Although it might not become this year's cronut quite yet, soup is certainly ready to move from a minor menu item to an inspired starter or entree.
In general, diners appreciate the comforting familiarity of soup, and 94 percent of consumers expect at least one soup on the menu at limited-service restaurants, according to Chicago research firm Technomic. What’s more, at full-service restaurants, 99 percent of consumers anticipate at least one soup on the menu—in fact, they often expect four to five soup options.
Consumers are increasingly looking for those soup options to be packed with flavor and excitement. 35 percent of consumers say they purchase soup because they want to try something new, and savvy operators are responding. Bluebeard—an upscale eatery in Indianapolis—offers a soup made with cauliflower puree, pea shoots and smoked olive oil on its lunch menu. Similarly, New York-based fast-casual concept Hale and Hearty menus an indulgent seafood risotto soup to tempt diners during lunch or dinner.
By appealing to consumers’ desires for flavor, operators can drive traffic during lunch and other dayparts. Here are a few best practices for operators who want to give soup a more prominent role on their menus.
Set the stage for adventurous palates
Diners are increasingly interested in ethnic flavors, and soups are a stellar way to try out these flavors without committing to an entrée, says Lizzy Freier, a menu analysis editor at Technomic. Sometimes, offering globally inspired soups can mean a twist on tradition. "Ramen, obviously a big trend right now, is a soup that can easily be transformed with a variety of flavors and ingredients," she says. For example, she cites Chicago restaurant Ramen-San, which has a soup featuring ramen, kimchi, fried chicken and buttered corn.
But inspired flavor doesn’t always have to come from global cuisine. Operators can also offer classic soups, such as tomato bisque or chicken noodle, with unexpected garnishes or add-ins for a unique, craveable twist.
Get fresh and seasonal
Fresh, healthy, local, seasonal—all of these terms have become incredibly important to consumers, says Freier, and operators who highlight these terms in their soup offerings can boost orders. Soups can also provide a way for operators to emphasize local ingredients without cost or availability issues. They can mix in a locally grown vegetable, for example, or meat from a nearby ranch into their soup, without having to purchase too much of those ingredients.
Having a market-driven, rotating roster of soups also showcases seasonal options. For example, Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis has become renowned in the area for its season-specific choices like celery root soup in the winter and strawberry soup in the summer.
Vary the bowl size
Diners view soup as most fitting for a lunch entrée or appetizer, according to Technomic. However, younger diners are increasingly ordering soup as a snack between meals. Because of this, soup can be easily menued at different portion sizes and different price points, allowing diners to choose whether to make soup an appetizer, an accompaniment to lunch or dinner, or a standalone meal or snack.
Most of all, operators should start driving the soup trend instead of playing catch-up. "Restaurants can use soup to highlight many of today's foodservice trends, like ethnic flavors and seasonal options," says Freier. "People are looking for variety and unique options, and they can find them through your soups."
For more innovative ways to showcase soup on your menu, visit Kerry Foodservice Solutions.
This post is sponsored by Kerry Foodservice