Could you create a new eating experience for your guests just by thinking about your menu presentation in a new way? Consider how the founders of Sushirrito created a sensation by making sushi portable. Now that communities are reopening again, more people will be looking to enjoy the experience of sitting in a restaurant dining room again or getting food on the way to an activity. How can your existing menu flex to meet the moment, and in the process, generate some new interest?
From grain bowls to smoothie bowls to avocado toast, there are a number of once-trendy dishes that have become so popular that they have carved out long-term spots on many restaurant menus. But keeping a menu item static for too long can make your menu feel stale – and also provide less new fodder for you to promote to guests. To keep your classics-in-the-making fresh, try changing them up with global seasonings or some surprising ingredients every so often – or even combining elements of two complementary dishes.
Using a range of global seasonings on your menu can provide a couple of important benefits: It can help you reinvent a protein or an entire dish while keeping your inventory simple – and in doing so, it can add the kind of variety and frequent change to your menu that will keep guests interested. Take one of the proteins or starches you have as an inventory staple and consider how you might transform it in multiple ways with the help of global flavors. Your menu can act as a passport – the only one your guests are likely to be using right now.
Your to-go packaging says a lot about you: Before a customer even sets foot in your restaurant, your packaging immediately communicates messages about not only your brand identity but also about how much you value customer safety, the environment and the quality of your off-premise food. Now that we’re emerging from the pandemic, more operators are picking up where they left off with innovating the packaging and cutlery they include with their off-premise meals. Shake Shack, for one, recently announced it is testing sustainable cutlery and straws from AirCarbon, which includes no synthetic plastics or glues in its products, doesn’t need food crops in its production process, and produces items that are home-compostable, soil-degradable and ocean-friendly. Edible packaging is on the rise too, with materials like mushrooms being fashioned into bowls and seaweed being tested as a plastic-like but biodegradable alternative to traditional plastic cutlery. If you’re currently evaluating the carbon footprint of your menu, consider the entire carbon footprint of the meals you provide (including the containers surrounding them). Of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced around the world each year, only 14 percent is recycled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Off-premise dining isn’t showing signs of slowing down, and in the months and years ahead, the way you present your food for consumption off-site is likely to play an increasingly important role in how customers perceive your business.
When brands as ubiquitous as McDonald’s and Taco Bell have plant-based menu offerings, you know alternative proteins have come a long way. Research from The Good Food Institute and the Plant-Based Foods Association found that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increased by double digits in 2019, growing 11 percent. More recently, a study from Michigan State University found that 35 percent of Americans had tried plant-based meat in the past year and 90 percent said they would do so again. In restaurants, there is still a lot of room for growth among alternative proteins – and far beyond the burger menu. How open are your guests to plant-based seafood, cultivated meat or even 3D printed meat? More options in these categories are entering the market internationally, and in the coming months and years, industry analysts expect pricing parity for these proteins when compared with the conventional versions. The Good Food Institute predicts that this year could usher in a diversity of new alternative protein offerings, including plant-based seafood, meat snacks, bacon and pork products, turkey and dairy, as well as the further development of protein sources including fungi, pulses, oats and rice. There will also be more alt-protein offerings with global flavors and comfort-food applications. If you’re looking for insights into how consumers may view such alternatives, look to businesses that are already collecting feedback. Case in point: Late last year, the alt-meat company SuperMeat opened an entire restaurant in Israel called The Chicken for the purpose of testing cell-based chicken products with consumers. (For now, anyway, customers provide their feedback about the food in lieu of payment.)
As soon as the weather warms, people start to crave the flavor of the grill. This summer, think beyond the traditional grilled proteins and offer grilled items that keep guests intrigued. Your grill can add a smoky new dimension to everything from guacamole to angel food cake. As you update your salads, sides, entrées and desserts for the season, try adding grilled fruits, vegetables and sweeter end-of-meal options to the menu.