Fall vegetables aren’t only healthy additions to your menu: Their density and texture make them filling substitutes for everything from pasta to meat. Offer spaghetti squash as a low-carb pasta alternative this season or butternut squash to add meaty consistency to a vegetarian chili. Capitalize on pumpkin spice mania by adding pumpkin to pancakes and granola at breakfast or to hummus and curry dishes later in the day.
Want to offer a fresh, interesting, easily customized option to your menu? Consider the calzone. While they are most often packed with traditional Italian produce, meats and mozzarella, they also provide a versatile base for a broad range of sauces, ingredients and global flavors. They’re an ideal place to incorporate extra fall vegetables you have on hand – or to experiment with new flavor combinations.
Beans are a crowd pleaser in salads, plant-forward burgers and sides. Aside from being a flavorful, satisfying addition to a dish, they have plenty of health and environmental benefits to tout too: High in protein, fiber and B vitamins, they may help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. They’re helpful to the planet and your pantry as well, since they can store well for long periods during supply chain shortages of other ingredients.
The challenges of 2020 are some for the history books. So when food products are available that can make running a restaurant a little bit easier, why not jump on them? Ingredients that are convenient and versatile in the kitchen are in high demand right now: According to recent research from Datassential, 38 percent of foodservice operators say they need more speed-scratch ingredients that remove some steps from the preparation process. They also want the products they buy to be versatile and flexible. In other words, they should have broad applications on the menu and – in case COVID-19 restrictions need to tighten down the line – be easy to store for a later date. There are important labor-related benefits to these foods as well, since they can be prepared (more quickly and with less stress) by a smaller, potentially less-experienced team. So what specific foods might help lighten the load in your kitchen? Datassential says more operators are using more pre-cut vegetables, opting for canned or frozen products in place for fresh, and cutting back on the variety of ingredients they buy. Other products to consider on your menu: ready-made hummus, sauces and marinades, pre-cooked meats, and brown stock reductions that can serve as a base for a range of soups and sauces, as well as add flavor to grain bowls.
Is there a classic dish you remember eating as a child that was pure comfort? If you’re looking to inject some reassurance or nostalgia into your menu (and don’t we all need it?), try creating your own version of a classic dish by experimenting with surprising spices, incorporating seasonal produce or even a creating a unique presentation that breathes some new life into a food people thought they knew.
Is there anything a chickpea cannot do? Use them in their pure form in hummus or blend them with onions, garlic and spices for nutritious plant-based burger patties. They’re even taking the guilt out of pasta dishes: Try chickpea pasta as a high-fiber, high-protein, low-glycemic, gluten-free substitute for the traditional version.
At a time when consumers may need a little extra motivation to go out to restaurants, offering a special menu item they're not as liable to prepare at home can provide the extra incentive they need. Lobster can always step into that role -- and whether you serve it in a salad or a roll or steamed with a side of drawn butter, it's one of those foods that are symbols of summer.
If you’re looking for a pantry workhorse to complement sweet or savory dishes, try polenta. It’s rare to find an ingredient so versatile – it can work in every section of your menu and stand in for everything from oats to rice to pasta. Try it with a berry compote at breakfast, fry it and serve with marinara, bake it into crisp croutons on salad or include it as a creamy accompaniment to pork and poultry. Or for guests who aren’t gluten-free, offer lemon polenta cake or cookies for a simple, rustic dessert.
Just about every week, there is news about a new animal protein that has a vegetable-based or lab-grown substitute that makes a compelling case for replacing the real thing. New and up-and-coming options ranging from plant-based shrimp to lab-grown pork belly and bacon are on offer – and this comes at a time when animal protein continues to be hit by COVID-19 outbreaks in processing facilities and resulting supply chain delays. Granted, consumers still crave animal protein: A report from CB Insights says 30 percent of the calories people consume globally come from meat products. However, the pandemic may be accelerating the plant-based trend, along with an enhanced desire among consumers to choose foods that are environmentally sustainable. (The report said sales of vegan meat soared 264 percent in the nine weeks ending on May 2.) But how much are your guests willing to adjust their eating habits to help climate change? Will a lab-grown alternative really suit someone craving a bacon cheeseburger? A Nielsen report from last year found that only 12 percent of respondents said they would be willing to eat cultured meat in order to reduce their impact on climate change, while 61 percent said they would be amenable to reducing their meat consumption, 43 percent would eat more plant-based proteins, 22 percent would consider vegetarianism or veganism, and 8 percent would consider insect alternatives. But as more animal protein alternatives appear on grocery store shelves, consumers may become more willing to try new options. As a report from the Rail noted, introducing plant-based alternatives on your menu can be a way of gauging your diners’ interest in more daring alternatives: “A guest eating an Impossible Burger now is likely to at least have an interest in a lab-grown burger in the future.”
Focusing on food and restaurant trends may seem like a relic of the old days – as in early 2020 – but even amid the restaurant industry’s current challenges, food trends persist. According to Datassential’s recent research, “The Seven Lessons of a Pandemic,” many of the food trends that were on the rise pre-COVID continue to draw support from consumers. And while comfort foods have enjoyed some added attention during lockdown, the top trends persisting post-COVID have a strong health profile. Simple ingredients, plant-based foods, smoothie bowls, and functional foods and beverages all ranked highly. As you adapt your menus to a fluctuating food supply and uncertain business environment, highlighting the options that can protect health may help you stabilize sales.