Stretching your menu and making it more exciting can be as simple as changing up your presentation. How might you add interest to your appetizer menu by shaking up guests’ expectations about a classic option? Try creating your own spin on sliders, serving wings with a new dipping sauce, or offering spring rolls with spicy Mexican fillings.
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?
Consumers are eager to get restaurant meals – but soaring consumer prices (inflation is at its highest rate in 40 years) can create a barrier. This often means that a meal eaten at a restaurant or taken out has to be extra special. Are there ways you can level up the experience of your menu with a memorable presentation or ingredient? Your appetizer and dessert menus are ideal places to start, since your guests may not prepare multi-course meals for themselves at home.
Your restaurant can provide a much-needed place for your guests to reconnect with friends and family this year. As you plan your menu, consider creating dishes that are presented in an easy-to-share form. Offering a dish designed to be shared with one or more table mates can help you entice guests to boost check totals with an added appetizer or dessert. Plus, offering a shareable item is an easier sell to guests looking to eat more mindfully in the new year.
Cold weather is meant for cozy gatherings – and whether you’re serving guests at a dinner or cocktail party in-house or packing takeout food for a home-based gathering with friends around the television, your selection of dips and spreads can elevate your appetizer menu. In your restaurant, dips served with breads or other starches can encourage accompanying drink orders, boosting your check totals. They can also provide you with an opportunity to test new flavor combinations in a low-risk format. Consider offering a range of tastes, textures and nutritional profiles, from cheesy to hearty to plant-forward.
The winter months are meant for noshing. The cozy nights in, weekends watching sports on TV, and casual gatherings with friends all call for tempting comfort foods across the menu. As the weather cools, how can your menu persuade people to place an order instead of cook? Think tempting appetizers that can be shared, family-style entrées for social gatherings, and multi-course meal bundles that can be ordered for easy weeknight dinners.
As much as food menus have had to transform throughout the pandemic, beverage menus have felt pressure to change too. You may have noticed changes in your customers’ beverage-buying habits in recent months: A downturn in classic coffee purchases from people who would normally stop by on their daily commute to work, or a dip in soft drink sales now that groups who used to order a couple of rounds of drinks over a meal in your dining room are finding their beverages at home. But beverages can still be money makers for restaurants – your menu may just need to shift to accommodate the current environment. First, make it special by offering people something they wouldn’t find at home, from coffees and herbal teas with seasonal flavors, to nutrient-dense smoothies, to fruity kombuchas. If you’re selling meal bundles this winter, don’t forget to build in a special beverage option to complement the flavors in the meal: Suggest a wine for each bundle (and explain why it’s a good fit) or offer a non-alcoholic fizzy drink like a sparkling cider or mocktail to make it more worthwhile for a customer to include beverages in their order. As people continue to work from home, their mid-afternoon breaks have also taken on new importance – and beverages can help there too. Offer a snack/appetizer and beverage pairing as an afternoon pick-me-up: Going out for gourmet hot chocolate and popcorn, a pot of tea and scones, or an Italian coffee and cheese board feels more worthwhile than making a special trip for a latte you can easily prep at home. If you’re known for your specialty cocktails, you can even put together a simple kit to help a customer enjoy a special Zoom happy hour on a Thursday evening.
Is there anything a chickpea cannot do? Use them in their pure form in hummus or blend them with onions, garlic and spices for nutritious plant-based burger patties. They’re even taking the guilt out of pasta dishes: Try chickpea pasta as a high-fiber, high-protein, low-glycemic, gluten-free substitute for the traditional version.
Your menu of appetizers and small plates is an ideal place to test global flavors, experiment with a range of proteins and monitor the response to limited-time offers that have the potential to become menu mainstays. Options like coconut shrimp with tangy tomato dipping sauce are easily shareable and offer up tropical flavor that’s a little sweet, a little savory and very craveable.
At a time when small plates, all-day snacks and off-daypart meals continue to be in demand, your tapas menu can be a great draw. In addition to crowd pleasers like croquettes or potatoes with aioli, try to create some balanced meals in miniature form to elevate your menu. Adding some spice or heat can help too. Options like chicken tapas with sweet potato puree and green chili salsa tick all of the boxes for a satisfying small plate.