As the pandemic has forced restaurant operators to adjust their menus, sandwiches have been among the items needing an update. Many of the consumers who once worked outside the home and grabbed a sandwich during their lunch hour are – for now – staying in at lunchtime and preparing food at home. But even if your lunchtime business has declined, there may still be room for sandwiches on your menu – especially if you look beyond lunch. Could a new lineup of breakfast sandwiches help people start the day? Could you make sandwiches a more enticing takeout option for dinner with special sauces and sides? Maybe there’s room for small sandwiches on your menu as an afternoon snack option. Consumers will continue to look for foods that are easy to consume on the go – and sandwiches are among them. Do yours fit the current environment?
Pesto is a menu game-changer: Not only can it add vibrant color to a dish, but there are so many variations of it depending on the produce, herbs, nuts and oils you have on hand. Create a minty pesto to lighten up a rich dish, a smoky variation to add depth, or a spicy one infused with global spices to elevate a new menu item.
As much as food menus have had to transform throughout the pandemic, beverage menus have felt pressure to change too. You may have noticed changes in your customers’ beverage-buying habits in recent months: A downturn in classic coffee purchases from people who would normally stop by on their daily commute to work, or a dip in soft drink sales now that groups who used to order a couple of rounds of drinks over a meal in your dining room are finding their beverages at home. But beverages can still be money makers for restaurants – your menu may just need to shift to accommodate the current environment. First, make it special by offering people something they wouldn’t find at home, from coffees and herbal teas with seasonal flavors, to nutrient-dense smoothies, to fruity kombuchas. If you’re selling meal bundles this winter, don’t forget to build in a special beverage option to complement the flavors in the meal: Suggest a wine for each bundle (and explain why it’s a good fit) or offer a non-alcoholic fizzy drink like a sparkling cider or mocktail to make it more worthwhile for a customer to include beverages in their order. As people continue to work from home, their mid-afternoon breaks have also taken on new importance – and beverages can help there too. Offer a snack/appetizer and beverage pairing as an afternoon pick-me-up: Going out for gourmet hot chocolate and popcorn, a pot of tea and scones, or an Italian coffee and cheese board feels more worthwhile than making a special trip for a latte you can easily prep at home. If you’re known for your specialty cocktails, you can even put together a simple kit to help a customer enjoy a special Zoom happy hour on a Thursday evening.
Desserts can be a profit driver for restaurants – is your dessert menu tempting customers right now? As it’s the start of a new year and consumers are more focused on their health, consider lower-sugar options that still offer some sweetness after a meal, or smaller portions (or a shareable sampler of them) that can be enjoyed without guilt. Think in combinations too: Desserts can pair well with liqueurs or specialty hot drinks that help beat the cold and boost check totals.
Cheese makes everything better, doesn’t it? As Datassential reported in its recent Cheese & Dairy Keynote report, 60 percent of foodservice operators say that the simple addition of cheese makes an item sell better. Think about offering cheese as a customizeable option on burgers, paninis, pastas or salads or even experimenting with different varieties to add smoke, sharpness or even sweet flavor to a dish.
You don’t have to make regular changes to key ingredients and seasonings to add interest to your menu. Even adding unexpected textures, adjusting pasta shapes and swapping in new colors of produce can help elevate a dish into something people are more excited to order. As you review your menu, where are there easy opportunities to make a dish into something more special – something a step above what a person might prepare at home?
As the weather cools, you can keep guests cozy by adding some spice. Foods with a little kick are also on trend right now – and can help you transform the vegetables and proteins you have on hand. John Brewer of Excaliber Seasoning told Supermarket Perimeter recently that its warming seasonings and marinades have been popular this year – including habanero, cinnamon, mushroom, green tea, whiskey and citrus – as well as those with an international flair, like Szechuan, Gochujang, harissa and piri piri.
Even before this year, consumers were thinking more about the sources of the food they eat. Last year, a YouGov study of more than 9,000 consumers in the U.S., U.K., Italy, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden found that 66 percent of consumers said they would feel more positive about companies that can demonstrate they are making efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of their products. Now that 2020 has put climate concerns under a magnifying glass and also demonstrated to consumers how it can be difficult to get the foods they want when they want them, food sourcing has become even more important. As the Rail reports, some restaurants are stepping up to promote greater transparency around their sourcing and environmental impact by identifying meals on their menus that have a low carbon footprint. Panera, Just Salads and Chipotle are among them – and Chipotle has even developed a proprietary tool that evaluates a menu item against measures including carbon in the atmosphere, water saved, improved soil health, organic land supported and antibiotics avoided. Can your existing technology help you harness data about your inventory that you can then use to market menu items? In addition to helping the environment and building customer loyalty, it could be just plain good for business: Just Salads reported a 26 percent sales increase after they started labeling products with lower carbon footprints.
The New Year is always a time when people refocus on their health and that may be especially true after 2020. Salads are a natural meal or side option for people looking to boost their health and consume more nutritious foods. Could your salad options use some innovation in 2021? Elevate your greens and vegetables with a mix of hearty grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, or – now that salad bars are a relic of pre-COVID times – consider making your entrée salads customizable with those items.
Want to create an interesting, satisfying dish that also happens to look Instagram-worthy on a plate? People already have stuffing on the brain at this time of year. Why not take it a step further and use it to help elevate your entrées? You can combine your favorite spices and in-season ingredients into signature stuffing for foods as wide-ranging as pork, poultry, seafood and produce. There’s even room for creative adaptations on the dessert menu. Think of stuffing as a vehicle for adding warmth to your menu in the cooler months ahead.