Consumers have always turned to restaurants for comfort – and amid an ongoing years-long pandemic and a shaky economy, comfort is especially welcome right now. A Food & Wine survey of chefs at the end of 2021 revealed that comfort foods are likely to maintain their hold in 2022, with restaurants offering elevated twists on comfort-food classics. That could mean nostalgic foods like meatloaf or mac & cheese but with global flavors, starchy foods like breads and pastas prepared fresh, or simple appetizers and entrées that connect people with the recipes they experimented with and enjoyed during lockdowns.
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.
While life has slowly opened back up in recent months as more people have received the Covid-19 vaccine, concern has lingered for families with children who are too young to receive the vaccine and others who have health conditions that prevent them from receiving it. As a result, this winter we can expect to see more families reforming the bubbles they created for support in the early months of the pandemic. It’s something to consider when planning your menu and marketing promotions. For families, meal bundles will likely continue to be in demand for not only the holidays but for weekend meals throughout the winter. Think about offering soups and comfort foods that can be taken home to fill the freezer, promotions that offer discounted kids’ meals with the purchase of adult meals, or to-go packages of appetizers, entrées, cocktails and desserts for small groups. At the same time, this winter could also present an opportunity for you to make your onsite promotions extra special for guests who don’t fit those categories and are looking for a good excuse to go out. Consider offering prix-fixe meals for two, date-night cocktail specials or dessert samplers, bringing in musicians, or hosting private events with your chef or sommelier
Sometimes, your guests may not be looking to eat what’s new, unusual or on-trend. Comfort foods have their place on the menu too. Dishes that are rooted in nostalgia and remind people of childhood, of family recipes, or of simpler times can be powerful offerings – and can attract a loyal following. Is there a dish on your menu that is asking for a classic reinvention?
As summer starts to cool off and fall arrives, your guests will start to crave cozy comfort foods like soups, stews and hearty entrées. At the same time, they will continue to be drawn to meals with healthy, fresh ingredients that can be enjoyed as weeknight take-outs on busy nights, as well as at the end of busy weeks. Do you offer a range of options that tick the comfort-food box and provide some plant-forward nutrition or other healthy ingredients?
For food lovers, warming weather means outdoor food festivals, street fairs and more opportunities to consume a wide variety of street food from around the world. Even if these occasions are put on hold yet again this year, you can still offer comforting, craveable, street food-inspired options to go. From enchiladas to samosas, and pierogis to paella, there are hundreds of possibilities that can showcase your creativity – and can be made vegetarian and vegan too.
While consumers gravitate toward nutrient-dense, diet-friendly foods at the start of the year, comfort foods are still very much in demand – and during a tough winter like this one, we could all use some comfort, right? You can balance these somewhat-conflicting demands by adding some new comfort foods to your menu of side orders – or offering different sizes of comfort foods on your entrée menu. Rich, warming foods may be an easier sell if your customers have the option of trying smaller servings.
You don’t have to make regular changes to key ingredients and seasonings to add interest to your menu. Even adding unexpected textures, adjusting pasta shapes and swapping in new colors of produce can help elevate a dish into something people are more excited to order. As you review your menu, where are there easy opportunities to make a dish into something more special – something a step above what a person might prepare at home?
Couldn’t we all use a little comfort right now? Research has confirmed that Americans have turned to comfort foods more regularly since the start of the pandemic. As the holidays and colder weather approach, look to add items to your menu that customers will crave for comfort on a night in. And your comfort foods don’t have to be unhealthy. Maybe you can experiment with global spices and sauces to create a new twist on an appetizer – or invent a new dish by combining two of the popular items on your menu.
Fall vegetables aren’t only healthy additions to your menu: Their density and texture make them filling substitutes for everything from pasta to meat. Offer spaghetti squash as a low-carb pasta alternative this season or butternut squash to add meaty consistency to a vegetarian chili. Capitalize on pumpkin spice mania by adding pumpkin to pancakes and granola at breakfast or to hummus and curry dishes later in the day.