As consumers have moved plants to the center of the plate, their embrace of flexitarian options has extended to dairy alternatives. Even if your guests can tolerate dairy in their diets, they may still be curious about dairy alternatives and looking to try them – particularly as the tastes and textures of alternatives dairy products including milk, yogurt, ice cream and cheese have improved in recent years. These more shelf-stable options can help you stretch your inventory as well. Consider non-dairy alternatives in sauces, dips and dressings as a starting point.
At a time when consumers are leaning into plant-forward dishes and favoring healthy foods that are high in flavor, the Mediterranean options on your menu can be reliable alternatives. They’re easier on the budget and can be recreated with different shelf-stable ingredients. They also leave room for customization with animal proteins or your own creative twists.
At a moment when consumers are looking for convenience, portability and affordability, your sandwich menu can meet some, if not all, of those needs. Consider changing up the proteins you offer between the bread or prepare them in new ways, adding some global flavor or spice to the accompanying condiments, and weaving in some in-season produce. Your sandwich menu can offer you some low-risk areas to test your roster of limited-time offers as well — something that will keep guests interested in returning.
Mediterranean diets are among the few diets that have retained their popularity with nutritionists and consumers alike over the years. If your guests are looking for more Mediterranean-style dishes, pita bread can be a versatile carrier for healthy ingredients on your appetizer and entrée menus. Consider filling it with ingredients like chickpeas, sweet potatoes and greens for a light sandwich option, toasting pita triangles to serve as scoops for hummus or as Mediterranean-style nachos, or topping it with roasted vegetables for a health-conscious pizza.
Some ingredients simply gain a cult following. That has been the case with avocados in recent years, whether as part of the internet sensation they created when spread on toast or simply as a salad topper, smoothie ingredient or guacamole base. But in a period when near-constant climate challenges, inflation and supply chain woes are impacting so many ingredients at once, avocados are one of many ingredients to carry an increasingly out-of-reach price tag these days. The U.S Department of Agriculture said average avocado prices spiked 30 percent in late July over the same period last year. They are just one example of how operators can’t rest on their laurels when it comes to menu engineering and menu planning in general. Each item on your menu should be popular and profitable. If you’re not ready to take a popular item off the menu, consider how you can offer it at a higher price point or with more economical ingredients. Being known for a signature item can be a blessing in good times and a curse in others — consider the brand challenges of Wingstop when chicken wings suddenly became scarce. It’s crucial to keep testing new ideas so that when one popular ingredient is unavailable, you have a couple of understudy dishes ready in the wings. Offer them as limited-time specials or in VIP test tastings for your best guests so you’re regularly collecting data on what’s working, what’s not and what substitutes can be swapped in with the greatest acceptance from guests. Who knows? You may accidentally create the next avocado toast for your guests.
Is there a more perfect appetizer than sliders? They’re shareable, customizable and have Instagram-worthy visual appeal. What’s more, they have evolved well beyond the mini meat-patty variety. Consider creative slider options for your vegetarian, flexitarian and pescatarian guests alike – or even create a customizable sampler platter that suits the tastes of the group
Chickpeas are proving their worth in dishes well beyond hummus right now (though even within the hummus category, chickpeas are testing boundaries on the dessert menu, of all places). They pack elevated nutrition into everything from pasta to fries to even mayonnaise. At a time when pantry staples need to serve many purposes on the menu, chickpeas are naturally gluten-free, high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, making them suit a variety of dietary needs and preferences. Offer chickpea pasta with a hearty vegetable sauce and guests aren’t likely to miss the conventional variety.
Bacon is so easy to love, isn’t it? It has woven its way into sweet and savory food and drink, driving sales growth over the course of the past few years. There are prized places for it in every menu category and daypart, so consider how you might use it to elevate your guests’ experience and reflect your brand values. There are a range of new bacon varieties coming to market, including premium options, sweet and savory combinations, plant-based varieties and more natural, minimally processed options that claim to be better for both consumers and the environment. How might you enhance them with complementary flavors on your menu?
After a summer of unseasonably hot temperatures, the thought of cooler weather and cozy foods may be especially appealing to your guests. Think hearty soups and stews, pasta bakes, potato dishes and creative takes on macaroni and cheese. As you plan menus for the months ahead, consider how you can stretch your ingredients on hand, whether that includes produce that can support a pasta dish as well as a sandwich, or cuts of meat that you wouldn’t normally feature at the center of the plate but which can elevate a soup or savory pie.
A ragù can be a menu workhorse – it’s satisfying, it provides variety by complementing a wide range of starches, and it can be reinvented with different proteins, spices and vegetables to suit your ingredient supply and clientele. Purists favoring a meat-based ragù can serve a classic Bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, or a melt-in-your-mouth lamb ragù with fettucine or wide ribbons of pappardelle. Proteins ranging from turkey to sausage can work too. Guests looking for plant-forward options need not miss out either – a mushroom- or lentil-based ragù can be a hearty (and convincing) substitute for the meatier varieties.