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?
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.
Just about every week, there is news about a new animal protein that has a vegetable-based or lab-grown substitute that makes a compelling case for replacing the real thing. New and up-and-coming options ranging from plant-based shrimp to lab-grown pork belly and bacon are on offer – and this comes at a time when animal protein continues to be hit by COVID-19 outbreaks in processing facilities and resulting supply chain delays. Granted, consumers still crave animal protein: A report from CB Insights says 30 percent of the calories people consume globally come from meat products. However, the pandemic may be accelerating the plant-based trend, along with an enhanced desire among consumers to choose foods that are environmentally sustainable. (The report said sales of vegan meat soared 264 percent in the nine weeks ending on May 2.) But how much are your guests willing to adjust their eating habits to help climate change? Will a lab-grown alternative really suit someone craving a bacon cheeseburger? A Nielsen report from last year found that only 12 percent of respondents said they would be willing to eat cultured meat in order to reduce their impact on climate change, while 61 percent said they would be amenable to reducing their meat consumption, 43 percent would eat more plant-based proteins, 22 percent would consider vegetarianism or veganism, and 8 percent would consider insect alternatives. But as more animal protein alternatives appear on grocery store shelves, consumers may become more willing to try new options. As a report from the Rail noted, introducing plant-based alternatives on your menu can be a way of gauging your diners’ interest in more daring alternatives: “A guest eating an Impossible Burger now is likely to at least have an interest in a lab-grown burger in the future.”
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.
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.
It’s hard to beat pasta as a winter comfort food. Easy to prepare and customize, pasta is an appealing base for everything from light broths to rich, creamy sauces made from pork or meat. Bucatini Amatriciana is one example of a pasta dish that manages to combine a handful of ingredients into an impressive, satisfying dish. While the authentic Italian version of the dish uses guanciale, a fatty cured pork cheek, pancetta is easier to source and replicates the dish’s rich, satisfying flavor.
Do your guests have entrée fatigue? Whether it’s about not wanting to commit to an entire dish, the growing power of snacks on the menu, or the desire to sample and share (in person and on social media) many different types of food, the trend of smaller plates doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There are clear benefits for restaurants. A report for Upserve says small plates can encourage guests to be adventurous, manage their calorie intake (and guilt), enjoy more social time with those sharing plates with them, and photograph the experience for Instagram. On restaurants’ end, small plates can encourage your chef’s creativity and help you generate specials and limited-time offers that generate interest among guests. But they’re not for everyone – smaller restaurants tend to be best suited to them – and offering them can require any restaurant to make adjustments. As a report for Uncorkd says, small plates call for a different kind of service structure, organization and communication than more traditional entrée service requires. Your menu should clarify the size of the plates (and how many items will be included) so a four-top isn’t disappointed when three items arrive on a plate. If an item is meant to be shared, deliver it in shareable form – and ensure tables can be cleared of empty plates promptly so there is room for more. Ensure your servers are clear about how many plates you recommend per guest to provide the satisfaction of a full meal. Speaking of communication, small plates require both flexibility and organization: Your server should understand if a table prefers to receive plates all at once or as soon as they are ready – and also if the kitchen can make that kind of staggering possible – and communicate accordingly.