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‘Anything goes’ eating creates new opportunity

shareables snack platter

Here’s a little quiz: Where would something called “fried pizza knots” be listed on a casual-restaurant menu? Is it an appetizer? A starter? A snack or side?

While this dish is listed as a side at Soda & Swine in San Diego, California, any of the above could easily be an acceptable answer. Soda & Swine is a sandwich shop, but sides get the most menu real estate, with an eclectic list that also includes spaghetti with marinara, a green salad, crispy polenta and a Scotch egg.

Menus such as this are becoming the norm rather than the exception. According to a recent consumer trend report from Technomic, there are plenty of data to confirm that traditional meal parts are shifting, and menus need to follow pace. The report notes that sides are an under-served way to promote shareability—43 percent of consumers say they’re interested in larger-sized sides suitable for sharing, yet most side dishes are still portioned for single diners. Slightly increasing portion sizes could justify a higher price point and encourage sharing.

For operators, the obvious advantage of “anything goes” eating is increased frequency. But resizing and cross-purposing best-selling menu items also maximizes ingredient usage and feeds the bottom line. Last February, when casual-dining chain Applebee’s added a bar snacks and shareables menu, one goal was to accommodate varied guest preferences with sizes fit for snacks, smaller meals and shared plates.

“These sizes are lower commitment and encourage trial,” says Applebee’s Chef Jessica James. She also wanted to provide more interactive options, so the new menus included plenty of dips and sauces for social dining. “We want to use what’s working in our appetizers and expand that into more of the menu.”

The chain’s bar snacks and shareables include classics such as chicken wings and chips and salsa as well as some side-like options such as crispy green beans and sweet potato fries with a trio of dips. And at casual dining chain Yard House, snacks can sound a lot like party food, such as the hummus plate with edamame, Kalamata olives and flatbread or baked pita. Other delicacies are more like sides, such as the crispy Brussels sprouts and ripped potatoes with malt vinegar aioli.

In fact, sometimes sides are so irresistible that they become a meal themselves. At Hot Suppa, a slightly Southern-styled restaurant in Portland, Maine, diners can opt for the “choose your own adventure” lunch plate of three sides instead of a main dish. Some of the many choices include roasted cauliflower with red pepper harissa, hand-cut fries, Geechie Boy Mill's grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, yellow-eye baked beans and marinated roasted beets in creamy horseradish sauce.

This is the type of customization that diners want, according to Technomic, which reported that 51 percent of consumers say customization is highly important in creating good value.

Visit Brew City® for more ways to create inspired sides and shareable items.

This post is sponsored by Brew City®

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