The bank HSBC recently issued a report predicting that the use of antibiotics in meat production could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, making antibiotic resistance a more common cause of death than cancer. The report indicated that more than half of the world’s antibiotics are currently used in agriculture, with the U.S. using antibiotics in 70 percent of its agricultural products and China using them in 60 percent of its agricultural products.
Once holiday feasting is over, New Year’s health resolutions kick in. Do you know how to deliver the kinds of options your guests are looking for? The tactics that work for your restaurant may differ from those that succeed at the restaurant down the street. When you contemplate menu changes, focus less on fad diets than on accommodating lifestyle changes like gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb or organic diets. Then, consider how your target market thinks. Next Restaurants reports that according to a Numerator survey, the average person who follows Weight Watchers is 65 or older, so building menu options around that plan may make sense if you serve that demographic. Forging partnerships with social media influencers and organizations committed to healthy lifestyles can help too. At a minimum, consider offering nutrition information to show you’re committed to helping guests make their own healthy decisions.
It’s a model that has long worked for the hotel and transportation industries: Charge a higher rate at times when there is high demand and offer a discount during slower periods. When a high-end London restaurant launched a dynamic pricing framework in early 2018 (regular prices at peak times, 25 percent off the bill at off-peak times and 15 percent off at mid-peak), it faced ample criticism for what the public interpreted as “surge pricing.” But now a lot of other operators are following suit. Alinea cofounder Nick Kokonas praised dynamic pricing at a recent Bloomberg conference and other panelists deemed it among the trends likely to transform dining out in 2019.
Restaurants that serve meat currently face a range of ethical questions: How was the animal fed and raised? How local is the farm? Was the farm impacted by foodborne illness outbreaks? How does the farm administer antibiotics in livestock production? Now lab-grown meat, which is made from stem cells extracted from poultry and livestock and eliminates many of the concerns surrounding conventional meat, is a step closer to becoming a mealtime staple for consumers. Representatives from the USDA and FDA, which recently announced they would oversee production of lab-grown meat, say they would have the authority to regulate it. This would eliminate the need for additional legislation, Newsweek reports. That could mean big changes for how restaurants source the protein on their menus — and how quickly that can happen.
New research from Fogelson & Co. about the Food Connected Consumer — a group of food-focused consumers representing 62 percent of Americans (and $835 billion in food spending) across demographics and locations — found that Millennials and Generation Z are the most food-connected of the bunch. They are eager to try and share new foods (think global flavors), are mindful of their food’s origins, and are twice as likely to plan their travel around food and restaurants. They follow food trends via social media and technology and they are more likely to post about food on social media, follow food bloggers and rate their food experiences online. These consumers are loyal to the brands that speak to them and tell stories that relate to them. Can your restaurant provide the kind of experience that brings them back?
As grocery stores raise the bar on prepared foods, some restaurants are fighting back with meal kits or other grab-and-go options. QSR Magazine reports that one brand, Newk’s Eatery, which has 120 locations in 15 states, has launched a related concept that allows people to prepare restaurant-quality food at home and provide the kind of meal customization consumers seek from restaurants. Its program, Express Market, involves having an open-air refrigerator at each location with different protein entrees (choices include flash-seared ahi, broiled shrimp, char-grilled salmon and sliced chicken), as well as pastas, sandwiches, salads, rotating soups and sides, and dressings and cakes. The idea is that consumers can build their own dinners from these building blocks — not necessarily follow a set recipe.
At a time when consumers are becoming more vigilant about the use of antibiotics in the meat they consume, industry watchdogs are ready to call out businesses that aren’t sufficiently vetting their suppliers. In a newly released report card that rates 25 burger chains for the degree of antibiotic use in their meat sources, all but three businesses received failing grades (and one of those three received a D-minus). Restaurant Business reports that the Chain Reaction report, which was authored by the U.S. Public Interest Group and co-authored by Consumers Union, the National Resources Defense Council and other public interest groups, found that most chains lack meaningful policies on antibiotic use in their beef supply chains. Shake Shack and Burger Fi came out on top, scoring A’s for sourcing beef without antibiotics. If guests asked you about your beef supply chain, what would you say?
‘Tis the season for a fire in the fireplace. While preparing foods over a roaring fire is hardly new, the practice is on trend at the moment for the way it brings together basic cooking methods, local ingredients and memorable dining experiences. It can also help you infuse your menu with unexpected flavors. As the owner of the London Log Company told the Telegraph, salmon smoked over firewood has a different flavor depending on the color of the wood. It also allows a chef to constantly monitor a food as it cooks — all while putting on a show for guests. (Use dry woods for a more even burn.) Even if you don’t have the facility for cooking over fire, you can adapt a barbecue by soaking wood chips in water and then sprinkling them over charcoal for similar effect.