It’s salad season – and chances are the weather is making salads all the more appealing to your guests as not just simple side dishes but also as entrées. Make them a more interesting and satisfying menu option by playing with textures and unexpected ingredients. Beyond greens and vegetables, think whole grains, nuts, berries and seeds – especially options like rice, pistachios, blackberries, pomegranate seeds and other items you wouldn’t immediately think of adding to a salad.
It may seem challenging to create exciting, frequently changing menus using a small number of core ingredients. But it can be as simple as regularly changing up your menu presentations – recasting your fajitas as a spicy soup special, a salad as a sandwich, a popular entrée as a panini, or even adjusting presentations within a menu category. Looking across your menu, take a dish and imagine it in new formats. If you’re hit with a sudden supply shortage, you’ll have additional options to work with if you can flexibly translate a dish in several ways.
Is there a rush on plant-based protein at your restaurant? If so, you’re not alone: According to new research from NPD Group, shipments of plant-based protein from foodservice distributors to restaurants were up 60 percent in April compared to the same month last year (and up by double-digit margins over 2019 as well). That growth persisted across alt-protein categories including plant-based beef, chicken, fish and conventional plant-based options like grains, nuts, vegetables, tofu and tempeh. And the rise of plant-based protein may be just getting started. Plant-based restaurants are popping up, even on the high end – like Eleven Madison Park in New York. Meanwhile, universities are developing programs based on the study of cellular agriculture and companies are investing in fermentation technology that could rapidly expand plant-based and even animal-plant hybrid proteins in the years ahead, the Spoon reports. As more players enter the market, expect increasing differentiation in plant-based proteins, such as options with global seasonings, premium options, and even plant-based proteins made in-house at restaurants, Technomic predicts. In your restaurant, it’s a good time to test your guests’ openness to alt-protein options and to assess how incorporating more of these items could support your operation through extending the shelf life of your ingredients, minimizing waste and shrinking your carbon footprint.
Chicken is always popular, but chicken consumption has really taken off during the pandemic. It ticks a lot of boxes for consumers: It’s functional, nourishing, nostalgic and customizable in so many ways. It’s a workhorse for restaurants too, since it can be prepared in so many ways and easily elevates dishes that have a broad range of international flavors. Guests are eager to have restaurant experiences right now. How can you take the existing chicken on your menu and offer something a little bit different from what a guest might prepare at home?
Consumers are still crazy about bowls, and for good reason: They often pack a lot of nutrients into one satisfying, colorful, easy-to-eat, easy-to-transport dish. They also present restaurant operators with exciting possibilities for every daypart, all while boosting a kitchen’s efficiency with a collection of ingredients that can generate seemingly endless combinations. Try offering a traditional savory bowl with grains, greens and textural elements like nuts or seeds, plus extra elements like feta, halloumi, herbs or dipping sauces. Or, invent your own version with a handful of your most popular ingredients.
Even as the pandemic looks to be winding down, consumers will likely hold on to some habits and patterns they adopted in the past year – working from home more often, for example, or flexing their meal schedule. As a result, restaurant operators may see a need to blend their day parts by extending their breakfast menu beyond the morning hours or developing new dishes that can work at various times of day. Blending day parts can help kitchens make the most of their inventory by spreading it out farther – and simply give guests more reasons to order throughout the day.
At a time when restaurant operators feel the need to do as much as possible with a simplified inventory of ingredients, the way you build and present a dish carries extra weight – and can make your restaurant that much more appealing to people eager to try a creative dish right now. Are there dishes on your menu that you could improve simply by presenting them in a surprising format? Before you swap out a menu item that isn’t as popular as you expected it might be, ask if it’s ripe for reinvention.
It’s salad season. As the weather warms and your choice of fresh produce expands, your salad menu is likely to become all the more craveable as people seek out healthy eating options. Your dressings have the power to elevate those dishes with smooth, creamy textures and savory, sweet or spicy flavors. They can also make your salad more special than something a guest would prepare at home. It’s a bonus if your dressings can contribute to the health of the overall dish – raising protein content, boosting immunity or promoting heart health, for example, without overloading it with empty calories.
As much as people are eager to gather again and celebrate with food and drink, the transition back to bustling restaurant dining rooms packed with patrons could take some more time. This could be an especially creative time for operators and chefs, who can make their menu more of a spectacle than before – something that is best appreciated in a restaurant dining room and is impossible to replicate in a take-away bag. As you welcome guests back, consider assembling, cooking or adding finishing touches to dishes tableside to create fresh, exciting dining room experiences that will entice people to come back with friends.
Could you create a new eating experience for your guests just by thinking about your menu presentation in a new way? Consider how the founders of Sushirrito created a sensation by making sushi portable. Now that communities are reopening again, more people will be looking to enjoy the experience of sitting in a restaurant dining room again or getting food on the way to an activity. How can your existing menu flex to meet the moment, and in the process, generate some new interest?