For restaurateurs, one of the trickiest dayparts to nail can be lunch. As consumers look to save money and eat healthier, and with other segments such as grocery stores upping their lunch games, operators have to give consumers a good reason to dine out during lunch.
Boosting lunch sales requires offering creative menu options in step with the food trends that parade across the foodservice industry. At the same time, operators have to appeal to consumers’ evolving wants for speed of service, convenience, value and healthfulness at lunch.
Many consumers, schooled by food media, travel and the restaurant boom of recent years, have a knowledge base about food that operators should keep in mind when creating lunch menus. “People talk about food very knowledgably today,” says Trip Kadey, director of culinary for The French's Food Company. “It has really become a fashionable subject for discussion.” These savvy foodies know what’s good and want more of it, especially the lively mashups of global flavors that are energizing the food scene.
A case in point is the lunch menu at Bartaco, a taqueria chain with a menu approach billed as “upscale street food with a coastal vibe.” Bartaco’s signature fare zigzags across the globe from a Middle Eastern falafel taco with Greek tzatziki to a Vietnamese-inspired shrimp banh mi taco to a cauliflower taco with Spanish romesco sauce.
“Tacos traditionally have a Hispanic orientation, but those go much further, drawing on ingredients from Asia and many other places,” notes Kadey.
Lunch consumers also bring a specific mindset to the midday meal. In an urban setting such as the Chicago Loop, where legions of workers descend on nearby lunch spots, speed of service and convenience are paramount. But these consumers may be more willing to indulge their curiosity about unusual flavors, ingredients and applications at lunch than they are when running up a dinner check.
“You have a $10 price point rather than a $40 one, which may make people more open to experimenting,” says Kadey. That should encourage operators to offer some bolder flavors and forward-looking items for adventurous lunch patrons. Kadey also notes that bold doesn’t necessarily mean spicy, so operators should feel free to think outside the box. “Flavor exploration is key,” he says.
Although the flavors may be big at lunch, the portions often are relatively small, says Kadey. Many consumers are replacing one or more of the traditional three square meals with light bites when hunger strikes. Today’s flexible lunch menus cater to those impulses with half-portions, small plates and snacks.
Consumers, particularly millennials, also expect restaurants to follow sustainability practices and take advantage of locally sourced food. In general, they increasingly expect restaurants to offer healthy menu options and use products with real ingredients and clean labels, free of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. According to 2014 Lunch Consumer Trend Report by Technomic, 49 percent of consumers said health influences where they purchase lunch during the week.
This post is sponsored by The French's Food Company