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.
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.
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.
Has your restaurant resolved to use less plastic in 2020? It seems everyone has some plastic guilt nowadays – and there are businesses cropping up to help operators replace plastic and also find new uses for the plastic that already exists. Take Riegel Linen, which was among eight companies to win Restaurant Technology News’s “Restaurateurs’ Choice Award for Environmental Good” competition. The company, which makes linens for a range of industries, found a way to integrate leftover plastic bottles into its textiles. Riegel Linen collects, sorts and inspects plastic bottles, then sterilizes and dries them before crushing them into chips, Restaurant Technology News reports. Once melted down, the material is made into a new fiber that Riegel Linen uses to make napkins and tablecloths. Its RieNu napkins are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyester.
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.
Eastern spices can lend warmth and depth to your winter menu. The best part is that they can help you create new comfort foods that are nonetheless both nutrient-dense and health conscious – which many guests are going for in the first months of the year. A base of seasoned rice, for example, can provide a solid foundation for such ingredients as vegetables, legumes and lean protein, while bringing some interesting global flavor to your menu. What combinations can you create?