While consumers gravitate toward nutrient-dense, diet-friendly foods at the start of the year, comfort foods are still very much in demand – and during a tough winter like this one, we could all use some comfort, right? You can balance these somewhat-conflicting demands by adding some new comfort foods to your menu of side orders – or offering different sizes of comfort foods on your entrée menu. Rich, warming foods may be an easier sell if your customers have the option of trying smaller servings.
You can help your customers eat healthfully this year – without skimping on taste – by making small tweaks to key ingredients. Incorporating more whole grains into your menu can elevate the content of fiber, B vitamins and other key nutrients in your entrées and sides. Consider offering a whole grain bread as an alternative to sourdough on your sandwiches, or whole grain pasta in place of the traditional variety you use in hot pasta dishes and cold salads.
You know plant-based foods are here to stay when a French, vegan restaurant earns a Michelin star. That’s just what happened in January when the restaurant ONA received the accolade, along with a green star recognizing its ethical practices. The restaurant joins increasing numbers of vegetarian and vegan restaurants around the world that have earned Michelin stars, but having such a restaurant rise to the top in meat-loving France demonstrates that even committed carnivores may find something to love in plant-based food. For restaurant guests and owners alike, there are benefits to offering these choices: Consumers are happily incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets as their available options become tastier, more plentiful and make them feel more ethical. On the flip side, restaurants can tap into new sources of positive publicity by offering inventive vegetarian and vegan options. They may find new potential funding sources too. (Chef Claire Vallée, who opened ONA in 2016, relied on crowdfunding and loans from a bank specializing in ethical funding to get her restaurant off the ground.) If you’re looking to test your customers’ tastes for plant-based foods, promote a meat-free Monday as a low-commitment way to encourage flexitarians to try cutting back on meat. While you’re at it, highlight higher-protein options that are more likely to satisfy a skeptic, as well as other consumer-friendly benefits to plant-based diets, like a lower BMI and improved cardiovascular health.
Plant-based and plant-forward meals continue to be on trend this year, with more people turning to these meals for help with their health and fitness goals. You can help by boosting the vegetable quotient in your menu – and not just in your salads. Consider transforming some of the comfort foods on your menu into more plant-forward, heart-healthy options that don’t sacrifice flavor. Create a stand-in for a Bolognese sauce with a hearty blend of lentils and vegetables, create a superfood stir-fry with extra greens, or add plant power to mac and cheese by incorporating seasonal produce.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, your customers will be looking for reasons to treat themselves and their significant other. But at the same time, many of them want to avoid sugar – as the current demand for allulose, a new natural sugar replacement, has been demonstrating. Your dessert menu can provide some appealing options that don’t pile on added sugar. Look to fiber-rich fruits – whether fresh, frozen or canned – to bring natural sweetness to your dessert menu without the extra guilt.
Any chef would love to have their dishes prepared, plated and enjoyed by customers within a period of a few minutes. But these days, that is an unusual scenario. The pandemic has not only spurred reinvention in restaurant service structures. It is also necessitating changes in how food is prepared due to the lag time between when a food is cooked and when a customer is eating it. Pret A Manger has met that challenge by incorporating sous vide into some of its ghost kitchens. The brand just partnered with Cuisine Solutions to launch a sous vide ghost kitchen in New York, the Spoon reports. By cooking and keeping food at a stable temperature, sous vide helps ensure a food doesn’t lose quality during the lag time between preparation and consumption – think of a chicken breast that becomes dry and rubbery if it’s not eaten soon after grilling. In Pret A Manger’s case, sous vide also helps ease labor strains by having food prepared centrally and minimizing additional work required by kitchen staff. Throughout the past year, you have no doubt reviewed and reworked your menu to ensure it travels and represents your brand well when consumers aren’t eating your food on-premise. If there are popular and profitable (but not very portable) items you have had to remove from the menu until customers feel safe about eating in your dining room, are there preparation or packaging adaptations that could enable you to bring those items back and preserve the experience consumers have when they eat a meal in your dining room?
Make way for plant-based meat. While the rise of meat-free options is hardly new, these foods have gotten a major boost in momentum lately. According to new research, the plant-based meat market is on track to grow 93 percent between now and 2025 – its most substantial growth to date. Growing consumer interest in protecting both personal health and the environment is driving the trend. Restaurants have plenty to gain from it – even if plant-based meats occupy a small fraction of their menus. For one, prices of plant-based meats are coming down, aligning more closely with the cost of animal proteins. Impossible Foods recently cut wholesale prices on its plant-based burgers and sausages by 15 percent – its second price cut in less than a year, according to CNBC. The plant-based market is also an appealing one for restaurants. According to research from Packaged Facts, consumers of plant-based foods (whether all the time or even semi-regularly) tend to have the resources to pay for more premium foods and a willingness to pay for them. They skew younger (think Millennials and Generation Z) and are open to trying new products. They also tend to value eating fresh, healthy foods themselves and providing them for their children. Restaurants who want to develop this market can build menu offerings and promotions with those traits in mind: A restaurant near a college campus might push the boundaries of its plant-based menu items, offering creative combinations and edgy global flavors, while one serving families might assemble plant-based meal kits or bundles that help parents ensure they are feeding their families healthfully.