Salads have come a long way. No one expects a plate of homogeneous greens anymore – salads have evolved to include everything from nuts to herbs to a rainbow of fruits and vegetables prepared in a myriad of ways. And yes, salads can even qualify as comfort food when you include some craveable components (soft pretzels, anyone?). The potential combinations of colors, textures and constructions can inspire chefs and make for Instagram-worthy presentations. What can you dream up?
Reusables are on the rise, if the latest news from McDonald’s and Starbucks is any indication. The brands are backing a pilot program called the NextGen Cup Challenge, which involves developing reusable plastic cups with trackable QR codes or RFID chips. Bloomberg reports that the cups are intended to be returned by customers, cleaned and then reused in an effort to take a large bite out of the billions of plastic-lined paper cups discarded by customers of the two brands each year. Is there opportunity for returnable, reusable cups, plates and utensils in your operation? A number of brands – large and small – are providing models for how it can be done. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the 40-unit fast-casual brand Just Salad has offered a reusable bowl program for close to 15 years – guests who choose their reusable bowls get a free topping on their salad each time. (The brand recently launched a sustainability initiative that rivals those of much larger brands.) It remains to be seen if such incentives will become necessary as restaurants offer more reusable items. Other chains are taking different approaches: The Counter reports that the fast-casual brand Dig, which estimates that 80 percent of its business is take-away, recently launched a program called Canteen. Enrolled guests install a smartphone app and pay $3 each month for a hard reusable bowl that they can return to Dig for washing (and subsequent refilling).
Want to add some excitement to your brunch menu? Eggs – in all of their forms – provide a solid foundation for a wide range of spicy combinations, from Shakshuka to huevos rancheros. Even classics like Eggs Benedict can benefit from some experimentation. Try a Chilaquiles Eggs Benedict topped with a green chili Hollandaise sauce. It’s crowd-pleasing comfort food.
Like the proteins you offer on your menu, your milk options may be evolving too. Whether from dietary intolerances or growing ethical awareness, consumers are turning away from cow’s milk – or are at least open to plant-based alternatives. A Cargill survey found that as many as half of U.S. dairy consumers also consume plant-based alternatives – with nearly half of respondents believing a balanced diet doesn’t need dairy. But vegetarian milk options – which currently range from soy to coconut to almond to oat and beyond – aren’t without their problems. If your clientele is environmentally conscious, consider this report from The Guardian, which provides a rundown of the pros and cons of the plant-based milks widely available now – with oat milk coming out on top.
Looking for a new addition to your entrée menu? Take some cues from popular appetizers. You can piggyback on consumers’ interest in little plates and snackable items – all while working with a foundation that is time-tested and guest-approved. Bruschetta is one example. Reinvent it with added protein and melted mozzarella and you have a new dish that manages to be as accessible as a classic appetizer.
Chances are you have more guests asking to forgo the bread on sandwiches and wraps these days, whether to accommodate a food sensitivity or in an aim to consume fewer processed foods. Lettuce wraps have become a go-to substitute – and when packed with the right combinations of protein, spices and condiments as fillings, they can lend texture, color and crunch to a dish, all while helping guests eat their veggies.
As consumers’ busy lifestyles blur the boundaries between day parts, your menu of snacks and small plates can make you a favorite spot for a quick bite. Sliders are always a win on the menu – they’re eye-catching, shareable (if table mates are feeling generous) and can satisfy a burger craving while providing just enough food to take the edge off. Chefs can get creative with sliders too – use them to test out new condiments, toppings and sides or to experiment with some Instagrammable presentations.
Nearly one-quarter of Americans say they have eaten less meat in the past year then they did prior to that, according to a new Gallup poll of 2,400 adults. Among the respondents, the shift toward consuming less meat was especially true among women, people of color, people living in cities or suburbs, and people living in areas outside of the Midwest. Most respondents reported making these changes for health reasons as opposed to environmental or ethical ones. What’s more, they largely accomplished it simply by eating smaller amounts of meat or by swapping in vegetables or other ingredients in place of meat – and less so by incorporating plant-based burgers, sausages or the other plant-based proteins making headlines. For chefs, the shift toward plant-forward diets is setting the stage for innovation, as well as the recognition of those who are making a mark with the plant-forward menus they create. To celebrate these chefs and their businesses, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) collaborated with EAT Foundation to assemble its annual Plant-Forward Global 50 list. The list spans kitchens that are professional and commercial, upscale and casual, vegetarian/vegan and non, and in the U.S. and abroad. Looking for ideas to infuse your menu with fresh plant-forward options? The CIA and EAT developed a list of cookbooks to accompany the list as well.
What chef doesn’t want a ready supply of simple, versatile sauces and marinades? Chimichurri sauce can liven up a variety of dishes and, in keeping with its Argentinian roots, is an especially good complement to beef. Serve it atop steak crostini for a colorful, satisfying addition to your selection of small plates or appetizers.
Want to bring some variety to the greens you offer on your menu? Brussels sprouts are a relative of cabbage but can offer a different experience than you get with cabbage, kale or other hardy greens. They’re also versatile: Try them roasted, steamed, sautéed or even deep fried in both sweet and savory combinations. They can round out a meal as an appealing side dish simply dressed in olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper – and can also work well in a salad as a complement to such wide-ranging ingredients cranberries, bacon or your favorite cheeses.