Ongoing supply-chain strains and rising food costs have pushed more restaurants to adopt slimmed-down menus with local, readily available ingredients. While it’s been an adjustment for many, working on a smaller scale can help you become more nimble with ingredients and, in the process, weave some creativity and surprise into your menu. This all can elevate the experience you provide guests – something people are looking for from their discretionary spending right now. This summer, how can you take the foods that your region of the country is known for and create an experience around them that drives guests to your restaurant?
Earlier this year, a survey from The Food Group found that while consumers continue to enjoy comfort foods, they are clearly looking to incorporate more ingredients with health benefits into their diets. The survey of 200 adults aged 21 to 40 in the U.S. found that almost half plan to buy more plant-based products. This was the case even though the majority of respondents identified as carnivores or flexitarians. More than half of those surveyed – nearly 60 percent – said they are looking to increase their purchases of functional foods including fruits, vegetables and seafood, while doing the same with beverages including coffee, tea and kombucha. When you serve up a comforting entrée or appetizer, look for ways to boost its functionality (and overall appeal) by weaving these ingredients into the recipe, its accompanying sauces and sides.
If being short-staffed has had a negative impact on your online reviews, take heart that you’re not alone: According to Yelp’s State of the Industry Report, complaints over short-staffed restaurants shot up 229 percent in the first quarter of the year. But some positive – and telling – news came to the surface as well: Slower service and higher prices have not deterred guests, who have shown continued interest in both indoor and outdoor dining options. In fact, NPD Group reports that on-premise restaurant visits climbed 38 percent during the first quarter as compared to the 45 percent drop at the same time last year. At the same time, people are being drawn to dining options that offer an experience: Yelp reported openings for conveyor sushi spiked 500 percent, dinner theater increased 240 percent, supper clubs rose 200 percent and themed cafes climbed 75 percent over the same period last year. Of course, last year looked quite different from this year in a number of ways – and now we’re looking at the likely prospect of a minor recession (and a rise in unemployment) on the horizon. To be sure, the constant fluctuations in the economy and ongoing labor challenges will keep operators on their toes in the months ahead. But the good news is that consumers will continue to look for positive experiences that provide an escape. Where possible, consider what experiences you can offer guests that require minimal labor – whether through automation, pop-ups, or rotating menu items that have an experiential element.
One of the positive effects of the pandemic has been consumers’ reprioritization of health – both mental and physical. According to HealthFocus, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say they’re now more focused on their own health than they were a year ago. That is coming through clearly in the functional foods and beverages they are choosing to optimize their immunity, weight, everyday energy and endurance. It’s all the better if what they consume is also sustainable. Whole grains tick all of those boxes, offering protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals, as well as potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. What’s more, the Oldways Whole Grains Council says whole grains use less water than other crops, making them a more environmentally friendly choice. Look for ways to integrate more whole grains into your pastas, salads and sandwiches – either as a standard ingredient or customizable option for your guests.
Move over, pork and beef. Inflation has elevated chicken to the world’s biggest source of protein. Chicken consumption is growing three times as much as pork consumption and ten times as much as beef consumption, according to recent government reports. Its lower costs as compared to other animal proteins, as well as its appeal to flexitarians and across menu sections, make chicken an easy choice. Instead of making it the main attraction in your menu items in these plant-forward times, use it to elevate (or to help guests customize) a salad, stir-fry or pasta dish.