At a time when consumers may need a little extra incentive to dine out at restaurants, the experience you offer plays an increasingly important role. Your beverage menu can help enhance your restaurant experience, all while helping you boost check totals. Try elevating your alcoholic and non-alcoholic options with indulgent after-dinner drinks, warm seasonal concoctions and memorable presentations – elements your guests wouldn’t necessarily go to the trouble to recreate at home (and in many states, may not be able to order to-go).
The pandemic has elevated consumer interest in breakfast – and not just at what is typically thought of as breakfast time. According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 adults by the Harris Poll and General Mills Foodservice, 24 percent of Americans say they have eaten more breakfast foods during the pandemic and 79 percent have eaten breakfast foods outside the hours of the traditional daypart, Winsight reports. Consider testing the boundaries of breakfast by offering traditional breakfast items – or creative twists on them – on your lunch, dinner, snack and even dessert menus.
U.S. consumers are embracing plant-based foods – both in restaurants and at home. According to a Gallup study, 41 percent of people in the U.S. have tried plant-based meats — and of those people, 60 percent said they were likely to continue eating them. Further, Technomic found that 59 percent of consumers say they eat meatless meals at least once a week, and 33 percent are actively trying to reduce their meat consumption. New releases of a plant-based meal kit for home preparation by Nestle’s Freshly brand, as well as a chicken substitute for restaurants by Impossible Foods, have underlined how plant-based foods are embedding themselves in the mainstream food industry. Incorporating more plant-based meals on your menu isn’t about denying your loyal carnivores their burger or being a slave to trends. Rather, it’s a means for you to stretch your inventory and budget at a time when supplies are short and operators must do much more with less. You can approach this in different ways depending on your clientele. If you serve devoted carnivores, consider offering slightly smaller cuts of meat and filling a larger portion of the plate with vegetables, legumes and grains. This Restaurant Hospitality report also suggests playing up vegetables’ interesting colors and shapes with creative presentations, enticing customers with lesser-known plant-based ingredients and creating interest around them, and to share the benefits of these foods by telling stories about how versatile they are and how they can support good nutrition.
Some say sriracha has dethroned ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. The Thai chili sauce started winning fans in the U.S. more than a decade ago and sriracha seasoning has since found its way into everything from cocktails to beef jerky to the menus of mainstream quick-service brands. If your guests are clamoring for sriracha, consider using it to add some warmth and zip to vinaigrettes, condiments, marinades, or as a seasoning on soups and snacks.
When supplies are unpredictable and it’s more critical then ever to minimize waste, restaurants need to find ways to make use of every ingredient they have on hand – even when those ingredients are changing week to week and season to season. Being nimble with ingredients – and not necessarily hiding that from customers – can help. As described in a recent Nation’s Restaurant News report about how restaurants will be operating in the near future, Puritan & Company in Boston has gotten creative about adapting its menu to whatever stock it has on hand. The chef there has a $22 dish on the menu dubbed the “kitchen sink” lasagna. It incorporates whatever vegetables the restaurant happens to have available, as well as any excess meat it has at the time the dish is offered. If a kitchen-sink-type dish won’t work on your menu, think about how you might best cross-utilize ingredients across multiple dishes. It minimizes waste, utilizes labor more efficiently and typically improves overall business results. Restaurant brands ranging from McDonald’s to Olive Garden to Taco Bell have trimmed their menus in recent quarters. Instead of turning off customers, the move has improved performance across the board because it has enabled the restaurants to focus on churning out more of its most popular items to larger numbers of people.
Since global tastes are so popular with consumers, it can be easy for restaurant operators to overlook the strong diversity of regional flavors, ingredients and cooking styles right here at home. From the Cajun cooking of Louisiana, to Philly cheesesteak, to Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, there are countless craveable foods that could make for appealing limited-time offers and other promotions. What regional specialties might find a devoted following on your menu?
Dessert doesn’t have to be decadent – and at a time when consumers are concerned with their health, providing some interesting end-of-meal options that aren’t only eye-catching but are also lower in sugar and higher in nutrients can help you boost check totals. Consider offering simple combinations of fresh ingredients or using fruit or yogurt to create a lighter twist on classic desserts.
Fall’s cooler temperatures call for cozy foods – and soups and stews are prime menu additions for restaurants right now. They are easy add-ons to a meal, they help operators incorporate the abundant produce of the season, and they are big-time efficiency boosters when it comes to your inventory. This season, consider soups and stews with plant-forward ingredients and lean proteins that combine comfort and health.
As we continue to figure out what school and work routines will look like this fall, your dayparts may be in flux for some time. The lack of clear boundary between meals and snack times means restaurant operators could have more leeway to blend them in creative ways. Consider your most popular breakfast or lunch items, or late-afternoon snack and dinner options, and how you might combine them to create something exciting and unexpected.
The season of hearty food is upon us. As the weather cools, customers will be craving warming, filling options that taste good on autumn days. In the months leading up to the holidays, which are often filled with classic American dishes, take a broader view and consider these chillier months as opportunities to add some global flair to your menu – especially as international travel remains slow. Where can you add some interest to your menu with authentic dishes from other places?