Could your restaurant go cafeteria-style? According to new research from Datassential, cafeteria-style setups may be a modern reinvention of the buffet. In a recent survey of 1,500 consumers, 55 percent of respondents said they like or love cafeteria-style dining. These arrangements are especially popular with consumers who have young children and want a range of choices to suit the whole family. There could be other benefits to these arrangements too: Having a server dish out prepared food in a cafeteria line could provide the labor-side benefits of a buffet and also help protect food safety, since guests aren’t serving themselves.
Who needs meat? As menus become more plant-focused, chefs are taking cues from meat preparation so consumers are less likely to miss the carnivorous experience. Datassential points out that one trend to watch in the coming months is that cooking and preparation methods once reserved for meat are making the leap to produce. (Coffee rubs, once in the purview of barbecue, are now being used on root vegetables like beets.)
Environmentally friendly packaging is rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception. Case in point: Some of the largest foodservice brands in the world — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others — have joined forces in an effort dubbed the Next Gen Cup Challenge to identify a cup that’s easily composted or recycled. Fast Company reports that most of the hundreds of billions of paper cups that end up in landfills each year are coated with a layer of polyethylene that makes them great for holding liquids but poor for the environment. Companies from around the world have submitted designs and 12 have been selected to share a grant that will enable them to test and mass-produce their cups. Brands will begin testing contenders in September, so watch them for clues as to what products are in the pipeline.
We all know that eating plants is better for us, for the environment and for the restaurant operator’s budget. But for flexitarians and carnivores looking to eat less meat, the idea of eating plants doesn’t always feel as satisfying — or to some, as nutritionally balanced — as a meal should be. Being reminded that they’re not eating meat doesn’t help. Enter the Better Buying Lab (BBL), a department of the World Resources Institute that helps businesses reframe their marketing of plant-based foods. Fast Company reports that following BBL’s principles helped one U.K. grocery store selling “meat-free sausages and mash” (to weak sales) make the change to “Cumberland-spiced veggie sausages and mash,” resulting in a 76 percent jump in sales in two months. They have also advised Panera and Google with similar efforts. BBL recommends companies avoid such terms as vegan, vegetarian, meat-free, or other health-restrictive terms such as low-fat, and embrace terms related to provenance, flavor, and look and feel.
Looking to build your business? You’re likely to have more success not by making incremental improvements to your menu — adding creative new condiments that make your burgers a little more interesting than your competitor’s down the road, for example — but by identifying and marketing your specialty. Christopher Lochhead, host of the podcast “Follow your Different” and author of the new book Niche Down, offers the example of Sushirrito, the San Francisco brand that pioneered sushi in burrito form. It combined two of the region’s favorite foods, sushi and burritos, and then focused on solving a problem: How can sushi be eaten on the go? Enter handheld sushi that just happens to introduce some interesting flavor combinations too. The fast-casual brand has generated strong traction in the area since launching in 2011, with now eight locations around the Bay area. They accomplished this not specifically for having better sushi than other restaurants in the region but because they identified a consumer need and found an inventive way to address it. Thinking small — creating and marketing to a specific niche and not simply trying to improve upon what you already do — can help you boost guest loyalty. The good news is that the data you collect about your guests has the power to help you drill down to specifics about their behavior, likes and dislikes, and spending habits. Based on what you know about your guests, is there a menu item you offer that is ripe for a reinvention? Do you know what other food your most loyal patrons enjoy that could give you clues about potential opportunities?
Eggs are having a moment. Now safely in the realm of healthy foods, eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore and are being embraced by consumers and chefs alike for their craveability and versatility. Runny yolks atop everything from avocado toast to burgers to pizza are adding an extra flavor layer to foods. Because they mix well with global ingredients, eggs have become common street food options too. Flavor & the Menu cites such examples as Queen’s Danh Tu, the Vietnamese street food vendor in Brooklyn, which offers bánh xèo, an omelette-crêpe served in a cone. It found a number of other creative egg applications at such places as Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, which makes a crispy rice dish topped with a swirl of vibrant “yolk jam,” and at Mason Eatery in Miami, which offers an appetizer of lightly cooked beaten egg, sour cream, Muenster cheese and salt, served as a gooey mixture with bagel chips for dipping.
Plant-based menu items have skyrocketed 800 percent in four years, according to research from the taste and nutrition company Kerry. If you’re not making your menu more plant-based to suit your guests’ tastes, do it to help your bottom line. Severin Nunn, the director of food and beverage at The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., told FSR Magazine that a restaurant’s food cost for plant-based entrées is about 15 percent compared to 30 percent for meat-based dishes. That differential gives operators more room to shift menu prices while retaining an item’s profitability. To beef up your plant-based offering, so to speak, the FSR report advises you approach these dishes with the same care and creativity you’d apply to meat-based entrées, and weave in nutrient-dense, on-trend protein sources such as quinoa, lentils and spirulina.