Growth of appetizers remains relatively flat, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, powered by Ignite. Instead of expanding their menus, operators are differentiating traditional appetizers by revamping them based on today’s trends, consumer demands or operator needs. Restaurants are cross-utilizing apps in other starters and entrees, downsizing them for portability or upsizing for group sharing, and transforming them seasonally. Here are four traditional appetizers getting a facelift.
1. Mozzarella sticks get a reboot
About quarter of operators (24.2%) have mozzarella sticks on their menu, according to MenuMonitor, but many restaurants are starting to take the traditional breaded and fried mozzarella app in new directions. Krystal is going portable with its new bite-sized Mini Mozz Sticks; Buffalo Wings & Rings is swapping out mozzarella for more exotic panela and adding premium toppings with its Open-Faced Cheese Sticks featuring charred Mexican panela served over toasted garlic ciabatta with chipotle-lime sauce, cilantro and avocado; and Applebee’s is moving the fried cheese into the entree category by offering Marinara Mozzarella Stick Toppers on a choice of protein.
2. Chips get the loaded fries treatment
Some operators are taking a page from the rampant success of loaded fries launched this past year by swapping in potato chips, following the recent trend of nontraditional chips. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Fries recently launched a new appetizer of BBQ Pork Loaded Chips for the summer. The housemade Yukon kettle chips are topped with barbecue pulled pork, queso, diced red onions and parsley, served with a side of pickles.
3. Breaded veggies beyond onion rings
Onion rings are by far the most popular breaded vegetable app on menus, per MenuMonitor; but operators are turning to other veggies, particularly seasonal green ones, to give customers a healthy-indulgent combo. Summer LTOs include Crispy Artichoke Hearts at Ram Restaurant & Brewery, Fried Green Tomatoes at Cotton Patch Cafe and LongHorn Steakhouse, Fried Avocado at Cantina Laredo, French Fried Asparagus at Houlihan’s and Fried Pickles at White Castle.
4. Dip moves out of the bowl
Operators are cross-utilizing dips in appetizers beyond the bowl. Dips can be spread atop breads such as sandwiches, burgers or potato skins, or be infused with new ingredients. This summer, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille put dip on a flatbread: The chain’s summer Crab Pizza appetizer ($10.99) features its signature crab dip atop a flatbread with melted mozzarella and Old Bay seasoning.