Comfort food is always on trend. But as much as guests crave the nostalgic comfort of a dish they know well, they also want something creative and interesting – a step beyond what they might think about preparing at home. Making small adjustments can offer that interest and extend your menu. Consider how global spices, seasonal produce or new marinades or sauces might complement the classic dishes you serve.
For many Americans, mealtime has increasingly become snack time. According to a Harris Poll conducted last year, 70 percent of millennials say they prefer snacks to meals. Further, industry research indicates that a large percentage of Americans replace one meal each week with a snack – and some eat no formal meals at all. This means there’s room for expansion on your snack and appetizer menu. As the pandemic has shifted people’s eating patterns, could any of your offerings serve as mini meals for guests who aren’t eating as many entrées?
It’s one of the paradoxes of running a restaurant right now: Accommodate the preferences of your guests – but do so with a smaller staff, a slimmed-down menu and an unpredictable supply of ingredients. While that can be challenging for sure, there are simple ways to give guests the range of options they crave without stretching your inventory to its limit. Looking to your spices, sauces, dressings and condiments can help you create many variations on a dish and offer the customization guests are demanding – all without requiring a lot of staff training or consuming valuable real estate in your pantry. Try changing up the seasoning and dipping sauces on your appetizer menu to create a new special, using a popular soup to transform the flavor of a pasta dish, or looking to various combinations of condiments and global spices to add a range of international flavors to your burger menu. Even minor tweaks to a marinade can change the experience of an entrée. Turning to these options can be a labor saver, as well as a tool to save time on staff training. As you look across your inventory, what shelf-stable ingredients could you use to create multiple menu items that are new to your guests?
At a time when there’s so much pressure to simplify menus and do more with fewer ingredients, planning a menu can feel restricting for chefs. One thing that may help lend new interest to a recipe is bringing in a variety of ingredient shapes and textures. A different pasta shape can make a dish feel more upscale, while swapping in quinoa or freekeh for the noodles in a dish can make it an appealing option on your salad menu.
Ask any chocoholic: Chocolate is a critical comfort food in times of stress. Right now, chocolate is weaving its way through menus in a growing range of flavors, colors and global profiles. A recent FSR Magazine report says we’re in the midst of a chocolate craze, with 71 percent of North American consumers looking for new chocolate experiences, according to Dawn Foods. Regardless of your guests’ preferences, there is a chocolate to meet your needs: Consider dark chocolate for its antioxidants, spice-infused varieties that offer global flavor, sweet-and-savory combinations, or less-expected varieties like ruby chocolate for guests looking to try something newer on the scene.