Offering plant-based items on your menu isn’t just about having a veggie burger on your sandwich menu or offering to substitute vegetables for animal protein in your pasta dishes. It’s also about finding ways to use plant-based ingredients to make a vegan or vegetarian dish as rich and satisfying as any other entrée on your menu. Think about how you can harness the properties of plants to make soups heartier and sauces creamier. When done well, your guests won’t miss the meat.
If you’re looking to appeal to flexitarians and offer a strong gateway to the plant-based foods on your menu, chicken can serve you well. Not only is it a lean protein that can benefit a person’s muscles, bones, mood and cardiovascular health, but it can also be seasoned and prepared in many of the same ways as the vegetables on your menu, making it easy to create different variations on a single dish.
If you were to deconstruct your menu and assess the key nutrients included in each dish, where does your menu over-deliver (or under-deliver)? Having this detailed level of knowledge about the foods you serve will soon be a key advantage in foodservice – if it isn’t already. Mintel’s new Global Food and Drink Trends 2030 report, which forecasts what the next decade will look like in food and beverage consumption, predicts technology will play an increasingly important role in providing consumers with in-depth, customized information about their health and nutritional needs. What’s more, consumers will become more comfortable sharing their personal data if it means they are getting information tailor-made for them in return. Imagine struggling with anxiety and depression – or an autoimmune disease, or high blood pressure – and knowing which specific foods and restaurants in your neighborhood can provide you with the best combinations of nutrients your body needs to function at its best, while omitting harmful additives? Of course, the current climate is so challenging for restaurants that many operators aren’t focusing on menus at the level of nutrients. But people will always need food – and are becoming more conscious about their needs and willing to support the businesses that accommodate them. Could you create several versions of a dish based on varying nutritional profiles? A range of meal kits that accommodate different diets? If you can step back and take a longer view of what your customers want and then market those benefits, you are likely to earn their loyalty for life.
Consumers are thinking more about not only their health but the health of the planet right now. Incorporating more plant-based meals into your menu and promoting their environmental, health and ethical benefits can help you support the changes they are making to their diets. A recent report from Meticulous Research estimates that the plant-based market will grow nearly 12 percent annually in the next seven years. Nestlé also reported that 87 percent of Americans are incorporating plant-based protein into their diets. As consumers look to eat more plant-based dishes, restaurants are in an ideal position to make those plants more craveable. Consider updating traditional dishes with plant-based alternatives and changing up presentations to add interest to your menu.
Many fine dining operators have struggled to make their model work in recent months: At a time when a low-touch, efficient restaurant food experience seems to be the goal, the slower-paced, high-touch hospitality that fine dining is known for can seem very 2019. But 10 high-profile chefs in Los Angeles are finding a way to adapt the fine-dining model for these times. Fast Company reports that the chefs are collaborating on Resy Drive Thru, a 10-course fine-dining drive-thru that will be staged for two nights in mid-October. The chefs collaborated on a menu that is of equal caliber to the food they are used to serving in their restaurants, but it will be served from 10 stations along a track (and in a form that is easier to eat in a car). Guests have a chance to experience a creative variety of high-end food – likely beyond what they might get in a single fine-dining restaurant. What’s more, the drive-thru model, with some planning and collaboration, could easily be replicated in other parts of the country.
Plant-based foods may be taking the spotlight, but carnivores are still driving some food trends. The National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot culinary forecast for 2020 named unique beef and pork cuts to its list of top-10 trends for the year. If you serve devoted meat eaters and want to offer some appealing options for them on your menu, consider some creative, on-trend reinventions of animal proteins. The What’s Hot forecast suggests adding sweet heat to dishes – and exploring global ethnic flavors, particularly those in Asian island cuisine.
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.
Want to offer a fresh, interesting, easily customized option to your menu? Consider the calzone. While they are most often packed with traditional Italian produce, meats and mozzarella, they also provide a versatile base for a broad range of sauces, ingredients and global flavors. They’re an ideal place to incorporate extra fall vegetables you have on hand – or to experiment with new flavor combinations.
Beans are a crowd pleaser in salads, plant-forward burgers and sides. Aside from being a flavorful, satisfying addition to a dish, they have plenty of health and environmental benefits to tout too: High in protein, fiber and B vitamins, they may help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. They’re helpful to the planet and your pantry as well, since they can store well for long periods during supply chain shortages of other ingredients.
Is there a classic dish you remember eating as a child that was pure comfort? If you’re looking to inject some reassurance or nostalgia into your menu (and don’t we all need it?), try creating your own version of a classic dish by experimenting with surprising spices, incorporating seasonal produce or even a creating a unique presentation that breathes some new life into a food people thought they knew.