Recent research from the NPD Group found that breakfast traffic has been growing at U.S. restaurants and was within 1 percent of recovering its pre-pandemic levels. Quick-service restaurants capture the vast majority of breakfast traffic – 87 percent of it – so if you’re looking for ways to build business in this daypart, consider how you might entice guests with offerings that can be enjoyed on the go, or which can travel easily to home or office. That’s particularly true as many people have resumed their pre-pandemic schedule, along with the eating habits that go with it.
Do you serve many vegan or vegetarian guests? Even if your answer is no, your clientele may still crave dairy-free foods. A recent survey of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. found that of those who purchase dairy-free foods, nearly 60 percent did not consider themselves vegan. They may simply want to incorporate more plant-based foods into their flexitarian diets. Offering dairy-free alternatives – and thinking beyond the beverage menu to include your appetizers, entrées and desserts – can help.
At a time when ingredients’ availability can be unpredictable, changing up the experience of your menu can be as simple as adjusting the grain at the foundation of a dish. For maximum impact of your pasta dishes, pair the sauce or dressing of each item with a pasta shape that will best amplify its flavors. Consider orzo to add subtle bulk to soups or salads, or use it as a risotto stand-in. Pair fettucine or other ribbon-shaped pastas with richer, meaty sauces, and thinner strands like vermicelli with oil- or cream-based sauces. Have a special sauce you’d like to show off? A pasta like lumache will hold the sauce in its ridges and capture even more of it in its curved, hollow center, ensuring you’re serving up a plate of perfect bites.
Last year, 62 percent of U.S. households (or 79 million) bought plant-based products, up from 61 percent (or 77 million) in 2020, according to the Plant-Based Food Institute. Further, the percentage of consumers purchasing multiple times within the plant-based category grew from 78 percent to 79 percent in the same time frame. The increasing cost of meat, as well as growing consumer awareness of its environmental impacts, were driving the charge toward plant-based alternatives both at home and in restaurants. Now, some nuances are emerging about consumer demand for plant-based meat that may alter the landscape for the restaurant operators serving it. In short, it may not be the draw for flexitarians that it once was. New research from Deloitte found that the appeal of plant-based meat may have reached a saturation point. The research found a decline in the percentage of consumers willing to pay a premium for plant-based meat as opposed to conventional varieties, as well a decline in the attitudes of consumers toward plant-based meat’s sustainability and assumed health benefits. As you consider what to put on the menu, foods that are plant-based (both naturally so and not) are still likely to continue to be a draw. Just anticipate that your guests may scrutinize the plant-based meat on your menu – and may draw a line on costs that’s well below what it would be for the alternative.
In recent months, you’ve likely had to adapt to an ever-shifting array of ingredients. Your favorite brands or even broad categories of items may be inaccessible due to escalating prices and supply chain problems. So what can you do to maximize what you do have? Channel the creativity you would lend to the finishing touches of a dish and consider the potential of your pantry. What simple, readily available ingredients can you transform with different preparation methods into something exciting, unexpected and different from what your guests are apt to prepare for themselves at home?
While the number of people who must avoid gluten remains small, about 20 percent of consumers try to reduce or eliminate gluten in their diets simply because they believe it is a healthy choice. As this has happened, the flavor and nutritional profiles of gluten-free products have exploded, making gluten-free items more interesting menu choices. Seeds, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables now serve as the foundation for gluten-free flours. On your menu, how can the tastes, textures and nutrients across the full range of gluten-free flours complement ingredients throughout your menu?
The past couple of years have brought about a shift in what – and when – consumers eat. While they have hurried back to restaurant dining rooms for conventional meals, they have also embraced snacking in a new way. Eating several mini meals throughout the day is just about as common as eating three squares. A recent Nation’s Restaurant News report notes the growth in small plates and shareable items on menus around the country, including savory items like deviled-egg flights to sweet items like fried cookie dough bites. As a result of consumers’ greater openness to smaller, shareable plates, the boundaries between dayparts have come down. Most any new idea can find a place on the menu. This change opens up opportunities for restaurants looking to adjust opening hours, pivot to new formats, launch inventive limited-time offers, or simply entice people to order at different times so an operator can spread the lunch and dinner rush more evenly across the day (and perhaps make do with less labor). Focusing on snacks and shareable items also helps restaurants emphasize the experience of enjoying restaurant food with others – something which, during these times of high inflation, can help entice consumers to order from a restaurant instead of preparing food at home.
In 2021, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 6.2 percent following a record year of growth in 2020, bringing the total plant-based market value to an all-time high of $7.4 billion, according to data released from the Plant-Based Foods Association, The Good Food Institute and SPINS. Compared to total retail food sales during that time frame, plant-based food retail sales grew three times as fast. Consumers have an appetite for plant-based foods and are continuing to be open to trying plant-based versions of foods traditionally prepared with meat. Consider how you might apply this approach to your menu in even the meatiest of dishes. Where might you reinvent an appetizer or entrée with plant-based ingredients in place of meat, all while keeping the flavor and texture of the dish intact?
Remember when eating pasta felt like a guilty pleasure? It doesn’t have to anymore, thanks to the plethora of options available that can suit not only guests sensitive to gluten, but also those simply looking for their pasta to pack a more nutritious punch than the conventional variety. It’s an extra benefit when those alternative options don’t feel like a big sacrifice in the taste department. Consider offering options made from beans, chickpeas or lentils, fortified with protein and fiber, or made from sprouted grain.
You’re no doubt scrutinizing your menu amid ongoing inflation and supply shortages – and animal proteins, which are among the higher-priced foods that consumers and restaurant operators alike are paying for right now, are a key target for reinvention. Consumers are buying less meat at the grocery store due to higher prices and won’t be surprised to see more expensive meat (or fewer beef options) on the menu at the moment. So what’s the best alternative course of action? In addition to pork, which should continue to be a value option, poultry is likely to be a viable choice in the coming months. According to research from BTIG, poultry is due to see substantial deflation in the first quarter of 2023, even as beef prices are poised to continue their climb. In the meantime, while plant-based proteins continue to have an important place at the center of the plate, plant-based beef sales have dipped. (At a time when restaurant meals may be harder to justify, consumers may be more inclined to splurge on the experience of a beef burger over a plant-based one.) Restaurants may benefit by being extra purposeful with the beef-based options on the menu so they feel more experiential. Feature premium cuts as specials. Get creative with less expensive cuts by using them in flavorful marinades featuring on-trend spices. Offer slow-cooked beef to elevate the melt-in-your-mouth experience that helps you make the most of the beef you’re able to buy right now.